The Paul McCartney Project

McCartney interview with MOJO

Interview of Paul McCartney • May 1st, 2003
Published by:
MOJO
By:
Johnny Black
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Interview

When Sir Paul McCartney’s dark blue Mercedes drives into Docklands Arena and pulls up at the side of the stage, the 60-year-old man who climbs out looks sprightly, even jaunty. He throws his elegant grey jacket over one shoulder, as he proffers a broad smile to everyone he greets. There’s a ripple effect as he moves away from the vehicle, a small knot of his employees drifting along with him. Press officer, catering manager, sound man, security personnel… and they each have a little something they need him to do if and when he has a moment.

He appears to be taking it all on board, seems to placate them all, and by the time he pauses about 30 feet in front of the stage, the knot has dissolved and they’re all heading back to their appointed posts.

The figure briefly watches his mainly American band as they jam cheerfully around the distinctive chord progression of Walk Don’t Run by The Ventures, then joins them on the stage, immediately changing the mood as he leads them into Shakin’ All Over, the first truly great pre-Beatles British rock track. Given how much we seem to love speculating about McCartney’s motives, it would be easy to interpret this as a statement of intent – the British boss asserting his personality over his yankee staff – but it’s also undeniably a great track to warm-up on, and he seems to relish playing it. Up there on that stage, bashing away in front of an audience of less than 20 onlookers, he seems just as happy as he would be if he were basking in the approval of 20,000.

It’s March 14, 2003, and for the next few days the 12,000-capacity Arena – a far cry from the Liverpudlian sitting rooms where The Beatles first knocked their live sets together – is serving as McCartney’s rehearsal hall in the run up to a major European tour.

McCartney’s personal fortune was recently estimated at £620 million by People magazine. In the last year alone, he raked in £120m, of which £65m came from US tour receipts and album sales. But money, as he once famously pointed out, can’t buy love. And love, in the words of another Beatles’ classic, is all you need. In the enduringly poignant country music standard A Satisfied Mind, written in 1955 by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes, such sentiments are explored more fully in the lines, “Money can’t buy back your youth when you’re old, or a friend when you’re lonely, or a heart that’s grown cold.”

Looked at in that light, just how wealthy is Paul McCartney? Here’s a man, adored by millions, disliked by millions, whose young life was shattered on October 31, 1956 when his mother, Mary, died of cancer in the Northern Hospital, Liverpool. The following year, he befriended John Lennon, only to re-live his own grief over again when Lennon’s mother, Julia, died in 1958.

With George Harrison and Ringo Starr, he and Lennon formed the most successful band the world has ever seen, then watched helplessly as it was destroyed by drugs and greed, turning their friendship to dust along the way. After years of acrimony, he and Lennon had just begun healing their wounds and rebuilding their friendship when Lennon was stolen away from him again by the bullets from Mark Chapman’s gun.

The other major relationship that had brought stability into McCartney’s life was his lasting marriage to Linda Eastman, but that was also taken from him too soon when she died from cancer in April 1998, aged just 56. And it was cancer again that claimed the life of George Harrison on November 29, 2001.

To what extent can £620m heal the scars left by those assaults on McCartney’s famously cheery – and oft derided – bonhomie? The answer, as any fule kno, is that it can’t. So what is it that keeps those legendary thumbs aloft? It has to be more than just the buzz of playing Shakin’ All Over with a band half your age.

When, after an hour and a half, the first rehearsal is over, MOJO is pulled into Macca’s wake by press officer Geoff Baker. At the end of a walk through bare and stark backstage corridors, we arrive at the inner sanctum, a dressing room converted into something not unlike a Persian boudoir, complete with velvet cushions, exotic drapes, dishes groaning with fresh fruit and the smell of incense perfuming the air.

