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Karen Ruttner fixes me with a stare. “No, there were no alarm bells in our sex life,” she says firmly. Ruttner is a 32-year-old New Yorker; tall, striking, with piercing eyes and blonde hair tinted pink. Between 2007 and 2010, she was the on-off girlfriend of Ian Watkins, the lead singer of the Welsh rock band Lostprophets, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison at Cardiff Crown Court in December, after pleading guilty to child sex offences including the attempted rape of a baby.

I meet Ruttner in a hotel bar close to her Manhattan apartment. This is the first time she has spoken publicly about the man who kept a double life hidden from her in the years she knew him — first as his lover, then, once their relationship had ended, as part of Lostprophets’ management team. Throughout our 2½-hour conversation, she remains surprisingly composed. “It hasn’t always been like this,” she shrugs. “This is the result of months of therapy.”

After Watkins’s guilty plea, she “cried every day for three months”. “This person that I had been so close with at that point, for six years, was… capable of this? I thought I knew when he was lying,” she says. “I thought I knew what his demons were. This was not on the list of presumed demons.”

She knew he was a drug addict. Towards the end of their relationship, she began to suspect he was a sex addict. They had an open relationship: “I would never call myself his girlfriend. I wasn’t naive,” she says flatly. “We had a mutual appreciation. We both really enjoyed each other’s company, but he was not the type of guy to be pinned down. I knew at the time he had at least two other women in constant rotation. And those were just the ones I knew about. Now, in retrospect, I can’t begin to count how many others there were at the same time.”

She continues: “He always wanted to have threesomes, and I would never do that. That was almost why I was all right with there being other women, because that stuff doesn’t fly with me. I thought, if he has to get his rocks off in that way, then that’s what the other women are for. But honestly, no. There were no alarm bells. I just knew that he had a ferocious sexual appetite.”

"I thought I knew what his demons were. This was not on the list of presumed demons. I just knew he had a ferocious sexual appetite"
Lostprophets formed in 1997 in Pontypridd, a small satellite town of Cardiff. Theirs was a punkish pop sound — heavy enough to appeal to angst-ridden teenagers, yet suitably commercial to be played on daytime radio. They had a No 1 album in 2006, headlined their own arena tour and attracted a diehard following of adolescents, who emulated their heroes’ fondness for tattoos, piercings and black clothing.

Watkins, their good-looking and charismatic singer, was in many ways an archetypal rock’n’roll pin-up. At the height of his band’s fame, he was linked to many beautiful women, including the presenters Fearne Cotton and Alexa Chung. But unlike many of Lostprophets’ contemporaries, who worked hard to cultivate bad-boy reputations, the band had always had a squeaky-clean image. Since their late teens, many members of the group had embraced a movement called “straight edge” — a subculture of the hardcore punk scene, whose adherents abstain from alcohol, tobacco and drugs, as a reaction against the stereotypical rock-star lifestyle. Throughout his twenties, Watkins appeared to be completely sober, but in 2007, rumours began circulating that he had started to use hard drugs; first cocaine and later methamphetamine — or crystal meth, a super-strength, class-A stimulant linked to heightened libido, even sexual compulsion.

The charges against Watkins, 36, included possession of 90 indecent images of children, aged from two to 14 years old, including some at the most serious Level 5 category, and 22 images of bestiality. The police needed the assistance of codebreakers at GCHQ to unlock Watkins’s computer. One of the passwords they eventually cracked was shamelessly brazen: I F** KIDZ.

At his trial, the judge was given some background on Watkins’s attitude to young females in the years leading up to his most serious offences. In 2007, he had videoed himself taking the virginity of a 16-year-old fan, dressed in a school uniform. Afterwards, he urinated on her and told her to drink it. In a taped incident from the following year, he was shown receiving oral sex from another 16-year-old and giving her white powder — which he said was cocaine — to snort.

Alongside Watkins in the dock were two anonymous co-defendants — the mothers of the baby and another very young child — who were jailed for 14 and 17 years, after admitting to sexually abusing their children at Watkins’s behest. The episodes involving these women are deeply disturbing. Watkins met the anonymous mother, “B”, in late 2011, when she was 19 years old. Between March and April 2012, the two had detailed discussions about the sexual acts they planned to subject her 10-month-old son to. In April she took the child to meet Watkins at the K West Hotel in London, where sexual assault and attempted rape took place. Although too graphic to detail here, the incident was recorded on video and its content described in the courtroom. “The enjoyment both of you can be seen to derive from what you were doing is both sickening and incomprehensible,” the judge told them.

