In the heat and dust of a summer afternoon in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, a slender girl of 11 plays happily with her cousins and friends outside the tin-roofed, single-storey home in which she lives with her grandmother.
On a tree-lined pathway in front of the building is the girl’s most treasured possession: a HK$400 bicycle she was presented with under a government programme to help bright students from poor homes. Truc Ly finished third out of 60 students in her village school this year and will use the bike to travel the 6.5km round trip to the regional middle school when she begins this autumn.
Teachers say Truc Ly has the potential to be a top student, bright enough to maybe even go on to university – a rare feat in this poverty-racked corner of An Giang, one of the Southeast Asian country’s most backward provinces.
Such praise, however, means little to the girl herself. She knows she will be fortunate to still be at school by the time the Lunar New Year holiday comes around, at the end of January. Her parents – who work year-round on a forestry plantation on the Cambodian border – are already struggling to find the HK$40 a month it costs for Truc Ly to attend school, along with the HK$100 a term for her English lessons. And as her grandmother’s health deteriorates, Truc Ly – who cooks, washes and cares for her elderly relative and catches fish from the river for some of their meals – knows her school days are likely to be numbered.
“I like school and maths is my favourite subject,” she says, shyly. “I would like to go on to high school but I may have to leave and look after my grandmother full time soon. She is too sick to leave home now.
“I can’t think about the future because we have no money.”
The irony of Truc Ly’s situation is that the man believed to be her biological father is wealthy, and not just by Vietnamese standards. He is a millionaire with a home in London’s Mayfair who once led a lifestyle beyond the little girl’s wildest dreams. Her mother has yet to tell her, but Truc Ly is thought to be the daughter of British pop star Gary Glitter, who was jailed for three years in Vietnam for abusing young girls and is now serving a 16-year prison term in Britain for historical child sex offences.
The disgraced singer – now aged 72 and still receiving generous royalties behind bars from his string of 1970s glam-rock hits (such as Rock and Roll [Part 1], I’m the Leader of the Gang [I am] and I Love You Love Me Love) – has refused requests to acknowledge Truc Ly or to take a paternity test to establish whether or not he is her father.
Her mother – 35-year-old Tran Thi Kim Oanh – was living in remote Can Tho and says she slept with no other Westerners on or around the time Truc Ly was conceived, in January 2005. Oanh was not only a lover of Glitter during his time in Vietnam but also sold her 10-year-old niece, Diem, to him for sex on two occasions.
Oanh first met Glitter – real name Paul Francis Gadd – in Cambodia, where, like many poor Vietnamese girls from the border area, she was working as a bar girl in 2003 and 2004, according to his original prosecution papers. After he was driven out of Cambodia to Vietnam on suspicion of child sex offences, he would arrange for Oanh and two other girls to travel from their home in the Mekong Delta to visit him for days at a time in a villa he rented in the seaside resort town of Vung Tau.
Oanh and the other girls – Bui Thi Cam Tu and Truong Thi Bich Thuan – would visit Glitter sometimes together and sometimes alone, and spend three to four days at a time with him, receiving sums ranging from 500,000 to 3,200,000 Vietnamese dong (HK$170 to HK$1,100) for each stay.
In the summer of 2005, Oanh arrived with Diem. The three of them shared a bed and Oahn twice sold Diem to Glitter for sums of 800,000 and 1,000,000 dong, the prosecution papers record.
Months later, in November 2005, Glitter was arrested on suspicion of child sex abuse as he tried to flee Vietnam for Thailand. He was later sentenced to three years for abusing Diem and another girl, 12-year-old Nguyen, although charges of child rape were reduced to molestation after he agreed to pay US$2,000 to the family of each girl.
Oanh was midway through her pregnancy when she sold Diem to Glitter. However, she says, she convinced herself the baby belonged to a Vietnamese boyfriend she was sleeping with. Glitter – who had had unprotected sex with Oanh – never once asked if he was the father and continued to see Oanh until she was seven months pregnant. After her final visit to Vung Tau, in the autumn of 2005, Oanh asked Glitter for help with her medical bills.
He reacted by handing her a bundle of notes equivalent to HK$1,000 and sending her on a seven-hour bus journey home, Oanh recalls. She never saw or heard from him again.
When Truc Ly was born with fair hair, pale skin and dark blue eyes, in November 2005 – a month before Glitter’s arrest – Oanh says she realised the ex-glam rocker must be the father. She says her boyfriend walked out of the hospital after taking one look at the newborn and saying: “That’s not my baby. She looks like a Westerner.”
Truc Ly was almost 1kg heavier than an average Vietnamese baby at birth and had to be delivered by emergency caesarean section. Oanh wrote a letter (seen by this author) to Glitter in prison telling him about the baby and asking him to acknowledge their daughter but received no reply.
Glitter was deported from Vietnam to Britain in 2008, after serving his three-year term. After spending years contesting an overseas travel ban, he was rearrested in 2012 and, in 2015, sentenced to a 16-year jail term for child sex offences in Britain dating back to the 1970s and 80s.