Sitting opposite him across a low table, there’s very little feeling of being in the presence of greatness. He wears his celebrity comfortably – like a favourite old shirt. He is perfectly polite, knows how to put a stranger at ease with an amusing aside but, above all, the passage of the years has made him even more gentlemanly. In the flesh, his boyish demeanour compemsates for the lines and wrinkles that have come with age. Look into his face at close quarters and what you see are his eyes, still twinkling. Somewhere behind that twinkle, however, there’s a mind like a steel trap. You don’t get to where McCartney has got without one.

What would be a typical day in your life, like when you’re not working?

I tend to be the one who gets up to make breakfast. You’d die for my breakfast. It’s my Zen thing. I cut up all these lovely exotic things, normally in this order: I cut up a melon, a papaya, some kiwis, bananas, peach, and I make a fruit plate and it looks a bit like a mandala when I’ve done it – there’s all sorts of reasons why but it just have developed into this. We’ll also have tea, bagels, humous – quite a big, fancy breakfast. Then it’s a walk in the park with the dog, or if I’m in the country it might be a horse ride.

Later in the day, I like going to the pictures. We’ve got a great local cinema… Normally I’ll go with Heather, but I went to see Lord Of The Rings on my own. Loved it, whacking great film.

You can go to the cinema without being hassled?

Yeah. I do everything without being hassled. It’s actually been one of my pleasures. I actually like getting on the Tube, getting on the bus. I’ll do it if I’m walking and I see a bus going my way, I’ll just jump on. I did it in the 60s. George’s dad was a bus driver and he could never believe I’d do that. People can’t believe it. I had a guy in the street the other day, he was really worried that I was out on my own with no security. I said, “Gerraway.” I’ve always done that. I used to sometimes walk to Beatles concerts, and you’d get a screaming mass of girls and I’d say, “Come on, girls, calm down.” I’d do the big brother thing. I’m very comfortable with that. If not a movie, we’ll watch TV or a DVD in the evening – I usually try to see Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Blind Date.

Most of us watch Millionaire because we’d like to be one, but that can’t be the appeal for you…

I want them to be millionaires. Actually Heather wants us to go on as a couple. It was funny because we met Chris Tarrant (the show’s presenter) the other night and Heather, in her keenness, said, “We should come on the Celebrity Millionaire show,” … which is for charity, so it’s a good thing… she said, “I know all the answers Paul doesn’t know and he knows all the ones I don’t know.” Chris said, “No, you shouldn’t come on. You’d be terrible.” He just completely took the piss, which was hilarious, because you’d expect him to be really keen.

Somewhere in the evening I’ll have a drink, and get to bed maybe about 11. Is that early? And then I’ll go to sleep and snore. Apparently I snore, but not a lot.

A brace of young women arrive bearing a tray laden with Paul’s lunch – chunky raisin scones, toast and a major pot of tea. Immediately he’s on his feet, exchanging pecks on the cheek, addressing them both by name, inquiring after their well-being. He points at the various delights on the tray to indicate that MOJO is welcome to partake.

Your band on this tour is noticeably young and energetic. How did you find them?

My keyboard player Wix has been with me for years, but I was going to make a record (Driving Rain) in America with David Kahne. He rang me about 10 days before the first session and said, “Do you think you might want to play live in the studio?” So I said, “Yeah, maybe.” So he said, “Should I get a couple of musicians in case you do?” I said, “OK, if you like.” I just left it very sort of casual.

So he thought about some people he admired. He’d never worked with Abe (Laboriel Jr, drummer) but he admired his work. He’d worked with Rusty (Anderson, guitarist). So he told me he’d got these people with great attitudes and who were great players and who could sing.

So I came in on the Monday morning, met the guys, and immediately started making the album, basically live. And that was it. Then, when we did the Superbowl, we needed one more guitarist for that so I asked David, “Do you know anybody?” And he said, “Yeah, this guy Brian Ray.” And he seemed to fit in great.

What do you think people expect from you when they come to a show?

I’m trying to keep a balance, proportionate, between Beatles stuff, Wings stuff and solo stuff. I don’t want it to just be a Beatles show, but I don’t mind giving an audience my most popular stuff. If I go to see David Gray, I’d like to hear him do Babylon because I like that song. And I’d be pretty disappointed if Coldplay didn’t do Yellow, you know?