The incident was followed by further communications, in which the pair plotted to abuse the child again in the future. On August 2, Watkins wrote that he thought they had “gone easy on him so far. Time to teach him and MAKE him learn to love it.” On September 9, B sent a photo to Watkins showing herself sexually abusing her son.

Watkins began communicating with mother “P” in August 2012. She was 24 at the time of sentencing. During their communication, the pair discuss forcing P’s little girl to engage in sex acts with animals and how to take drugs. The court heard how, “you, Watkins… said you could not wait to get mother and daughter taking crack cocaine. You spoke of whoring her out to fat old men who would pay thousands… You spoke of torturing her for fun.” Watkins referred to the child as “my little f*** toy”.

One count relates to P abusing her daughter during a split-screen Skype session with Watkins. According to the judge, there is also compelling evidence that P took her daughter to meet up with Watkins at the Travelodge in Caerphilly and/or at the Radisson in Cardiff. “What happened there is not recorded,” he explained. The judge was in no doubt, however, that they intended to rape the child. An analysis of the child’s hair also showed she had been exposed to crystal meth.

“I tried reading the judge’s report. I couldn’t even finish it,” says Mike Lewis, who played guitar for Lostprophets and has known Watkins since he was five years old. “To think that somebody I grew up with, who I had been friends with my entire life, whose mother I knew, and how close our families were — to even imagine him… I find it utterly unbelievable that he was capable of doing those things. Obviously he did, but how somebody can…” he trails off. “I don’t understand it, I’m afraid.”

“There was absolutely nothing that led us to suspect what he’d done,” agrees Lee Gaze, who also played guitar in the band. “I think he created such a smokescreen. I hate to rely on clichés, but when you see the profile of a paedophile, he couldn’t be any further from it. He was always surrounded by all these women, so it just seemed impossible.”

I meet Gaze — a gentle, softly spoken 39-year-old, with a wife and two young sons — in a cafe close to the coffee kiosk he now runs in London’s Chinatown. Lewis, 36, speaks to me over the phone from LA, where he lives with his wife and four-year-old daughter. Both were “shocked beyond comprehension” when the allegations came out. “Never, within all the years of touring with Ian and knowing Ian, have I ever seen him with an underage girl, ever,” Lewis says. “It was always women over the age of 18.”

Lewis got to know Watkins at infant school in Pontypridd. “He moved into our area with his mum and sister. We became friends pretty quickly.” He recalls a “really happy kid. I don’t remember him ever having any problems. I don’t think he ever wanted for anything. He was intelligent. He did well at school. He was always in the top sets of everything.”

Gaze was 17 when he met him — two school years older than Watkins. “I grew up on a small council estate, whereas Ian lived in a place called the Common. They were the posh kids and we were the not-so-posh kids, so we didn’t really hang out together at first.”

When they were finally introduced, they immediately bonded over rock music. Gaze played guitar and Watkins invited him over to jam at his house “because he had this big garage”. The first band they formed had Watkins on drums. “He was quite quiet and reserved at that point,” remembers Gaze. Within a few years, Watkins switched to be the band’s singer. “That’s when he really developed the charisma. When he realised he could entertain people.”

If there was a trauma in Watkins’s early life, it was the death of his father, who suffered from epilepsy. Yet Lewis doesn’t remember the loss weighing heavily on his young friend. “If you think of a clichéd kid having problems because of the loss of a parent, he certainly wasn’t that at all,” he says. “The only time I remember having a conversation that remotely talked about it was when we were 29 and my father passed away. He said he obviously knew how it felt to lose a parent, but other than that he didn’t really wear his heart on his sleeve at all.”

Watkins’s mother, Elaine, was devoted to her son. “She doted on him because he lost his dad at an early age,” remembers Gaze. “She mollycoddled him. Everything he wanted he got.” Elaine remarried when Watkins was still a child. Her new husband, John Davies, was a Baptist minister and she took Watkins and his sister to live with Davies and his son in their clergy house in Pontypridd — the one with the big garage.

“I met John many times,” says Gaze. “He’s an interesting character. He and Ian didn’t get on so well, but I don’t know if there was anything in it other than he was the new dad in the family. John was a prim and proper churchgoer and Ian was into heavy metal, so there’s already a clash. John didn’t like so much that Ian had a band and that we would rehearse in the garage and it was loud. He wasn’t a big fan of his stepfather.”

Elaine and John eventually separated and Watkins went back to live with his mother regularly throughout his adult life. The pair were very close. She had kidney disease in 2008 and her ill health became a cause of stress and worry for him.

