Freddie Starr: How footballer Joe Harper became a close friend of the late comedian
Freddie Starr didn't eat Joe Harper's hamster. But he did tease the former Scotland striker on stage for missing a penalty, flew him to a party in his private plane and became a close friend.
The comedian, who has died aged 76, was a fan of Everton, who Harper joined from Aberdeen in 1972, and invited the player and his wife to live with him when they first moved.
"That was the sort of guy he was," 71-year-old Harper told BBC Scotland. "He was a gem of a guy."
Harper revealed that Starr, the subject of that famous tabloid headline about a hamster, had introduced himself in the players' lounge at Goodison Park after he made his debut against Tottenham Hotspur.
"It was probably the best game of football I've ever played in my life," he said. "I hit the bar twice, I hit the post, we won 3-1 and I made a couple of goals for Howard Kendall, but I actually missed a penalty, hitting the post with 10 minutes left."
But, after inviting Harper, his wife and their friends to his show that evening in Liverpool and organising a front-row table, the comedian had a surprise for them.
"There's a five-a-side goal on the stage and the next thing Freddie comes out, he's swinging on a rope and hits this false wall, but when he hits the false wall, he's got one of these 'Hey Jimmy" wigs on, he's got an Everton jersey on, he's got the white shorts down to his ankles and he's got the right boot and left boot on the wrong feet and he starts to speak in this Scottish accent and starts to talk about the penalty," he said.
The hall is split into two, one side red napkins for Liverpool fans, the other blue for Everton - and Starr kicks the ball into the Liverpool end telling them "that's how much he missed it by". Harper added: "The whole place erupted. From that moment on, we became very good friends."
Everton had arranged for the striker and his pregnant wife to live in a Southport flat until they had bought a house, but Starr insisted they come live with him. "We stayed with him for about three or four weeks," he said. "It was hilarious every minute he was in the house. We had a lot of happy times together."
'Freddie has been taking flying lessons'
Harper recalls how his wife was upset that she would not be able to attend her sister's party in Glasgow as there would not be enough time to drive north after an Everton home game. So Starr arranged for the couple to be picked up outside the ground in his chauffeur-driven white Rolls Royce immediately after full-time.
They thought they were being driven to Glasgow, but instead they headed for what was then Speke Airport, where Starr's 10-seater plane was waiting on the tarmac.
"The captain tells me Freddie has been taking flying lessons and he is going to join us and he would return to Blackpool to work that night after dropping us off in Glasgow," Harper said.
"Unfortunately, as it turned out, that night was probably the worst weather Glasgow had had in 50 years. There were gale force winds, it was pouring with rain. So, when we got to Carlisle, the plane was going up and down, side to side. I can hear the pilot saying to Freddie, your lessons have been going really well, if you can land the plane in this weather, that's you, you have passed your test. We can hear him saying 'I can't do this'."
Harper recounts that Starr went below the seat and there were noises like he was being sick.
"Maybe about 300-400 yards from the landing area, Freddie jumps up, he's got a Japanese kamikaze hat on with a pair of goggles," he added. "The pilot landed the plane beautifully. Freddie said he would come and pick us up on Monday, but we said we would just get the train back."