We still have to rehearse to stay fresh, we’re making some changes to the screens and the lights (at these rehearsals), and I am adding a couple of songs to the set, so it’ll be a slightly longer show.

You were always the one in The Beatles who would turn up at a pub and sing songs. You did it during Magical Mystery Tour and you did it in 1968 on the way back from recording Thingumybob with the Black Dyke Mills Band.

I’d been up in Bradford with (Apple press officer) Derek Taylor, and we were just driving back to London, and we all got bored, someone wanted a pee, so we stopped in a little town called Harrold. And I think when we got to the pub it was shut but we got it to open up and we had a drink and there was a piano there so I sat down and played Let It Be.

Is that as much fun for you as playing in Earl’s Court or wherever?

Yeah. It is. It’s just a different kind of fun. I really do like it. If there’s a piano around it would be very difficult for me to just sit and watch it. It seems to me, in my naivety, that it’s something you approach and tinkle, to see if it’s in tune. It’s not a great desire to perform, I don’t think. I think it’s more that I like music, I like piano… but guitar is best.

Your first instrument was a trumpet. Was that something you wanted, or was it foisted on you by a well-meaning parent?

At the time, I think I must have sort of coveted a trumpet. My dad was a trumpet player and I did like it but when I realised I couldn’t sing and play the trumpet at the same time, I asked him and he said he didn’t mind me trading it in for a guitar. I thought he might be a bit insulted, but he didn’t mind.

The head of another aide pops round the door. It seems the BBC has arrived to show Paul a DVD of a commercial he’s done for the Corporation. Then there’s more rehearsal to be done but maybe we can reconvene later. Not for the first time, McCartney is ushered politely out of reach.

Docklands Arena, soon to be ripped down and replaced with more commercially viable properties, is virtually devoid of character. Fortunately, the stage show devised for this tour offers no end of distraction for the senses. As well as serried ranks of lights of very sort known to man, and some ear-splitting pyrotechnics in Live And Let Die, there are over 30 giant video screens forming a semi-circle around one humongous mother-screen which can be raised up and down as required on worryingly noisy pulleys.

“All our fuckin’ technology and it sounds like a building site,” wails the sound man. He’s consoled by a crew member who’s seen it all before – Gerry Stickells, the legendary Hendrix roadie tempted out of retirement for this tour at McCartney’s personal request.

When he returns to the Arena floor after watching the BBC DVD, he notices that the text on the mother-screen – via which audience members can text each other from their mobiles – is smaller than it used to be. He calls over the lighting director and suggest that “maybe… it might be better if… don’t you think?” Moments later, with the text size already increased, Macca is onstage running the band through the entire show – not that they seem to need it. The set runs almost faultlessly, synchronised with the lights and screens to such an extent that even the ‘Na Na Na’ audience participation section of Hey Jude is rehearsed in real time, with Paul exhorting the imaginary throng – “OK, just the ladies now… fantastic… now just the guys…”

He’s on-stage, performing with more energy than at any time since the heyday of The Beatles, for almost three hours in all, but he comes off at the end barely out breath, and we repair once more to the inner sanctum.

It’s interesting that you use the on-stage screens during Lady Madonna as a gallery of feminist icons…

They actually had Madonna among the visuals, but I thought that was too obvious. So they asked what I’d like to replace Madonna with and I said, “The Queen Mother.” This was two weeks before she died, so when we started touring ti looked like we’d put her in as a tribute.

I didn’t notice Yoko Ono either. Are you two still feuding?

I know that’s the public perception of it, but I do not have a bad relationship with her. We’re not enemies, me and Yoko. We send each other Christmas cards and everything. She’s more like a distant relative.