“He was a good-looking boy. He lost his virginity at a party aged 15. At about 16 he realised he could sleep around with anyone he wanted to, basically"
It was at high school that Lewis remembers Watkins “coming out of his shell”. “He became more self-assertive and confident. He was definitely more arrogant at times. One of the things that was endearing about him was his sense of humour. He was funny, quick-witted and very sarcastic.”

Much of his confidence came from his success with women. “He was a good-looking boy,” says Gaze. “He lost his virginity at a party aged 15. After that he settled down with a really nice girl, which was his first proper relationship, but within that year he started to realise that there was a number of attractive girls dotted around the Pontypridd area and all of them at some point ended up with Ian. At about 16 he realised he could sleep around with anyone he wanted to, basically.”

Later, after Lostprophets had taken off, Watkins’s access to sexual partners would become even easier. “Every single city, everywhere in the world he went, he would be with a woman,” says Gaze. “Sometimes he’d have two turn up at the same time and we’d watch him struggle as he tried to juggle them. I think he liked the chaos. I think he thrived on it.”

The advent of social media also facilitated his promiscuity. At one point the band were horrified to discover he was using their official Myspace page to arrange his trysts. He stopped as soon as he was rumbled. “He didn’t want us to see he was speaking to girls,” says Lewis. “He was very, very secretive with us about the women he was seeing and any kind of relationship he had.”

Instead, he set up his own personal accounts to communicate with fans. “They would message him direct, basically propositioning him,” says Karen Ruttner.

Ruttner met Watkins in New York in 2006, when she was 25. She was working as a DJ, running a club night on the Lower East Side. One night, Watkins and Lewis came along, after playing a gig in the city.

Her first impressions of Watkins were of him being “flirtatious” and “super cocky”. “He was so not my type of guy, but as we were chatting I realised he was incredibly intelligent and funny. He was sharp and engaging as a conversationalist. I thought, ‘Wow, here’s a good-looking guy who’s keeping me on my toes.’ That was really attractive.” They swapped contact details and stayed in touch for a year before hooking up for the first time the following summer in Britain.

She remembers Watkins telling her about his first experience with cocaine. “I don’t know where and when it was, but I remember hearing from him after the fact on Instant Messenger, to tell me that he’d tried it. He gave me the impression he loved it instantly.” Lewis suspects it was around his 30th birthday, in July 2007. “It felt like he was having a midlife crisis at 30. Our birthdays are three weeks apart and I remember we were in Scotland, and him turning to me in front of everyone and saying: ‘Let’s get f***** up for our 30th. Let’s do a load of coke.’ At this point I was still straight edge, and I thought he was too. I had never done cocaine in my entire life. I said, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ and he kind of laughed it off.”

“We found it really hard to believe, because he was the most reluctant to ever try drugs,” remembers Gaze.

Yet, by the following summer, his behaviour had become enough of a concern that the band decided to confront him about it. In the early days of Lostprophets, Watkins had been the most driven and ambitious member of the group, but now “touring with him had become a nightmare”, says Lewis. “Not turning up, or turning up and looking a mess.”

After a show at the Birmingham Academy, they sprung a backstage intervention on him. “At first, he started to say he wasn’t [doing drugs], that it was all lies,” recalls Gaze. “Then he eventually came around to saying he was doing it as an experiment; he was just curious, it was totally under control, but he wanted to see what it was like writing songs from another perspective. Which, to me — apart from being a load of bollocks — is just a ludicrous idea. We talked and talked for a while and he said he was done with this experiment and he was going to quit doing it. He was always very good at telling people what they wanted to hear.”

“At first he was sort of humble and assured us it wasn’t a problem,” says Lewis. “But later, I got the impression that he came away from that first intervention thinking, ‘F*** those guys, they’re judging me, I can do whatever I want.’ At that point, the rest of us were all married, or very stable in our lives. I think part of the whole midlife crisis was a rebellion against the rest of us, in terms of, ‘You guys are all settling down with your wives and 2.4 children; well, I’m going to go the other way.’”

If it started as a controlled experiment, Watkins’s drug abuse was soon out of control. “I believe he tried meth for the first time a few months later,” says Ruttner. “One of the first times he did it, he overdosed and he texted to tell me that he’d been in hospital. I remember crying. I was so shocked. I had never heard of anybody doing meth before in my life. But he was so flippant about it.”