Glitter remains wealthy through royalties on his still-played hits – he had 11 UK Top-10 singles between 1972 and 75 – and has a flat in Mayfair that he rents out. He has told friends he hopes to win early release from his jail term on health grounds.
POST MAGAZINE MEETS Truc Ly when Oanh pays a rare visit home with the girl’s three-year-old stepsister, Xitin, from the forestry plantation 300km away, where she lives with her new Vietnamese husband.
Oanh breaks down in tears as she speaks of her shame about what had happened and of her hopes that Glitter will accept Truc Ly as his daughter and help to support her.
“Truc Ly always asks me who her father is but I’ve never had the heart to tell her,” Oanh says. “She knows she is different from the other children in her class and she stood out when she was younger because of her pale skin and light hair.
“I will sit her down and tell her everything one day but I want her to be a little older first. I’ve never heard anything from Gary since Truc Ly was born and I no longer have any feelings for him. I am sorry for everything that happened.
“I would like him to support his daughter because she is a bright girl and she deserves the chance to stay on in school and make something of her life.”
Oanh dictates a letter for our translator to write out in English and send to Glitter, to ask him to support Truc Ly and to consider a paternity test to prove he is her father.
“I know you have never met Truc Ly but you would be very proud of her,” says the letter. “She is one of the top students in her class and is a loving and obedient child who looks after her grandmother. If you can help in any way and allow Truc Ly to continue her education, we would be very grateful.”
Asking him to take a paternity test, Oanh adds: “Every child has a right to know who their parents are.”
A sympathetic reading of Glitter’s refusal so far to acknowledge Oanh or Truc Ly would be that he is determined to put his past shame in Vietnam behind him. But his attitude to them stands in contrast to his continuing support for another woman from his days in Southeast Asia.
Glitter has been sending hundreds of US dollars a month to former prostitute Bui Thi Cam Tu since his return to Britain. From his jail cell on the Isle of Wight, Glitter instructs friends and relatives managing his finances to transfer money to Tu – who he calls Song – from a bank account in Britain.
According to paperwork seen by this reporter, the payments have crept up from about US$150, when he was first deported in 2008, to as much as US$800 a month, depending on Song’s needs.
“What Song wants, Song gets,” says a friend familiar with the arrangement.
Hard-drinking Song was a constant companion at his villa in Vung Tau and Glitter is thought by friends to be terrified she has evidence, including photos or video of him with child victims, that could be made public or used for further prosecutions.
The payments are organised by a wealthy friend of Glitter, who visited the singer in Vietnam and, according to Diem, shared girls with him at poolside parties in his seaside villa.
After his deportation, Glitter paid for Song to be taken to Hanoi to apply for a visa to join him in Britain but she was turned down, partly because she has a criminal record for prostitution.
Post Magazine tracks her down to Chau Doc, on the Vietnam-Cambodia border, where she has a reputation as a party girl with gangland connections. Plain, chubby and scruffily dressed, Song – now 28 – denies she has had any recent contact with Glitter.
“He hasn’t given me any money,” she says. “I haven’t heard from him since he left Vietnam.”
Friends contradict this, however, one saying, “She talks to him and his friend by phone and by Skype all the time and picks up her money from the bank as soon as he sends it.”
Glitter’s money appears to fund Song’s family as well as her partying and monthly trips to Ho Chi Minh City for treatment of a liver condition she tells us was triggered by her heavy drinking.
Even before his deportation, Glitter stayed in touch with Song from his prison cell in Vietnam and sent money to her through his lawyer. He began sending monthly sums from Britain shortly after his deportation, using a relative’s dormant bank account.
Song’s hold over Glitter dates from his time in Vung Tau, where she would trawl the beachfront by motorbike for young runaways and dropouts to bring home to him.
“Glitter was completely dependent on Song,” one teenage acquaintance recalls. “She was like a mother and a ‘mamasan’ and a girlfriend to him all at the same time.
“She knows everything Glitter did. She was the one who found all the young girls for him to sleep with. She was also the only girl who could drink as much as him.”
Glitter and the girls would drink beer and red wine before going into locked rooms inside the two-storey villa, his former maid Nguyen Thi Anh told police in interviews.
Song was living with Glitter when he was confronted by a journalist in Vung Tau in November 2005, triggering a police investigation into his activities. The pair went into hiding before Glitter was arrested seven days later as he tried to board a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok.
A semi-literate bar girl who left school at 12 and speaks limited English, Song quickly became close with Glitter, describing him to friends as her “husband”.
“She was dark skinned and very plain – she wasn’t the type you’d ever expect to see end up with a rich Westerner,” says internet bar owner Nguyen Tho, who knew the couple.
Nearly 11 years after his arrest, however, Song’s hold over the fallen pop star appears to remain powerful as she continues to demand ever higher monthly payments.
For Truc Ly, meanwhile, life comes down to two much simpler issues: her grandmother’s health and the question of whether or not her family can afford to keep her in school.
Two months after it was posted, and with the new school year already under way, Oanh’s hopeful letter to Glitter remains unanswered.
Red Door News Hong Kong