But you are tussling over the credits to the Lennon-McCartney songs…

There’s no tussle at all, but if, on my songs, like Hey Jude or Yesterday, which John openly acknowledged, particularly in the Playboy interview, that he had nothing whatsoever to do with… John actually made a list for the Playboy thing showing which songs were his and which were mine. I would be quite happy if, on one of the songs, it would be allowed, for my name to just come first. But I’m really not fussed. It’s not anywhere near as big an issue as it looks. It gets played up in the press. It’s a hot little story. And it makes me look stupid. “Why the fuck does he want that?” It’s actually just a very little request.

More importantly for me, it’s Trades Descriptions. It’s so complex and I hate to go on about it but, for example, I was reading a book, an anthology of poetry, and one of the poems in it was Blackbird, which is my lyric. And it said by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Now John had nothing to do with those words, especially once they’ve been extracted from the music and put into a poetry book. I think it’s fair enough to put Blackbird in a poetry book by Paul McCartney. Give Peace A Chance… take my name off it. It was a great, great anthem of John’s.

It’s sort of a mild request I made to Yoko and it’s sort of been turned down. If she’d have said yeah, the publishing company could probably have sorted it out.

Do you think it matters more to other people than it does to you?

I don’t think anyone gives a shit.

But Alistair Taylor, who worked for you at NEMS and Apple for many years, told me he was very upset that you would want to change the credits. He says it was agreed at an early meeting that it should be Lennon-McCartney, and you agreed to that…

Well, number one, Alistair was not in the meeting where I agreed it. It’s all very nice these guys having these opinions, but here’s what I say and this is the truth. There was a meeting with me, John and Brian, in Hilly House, above a carpet shop in Albemarle Street. We went in and they said, “We’re going to call it Lennon-McCartney.” I said, “Well, OK, fair enough, but it would be good to have it occasionally McCartney-Lennon, wouldn’t it, just for fairness for me?”

And they said, swear to God, hand on heart, but there was nobody else in the room and they’re both dead, so there’s no way of me proving this, except I believe it, I was there, and nobody else who talks about it was there, and they said, “We can change it as we go along. And we can change it any time we want out of fairness.”

This was why, many years later, when the Anthology came about, I and Linda, who had just been diagnosed with cancer, rang Yoko, and said, “Could we just, on Yesterday, could we just switch that one track?” That was the original request. It was just for that one song. And Linda, God bless her, spent quite a bit of time ringing Yoko and that was the start of it all.

And now, I must just be resigned, because it doesn’t really matter, except from the point of view of this Blackbird credit. There is an unfairness there, I think. But it’s an unfairness I’m willing to live with. I don’t mind, and I do think it has rebounded on me a bit because people want to know, “What the fuck does he think he’s doing?” I’ve had letters from people saying, “Paul, you’re doing yourself no favours. I was a big fan of yours but this terrible thing of trying to ruin John’s reputation…” I’m not trying to ruin John’s reputation.

When Yoko was interviewed by MOJO, she said it wasn’t all black during the making of the White Album. There was some lighter moments. Is that how you recall it?

That’s absolutely true, yeah. We’d never have got an album made if it was as black as it was painted. It’s a good album. I remember we presented John and Yoko with an inscribed teapot, and that was a fun time. Unfortunately, because The Beatles were splitting up, the only thing anybody wanted to know about was the split.

It wasn’t all black, even then. We were all pretty friendly, and the times when we weren’t friendly was quite a small proportion of the overall thing. Unfortunately, that’s what gets remembered because it was the most significant proportion because it ended up in a divorce, as it were. In a divorce court, you don’t say, “Oh, she was really great. She’s actually fabulous, and I’m sorry we’re getting a divorce.” That’s what happened to us. Because of the circumstances we had to talk about all the shit.

I think because the Beatles had been by and large a happy, successful thing… four lads getting out of Liverpool, getting out of the working class money trap and doing well… that had all been an up vibe and then with drugs and stuff towards the end of the ’60s it was all taking a bit of a dip. The drugs weren’t working, nobody was giggling anyore, and the word ‘heavy’ came into the vocabulary.

