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Macca turns 81 next month. Macca’s long and winding road by, Beatles biographer, Hunter Davies

Blog | By Hunter Davies | May 18, 2023

I first went to see Paul McCartney on 14th September 1966, in the house he’d recently moved into, a Georgian gem in St John’s Wood.

That was a surprise in itself. John and Ringo – young lads, new to London, new to untold wealth – had moved to the suburbs into mock-Tudor mansions on an estate in Weybridge, Surrey. They thought, ‘This is posh. This is what you do, as lads from the North.’

George got it even more wrong – he had moved into a horrible modern bungalow in Esher, also in Surrey. But Paul was ahead of the game, realising inner London was the place to live, in a period house, among the affluent and upmarket, arty, intellectual folk.

In his house, I noticed a Magritte above the mantelpiece. Goodness, how did a lad of 24 get to know about such artists, growing up on a northern council estate – as I had done, too.

Paul still has that same house today as his London home. A sign that, deep down, he is a conservative sort of fella…

I had gone to see him to ask him where the words of Eleanor Rigby came from. I thought they were amazing: so literary, clever and evocative. I was sure it would be the best poetry of 1966 (as if I knew anything about poetry).

* Later that year, in December 1966, I went to see him again in his house. This time I was there as a screenplay-writer, not a newspaper hack. I was working on the script for the movie of my first book (Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush). The director wanted Paul to write the theme tune. Paul thought about it, but later said no.

While I was with him, I suggested a biography of the Beatles – a proper hardback. There had so far been only two thin paperbacks about the Beatles.

I said to Paul, ‘If I do it properly, for the rest of your life, when people ask you the same boring questions – “Why is Beatles spelled that strange way?” or “Where did your funny hair come from?” – you can say, “It’s all in the book.” ’

There and then, he helped me write an arse-licking letter to Brian Epstein, their manager. I had to tell him how upmarket the book would be and how upmarket I was – har har. Well, I did have a column in the Sunday Times, and had two books published – stuff that would impress Brian. And Brian said yes.

Paul and Linda with Hunter and wife Margaret Forster, Portugal, 1968.

With Linda, 1969

With Heather Mills

It struck me at the time that Paul was the charmer of the Beatles: the PR man; the fixer.

* During the writing and research of the biography, each of the Beatles came to my house for a meal. Paul brought Jane Asher, his fiancée. They were a lovely couple.

I discovered that Paul had previously been living for some time in a flat in Jane’s parents’ house in Wimpole Street. They were a middle-class, artistic, musical, academic family – the sort he had never experienced in his Liverpool days.

I remember thinking this was probably why he had come to live in St John’s Wood, not too far from Wimpole Street, in a period house, and had modern art on his wall.

* In 1968, my wife and I and our two young children had a year abroad.

One December night in Portugal, in Praia da Luz, Paul arrived by taxi from Faro, some 50 miles away – with no money to pay the taxi-driver. He had flown in from London on a private jet and had given his English money to someone at the airport to change into escudos – and had then jumped into a taxi and forgotten the cash.

We hadn’t known he was coming. We had no phone, but we had been in touch and he knew our address.

With him was a blonde American girl called Linda, whom I had never seen before, with a child from a previous relationship.

Our first impression was that Linda was a groupie – a one-night stand. How wrong we were. It was real love, which lasted till she died in 1998, aged only 56.

* While in Portugal, we did have words one evening about bringing up children. Our son, Jake, aged two, was running around holding a lethal knife. So I grabbed it off him. Paul maintained you should leave kids to find out about danger themselves. I said, ‘You mean when they cut their hand off?’

* He himself is brilliant with all kids. Ours competed to clamber over him and play with him, as can be seen in a Super 8 family film I made at the time. Paul knows how to relate to young children. John was useless.

* What happened with Jane Asher?

I do admire how Jane has never given interviews about her relationship with Paul – and yet in Paul’s recent book, The Lyrics, he endlessly praises her influence and qualities, describing the songs she inspired. Heather Mills, whom he later married, doesn’t get a mention.

* Why did he marry Heather Mills? I can only imagine that, like me after my wife died, he was motivated by loneliness and lust – which can happen even to one of the most famous, most desirable people on the planet. Then he realised he had made a mistake.

* At the peak of Beatlemania in the sixties, the Beatles were on tour somewhere. Paul told me one night in Portugal that while on tour he had decided to leave the hotel in his ordinary clothes and go to a fairground, hoping to pick up a girl. As a teenager in Liverpool, he had always had success with girls at fairgrounds. He wanted to test whether his attraction now was all due to his fame. He came back to the hotel on his own.

He tried a similar test with a song – written for Peter and Gordon, under the assumed name of Bernard Webb. It got to number 20 before the secret was out, but it indicated to Paul that it was his writing, not his fame, that did it.