Crystal meth took an enormous toll on him. “The biggest thing was that he just never slept. He started getting really manic. He was always up, up, up. And if he crashed, he would just sleep at inappropriate times, like through a studio session. But because he is so intelligent, he convinced me that he had it under control. I thought he could very easily walk away from it. He would say to me over and over again: ‘Who’s the vainest person you know?’ Because I would send him links to faces of people whose looks had been destroyed by meth, and say: ‘What are you doing? Don’t do this. Look what it does to you.’ And he would say: ‘The minute I see any sort of effect on my looks I’ll give it up, I’ll never let it get that far.’ And I believed him. I thought: ‘Yeah, that’s true, he is the vainest person I know,’ so I believe that he wouldn’t do something to mess up his looks.”

More alarming was how the drug was affecting Watkins’s libido. “It upped his appetite. Oh, my God. That’s the thing about meth, it’s a sex drug,” says Ruttner. “His judgment went out the window.”

By 2010, Ruttner was so concerned that she began googling sex addiction. “I read that sex addiction is a problem when sex comes before work or is affecting your day-to-day life, and that’s what he was like. He would literally not turn up to writing sessions because of sex.”

"These things were happening, not under our noses, but... he was so brazen. How dare he? What is wrong with him?"
“His priority was no longer the band being successful, but more being in a band to sustain another life he had, which he seemed to enjoy more, which was sleeping around with girls and taking drugs,” agrees Gaze. “He was in his own world, doing his own thing. You wouldn’t really want to hang out with him unless you had to.”

“I couldn’t even have a conversation with him towards the end,” admits Lewis. “On the rare occasion when I would have to be alone with him, I absolutely dreaded it, because it was so awkward. We’d had so many fallings out and it was pointless trying to speak to him because he would spend half his time looking at his phone, and he was so secretive about the women he was seeing, or what he was doing.”

Ruttner’s relationship with Watkins had also run its course. She began working for the band as their day-to-day manager. “They felt my presence was valuable in keeping the band together. I was the bridge between them. They felt he would listen to me,” she says.

A few months into her role, pornographic photos of Watkins engaging in gay sex acts appeared on the internet. “We knew that he’d probably leaked it himself,” she says. “Why? To shock people. He absolutely enjoyed shocking people.”

Following a period of drug counselling in LA in 2011 — “It did nothing. He basically charmed the counsellors into thinking he didn’t have a problem,” says Ruttner — the band staged another, unsuccessful, intervention. It was April 2012 — the same month, they later discovered, that the attempted rape of mother B’s baby had occurred at the K West Hotel. “That month was probably the worst I ever saw him,” says Ruttner. “He was disgusting, so messed up. He was starting to have issues with his teeth falling out and rotting. He let his hygiene go, he was never showering. He looked bloated and unhealthy and his skin was getting bad. All the things he said he wouldn’t let happen were starting to happen. It got to the point where he couldn’t sleep without taking this powder that body-builders use to sleep, because they get so hyped working out. He would take too much of that and pass out, and I would try and wake him to get him to come to soundcheck and he’d be like a log. It was just horrible to watch.”

Watkins was arrested after a drugs raid on his home in October 2012. The police also seized his computer, and a condition of his bail was that he’d have to be kept under 24-hour surveillance on his forthcoming British tour. The band got wind that the police suspected him of possessing child pornography, and they confronted him. His explanation was that a “crazy stalker” had accused him of having illegal images on his computer.

“He spent the longest time trying to convince us that somebody was trying to get revenge on him,” says Gaze. “He’d created such a web of people, bouncing these women off each other, that it was perfectly feasible that one of these women hated him so much that she wanted to catch him out.”

The last time Ruttner saw him was on the final night of the tour. “I was so worn down and so in disbelief about what was happening that I started hysterically crying,” she says. “I remember him saying to me how he hated seeing me cry. He promised that things would get better and the next time we saw each other it wouldn’t be sad times. And that was it. I went and got on a plane and went home to New York, and a month later we got a call that he’d been arrested again.”

The phone call from his lawyer left the band in no doubt that the new allegations against Watkins were serious — although they were still not aware of the full gravity. “We knew it was child-porn related. We definitely did not know any of the allegations about attempted rape or abuse at this point,” says Ruttner.

The following morning, the police went public with the charges that were being brought against Watkins in a press release. The band found out at the same time as everyone else. Lewis was on holiday with his wife and daughter when he heard. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was a lot of things: a drug addict, a womaniser. But I never, ever believed that of him. My first assumption was that maybe there was a mistake.”

Before his trial, Watkins wrote to Ruttner from prison, protesting his innocence. “It was rambling, saying how he’d been accused of things he hadn’t done. He was very apologetic about the position he’d put us in, saying, ‘I never wanted this to happen; I never wanted you guys to have to go through this.’ It was heartbreaking — the most broken letter I’ve ever read,” she says.