Because all of that was going on it did get nasty. The thing with me having to sue the other guys. I wanted to sue Allen Klein but I couldn’t, so the only way to get out of everything for me and them was for me to sue them, and that was unconscionable, that was something I would never have thought of doing.

It was unfortunate because, in suing the other guys, not only did I get their backs up for a number of years, but the public perception was of me being the guy who sued The Beatles. I held off doing it for months, but it was pointed out to me that the only other option was to go with Klein. So I did it but, luckily, all things must pass, and it did pass. In the end, the others were glad I’d done it. There wouldn’t be Apple now. But it was a very ugly period, and ugly things I had to do to make it work.

You still seem very interested in politics, supporting the campaign to get ride of landmines. But the Wings single, Give Ireland Back To The Irish, was a very direct political statement.

See, I thought we were Irish. So it was a home problem for me… McCartney… Liverpool being the capital of Ireland… it was like a very personal take on it. What if there were Irish soldiers on the streets of Hendon or Speke? Would you like it? That was my take on it.

As evening falls over Docklands, McCartney is whisked off home to dinner with Heather, leaving a promise that if MOJO returns on Monday, a little more interview time will somehow be squeezed into a hectic day. Over the intervening weekend, his Radio 2 commercial, a radically reworked version of Band On The Run, begins airing, along with a short TV film about its making.

When we reconvene at the Arena on Monday morning, the ambience has changed. A troupe of dancers – including a young woman bent on squeezing herself into a tiny Perspex box – is rehearsing backstage; two insurance brokers have arrived to check out the pyrotechnics; the MOJO photography crew, rpomised first access to Macca, is anxious; and there’s an entirely new set to be rehearsed.

As before, Macca opts to take to the stage first. A guitar tech hands him a jumbo acoustic and they lanunch into For No One, followed by Things We Said Today, C-Moon, Honey Don’t… this is the Coliseum set. The band is still unfamiliar with several of the tracks so Macca strums through I’ve Just Seen A Face yelling out the chords as he proceeds. As Geoff Baker strolls past, MOJO inquires whether McCartney will perform Mull of Kintyre when the tour hits Glasgow. “Absoutely not,” says Baker. “We’re frantically seaching for a pipe band at this very moment for an entirely different reason.”

Up on the stage, McCartney says, “OK lads, let’s try Cor Blimey Luv!” and they thunder into Can’t Buy Me Love. Come lunchtime, he is unexpectedly taken off for a meeting in central London, but promises MOJO a swift return.

Two hours later, precisely as predicted, McCartney reappears.

A couple of the post-Beatles songs like Coming Up and Let Me Roll IT seems to me to be much more powerful than the originals. Is this how you really intended them to be in the first place?

No. It’s an evolution caused by playing with this band. The parts are already there. What I like about this band is that I don’t really have to tell them. What I’ve done on this whole tour, this band, this new thing, is I’ve let everyone be, let them do their thing, and then if I don’t like it, I’ve reined it in a bit.

Rather than me dictating how to play it, I figure my dictatorial moments have happened – I wrote those songs and I did the original records, so now I don’t feel the band has to stick note-for-note to the original arrangements. It’s also a bit of a louder badn than I’ve had before, a bigger sound, so that adds to it.

I know that Rusty is working on his own CD at the moment, but there’s presumably no chance in this band of the other members being allowed to contribute their own songs on the set?

I’ve had to take on the role of boss ever since Wings. It wasn’t like The Beatles any more. Denny Laine, for example, had the reputation of having done Go Now, so you might want to do that, but really the promoters and the audience tended to want to hear my stuff.

At your level of success, you’re effectively the head of a small company. How do you know whether the people are saying that what you do is great because it is great, or just because you’re the boss?

It’s almost impossible, but I think I’ve been at it long enough now to suss… I actually see people telling me, “That’s a great idea!” but I prefer people to speak their minds. So in this kind of team, they’re not just sycophants. They’re more likely to be people who’ll say, “Yeah, that’s a good idea but what if we did this?” And I’ll go, “Wow! Shit! That’s a great idea.”