* In January 1967, after I had eventually seen Brian, and got the commission to do the Beatles’ biography, one of the directors of my publisher Heinemann said, ‘Nah, the bubble will burst. We know everything we ever want to know about the Beatles.’

You don’t hear that any more.

* One of the many things I admire about Paul, apart from his amazing musical fluency –songs just flow out of him; he can play any instrument – is that he sent his children to state schools. This is unlike almost all other pop stars and footballers who are suddenly earning loads of money.

* He can be a bit annoying, going on about what an ordinary fellow he is, but that’s what he tries to be, and what he still feels, despite everything. He drives his own car and does try to live an ordinary life.

He came to my house once, back in 1967, and announced he had to go and buy some cigarettes.

‘Must you?’ I said. ‘I’ll get them for you, if you are desperate. You’ll be mobbed.’

But still he walked to the newsagent round the corner. When he came back, our street was filled with hundreds of screaming girls, banging on the front door. I was furious.

* Over the years, he has also exhibited his paintings and written books and an oratorio. What a polymath.

He hasn’t produced a novel yet, as far as I know. When he was staying with us in Portugal, I found him one day bashing away with two fingers on my manual typewriter. I asked what he was writing. He said, ‘A story.’

I have since asked him if he ever finished it. He shrugs and says it is locked up in his archives. I suppose one day he might get it out again.

* I admired what he did with Wings, the group he formed in 1971 after the break-up of the Beatles.

He was determined to go on the road again, starting from scratch, playing student-union gigs, often just arriving and offering to perform. He took Linda, his wife, despite her rather limited musical talent. He knew she would be mocked, but he wanted her to be with him. He so wanted to perform in public, on stage again, as in the old days. He is still at it.

He clearly loves performing. He’s always taken any chance to get up and sing or play the guitar or the piano.

In Portugal, while staying with us, he went into a nearby hotel, the Penina, and sat in with the local quartet in their dinner jackets and strummed away. It is not conceit, self-regard or showing-off. It is still what gives him great pleasure in life – making music.

* His dad, Jim, was like that, too. He could play several instruments. And he was also a charmer – a lovely man. He was a retired cotton salesman. I stayed with him in the house in the Wirral Paul had bought for him.

By chance that day, the acetate of When I’m Sixty-Four had arrived from Paul. I danced to it all evening with Jim’s new wife, Angie. Paul and his brother, Michael, were not exactly enamoured when Jim got married again, after ten years or so on his own as a widower, bringing up two boys. History repeated itself some years later when Paul’s own daughters were not too thrilled by Paul’s marriage to Heather Mills.

* Six years ago, I was invited by Paul to a private party, where there were several old friends, such as the artist Peter Blake. I met his present wife, Nancy, for the first time. Lucky man. What a good choice. Attractive, gentle, modest, unpushy.

* Paul’s eldest daughter, Mary, was there. I told her, ‘You were conceived in my bed.’ She looked rather alarmed.

I explained that, when her parents came to our Portuguese house in 1968, we gave up our bedroom and moved into the spare bedroom. Nine months later, Mary was born.

‘Goodness, that must mean you are my, my, er … dunno. What, my step-godfather?’

When I came home, I told my wife what I had said to Mary. She was appalled.

* I last saw Paul a few months ago, at the private première of Get Back. He does look slim, fit and well as he approaches 80, with a grand head of hair. Lucky beggar. I know it’s all real, ’cos I have inspected it. Thank goodness he has now let it go grey. It was laughable when, for a while, he touched it up and it came out a funny brown colour.

* He is a sensible, sensitive fella, but also a good businessman, tougher and more controlling than he might appear. He is at ease now with his global fame – which he has had for the vast majority of his lie.

* His relationship with John was always complicated – loving each other but competitive. John could be cruel and dismissive of him.

In the early years, some commentators felt Paul was the soppy, sentimental one, best at love songs, while John was the true original. That rather hurt Paul. No one thinks that today.

* They could both write love songs, rock and roll, psychedelic and the experimental stuff. But Paul always had the better range. And arguably created more hits than John.

But it is silly and pointless to compare when we are dealing with such pearls. We all have our faves. Mine is still Eleanor Rigby.

Together, they have left us with over 100 classic songs which will be hummed as long as humanity has any breath left in its bodies.

The further we get from the Beatles era, the bigger they become.

* At that recent event to launch Get Back, I could see all the VIP guests, some of them awfully famous, twitching and stammering the moment he arrived, manoeuvring themselves to be close to the Presence. He managed to have a brief friendly word for them all. It must be a right drag, keeping on doing that, after almost 60 years of being a public face. John was always more likely to tell people to f**k off.

Paul is a gent. Just like his dad. And a musical genius. I think we all know that now. The scoffers have disappeared. Paul is greatly loved, and admired, by all ages, classes and countries. He has grown into a national treasure. We are lucky to have him among us.

Hunter Davies wrote The Beatles, the only authorised biography (Ebury, £14.99)

In 2018