A fortnight later, Watkins changed his plea to guilty. It was only after the trial, when the judge’s sentencing remarks were made public, that the band realised the significance of the location and date of the attempted rape of mother B’s baby.

“It was the night of our record-release show in April 2012. That made me so angry. I was there. We were all there in the same hotel,” shouts Ruttner, in disbelief. “I remember being in the lobby, drinking with the guys and the crew. Not him, he was up in his room. But in my mind, that was because he doesn’t drink, so he was never one to sit in the hotel bar with us. Not only were we with him before the incident, but we were all with him the next day. The album came out that day. These things were happening, not under our noses, but… He was so brazen. How dare he? What is wrong with him?”

During the sentencing, the judge quoted from Watkins’s pre-sentence report, prepared following an interview with Watkins in custody. “You spoke… of your desire to shock and your craving to push sexual boundaries. This craving was fuelled by your use of cocaine and methamphetamine, which increased your sexual aggression. You spoke of not knowing to what extremes you would have gone but for your arrest.” The report also makes the following assessment: “The child victims in this case appear to be coincidental to his need to dominate and to test out the extent to which his sexual partners would collude and participate in his sexual interests.”

“I think it was a control thing for him,” says Gaze. “I think he was getting off on the fact he could manipulate people, rather than being sexually attracted to underage children. That’s what it seems like to me.”

“I think drugs were a catalyst that made him go further because he wasn’t registering what he was doing,” he continues. “But really he should have gone to rehab for the sexual addictions more than the drugs.”

“He needed to find weak people, or adoring people, who would just do whatever he said and that’s what these fan-girls were,” agrees Ruttner. “These mothers were both fan-girls.”

Watkins's mother, Elaine, doted on her son after the death of his father. "She mollycoddled him. Everything he wanted he got"
The psychiatric report for mother B referred to her infatuation with Watkins, and his strong influence in her taking drugs with him. P’s psychologist concluded that she had a mixed personality disorder and that she likely used her daughter as a tool to secure Watkins’s acceptance.

Ruttner believes Watkins’s preoccupation with social media also had a role to play. “Social media is the worst possible thing that could have happened to him,” she says. “If you take someone like Ian, who was a sex addict, and then subsequently also a drug addict, and then you give him access to all these oversexed young women and men online, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Does she believe there could be more victims out there? “I’m glad he’s in jail, because who knows where he would have gone from where he was. But I think [the child abuse] was a relatively recent change in him.”

Ruttner has received a second letter from Watkins since his trial. “This one was better than the first. He actually sounded lucid. He said, ‘I know I’ve done wrong, but it’s not as cut and dried as it’s been made out to be…Someday I hope to be able to sit down with you and explain that there are two sides to every story, but because of the circumstances I wasn’t able to give my side.’ I don’t know what’s going on in his head, I really don’t.”

“For the first two months he was in prison [before the guilty plea], I worried about how he was, knowing that he’s quite a weak character,” says Gaze. “He’s a bit of a coward, not a tough guy by any means. To be in prison, where he’s going to be the guy from the rock band with those charges, I was worried. But then I reached a point where real resentment set in.”

Neither bandmate has any desire to contact him in prison. “I’ve thought about it long and hard and, no, I have no interest in ever speaking to him again,” says Lewis. “I feel incredibly bad for his mother and his whole family and the stigma they have to endure now because of what he’s done and what his actions have done to hurt many people. But I have no interest in questioning him about it. Never.” Gaze agrees: “I don’t think I’d get the answers I wanted. And I don’t know what knowing answers to certain questions would give me now, either.”

Watkins’s former bandmates now intend to form a new group. “I will always regret the way Lostprophets ended,” says Lewis. “You work for 15 years on something and your entire legacy is wiped away in an instant. Everything you’ve done and achieved is something that’s hard to be proud of any more.”

However, they are not keen to dwell on their own circumstances. “Obviously, what’s gone on with these children far supersedes what’s happened to us,” says Gaze. “We’re strong enough to get back on our feet and carry on doing whatever we want to do, but there are children who are going to grow up without parents and that makes us incredibly sad.”

While sentencing, the judge referred to the impact the abuse would have on woman B’s son: “This child is likely to have lifelong psychological difficulties coming to terms with the enormity of what has happened to him… He will eventually learn the truth of his childhood and the abuse he was subjected to… We cannot and should not underestimate the effect this will have on him for the rest of his life.”


June 2014

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