Do you take to the role of boss easily?

I used to be frightened of it when I was younger because I thought, “We all hate bosses, don’t we?” But I had to get over it because with Apple, we suddenly had this company losing a lot of money we’d earned so I then had to actually tell people what to do – I’m talking about secretaries and staff, The Beatles was still a democratic thing, but we all became bosses then.

That was a strange moment for you, when you had to take over the business side as well as the creative…

We all had to do it, and that had all its famous problems associated with it. After that I had to decide how I would do it in my solo career, which is when I put MPL together. Very small beginnings, one little room in some film production offices, and at that point I really did become the boss. I had a secretary and everything, and then that thing grew, so yeah, I’ve got more and more comfortable with it. I don’t think I’m a very hard boss, but I kick ass when things go wrong.

Do you think your continued success over 40 years – which seems to include a fair number of younger fans – is a bit odd? It’s as if, in the ’60s, Al Jolson or Rudy Vallée had still been pulling in huge crowds.

I think our thing was stuff that goes for all generations. I’m singing things now that I wrote years ago and thinking, “Shit, that’s still appropriate.” Doing Calico Skies, for example, talking about “crazy soldiers, weapons of war”… and look at what’s going on around us right now.

I certainly don’t think it’s any reflection of the state of contemporary music. I think music right now is really great. I’m not an expert, because I’m not a kid buying it, but I always check out people who are said to be good. I’ll see somebody getting a Grammy and I don’t know them, so I’ll check that out.

For instance, I’d heard Eminem on the radio and I thought, “Clever. Good lyrics, good ideas.” So I just went to see 8 Mile and it’s a great little rock ’n’ roll film, like an Elvis film. I enjoyed it and I came out like when I was a kid, that feelgood thing coming out of a movie like you’re walking a bit taller.

What are the eternal verities of a great song?

It’s an indefinable magic chemistry which can come many, many ways. Starting at the top… it’s often a great title. It’s often great words, or great melodies, or great chords or a great sound… but the best ones have got them all.

And there’s always a magic moment. Send In The Clowns, for example, has that line about, “Isn’t it queer… oh, they’re here.” Or in The Drugs Don’t Work. I remember hearing that record, the acoustic coming on, but when he hits that line, it’s like, “Fucking hell, that has to be said.” It hadn’t been said before.

If I had to plump for one single element, it would be melody, because not all songs have got words. I can be moved by a great melody on its own.

Many artists adopt personas. Is that what happened with The Beatles?

We didn’t think that was what we were about. We felt more like a little group of students. It was more an art thing we thought we were doing. We were just (adopts exagerated Liverpool accent) John, Paul, George and Ringo, you know? I think one of the great things about The Beatles, apart from the fact that we were damn good, was that we were very honest – that could be one of the things that has lasted. Also, we were artists. Our artistic development found a home in people’s hearts and they were able to follow it. Yellow Submarine is a kid’s thing; A Day In The Life is more grown up, so it was an interesting body of work.

It’s also a body of work that has haunted him ever since. Despite multi-platinum hits and a wealth of superlative tracks in his post-Beatles output, Lennon-McCartney remains the standard by which all contemporary songwriters, including him, are judged. John’s untimely death put him on a pedestal, moving him effectively beyond criticism, while McCartney got on with the job of living in the shadow of their unwieldy legacy. It must have been galling, for example, to release his acclaimed solo album Flaming Pie in 1997, while knowing full well that it would never match the sales of, or reap the critical plaudits heaped on The Beatles’ Anthology, a compilation of outtakes, backing tracks and rarities, which had been released two years earlier.

Nor did his renaissance man dabblings in classical composition, poetry and painting do much to revive public interest. But then, on June 11, 2002, Sir Paul McCartney married his ex-model girlfriend Heather Mills, in St Salvator’s Church, Castle Leslie, Glaslough, Ireland. Since then, although things haven’t gone exactly smoothly, it seems as if his life is more firmly back on track.

This is a man who obviously likes to be married, enjoys stability and finds pleasure in domesticity’s little routines, presumably to balance the whirlwind of activity that follows every move he makes outside of his front door. Watching him deliever the line, “Oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go” on the stage at Docklands, it suddenly seemed to rank among his most heartfelt.

Following the muted response from critics and public alike to his Driving Rain album of 2001, he makes no attempt to hide the fact that he’s revelling in the acclaim for and success of this tour in America, which has outstripped all expectations. For this 60-year-old knight of the realm to be the biggest-grossing US live act of 2002 – seeing off not just arch-rivals The Rolling Stones but also the young bucks – is clearly a source of immense personal satisfaction.

But who is he really? Bastion of the establishment? Rock idol? Contented hubby? Multi-talented renaissance man? Avant-garde pop genius? All of the aforementioned and more? Or just an old dopehead with a good head for a nice tune?

Over the years, you’ve been busted for marijuana in Scotland, England, Barbados, Japan, Scandinavia… you could probably get in the Guinness Book Of Records for being busted in most countries. Did anybody mention this in the process of making you a Sir?

No, nobody comes and says anything like that. You can be a terrible person and still be a Sir. It must be that way, because they gave it to me. The worst thing about being busted is that you go on computer records. So every time I go to America, they see my name on the database and they know I’ve been busted a lot, but I think they’ve sort of forgiven me. It’s like, “That was his wild youth but he’s all right now.” So they always let me through, but the drug busts, I have had to go and sit with the aliens in Customs, once or twice. It’s a bit embarrasing. That stuff never comes off your records.

What’s the most useful thing about being a Sir?

I can’t think of many useful things about it. George Martin says it gets you a good table in a restaurant, but I get a good table anyway. I ring up and ask for a table for 8.30 and if they say, “Sorry, there’s no tables left,” I will say, “This is Paul McCartnet here.” Then you hear a bit of scuffling and suddenly a table becomes free. I don’t actually like doing that, but I will if I’m desperate. But I never say, “This is Sir Paul McCartney.” I never call myself that. I see it as being like a school prize. You don’t really go for it, but get it because of what you are. Like the art prize or the maths prize. It’s nice to get it because it’s an honour, a recognition of what you’ve done, but it doesn’t do you much good. For me, the best thing about getting it was that it was popular. A lot of people said, “Oh yes, he deserved that.” That was important to me.

How about Sir Mick Jagger?

Who cares? I think it’s cool. I don’t think it makes you anything. I think you are ‘it’ already and it’s a prize for being that thing. And Mick is Mick so that’s fine. I can think of people who should get them… like Eric Clapton. He’s a prime candidate. Sir Eric Clapton has a ring to it.

At your level of success, you’re effectively a company. How many people do you employ all told?

Normally, we carry about 140. When you’re in school or college, you’re a scruffy little bastard writing essays all the time, hoping one day that you’ll be a lawyer, a judge, a journalist, rocker, head of a company, your dreams are all there and I’ve actually got my visualisation. I feel very lucjy. I’m really aware that it’s not just me… I’ve had a phenomenal amount of luck.

Heather said, a few months back, that marrying you had brought her a lot of unhappiness. How do you, as a couple, cope with that?

I’d like to help her with it, and I hate to say this, but it’s more how does she deal with it, you know? I think the shock for Heather was that she’d been “Great model who overcomes accident and now she does a lot of work for charity and disabled people.” The minute she married me, it was, “Who does she think she is?” It’s really quite unfair, but she’s a sitting target. I think it did give her a lot of grief. The most grief, the worst thing about it, was that it actually affected the charities she was working for. People actually stopped donating because of what they read in the newspapers, which was largely untrue. They did a lot of silly things. There was a photo of Heather and I at Stella’s fashion show, and it looked like Heather was doing two peace signs with her fingers and some journalist said, “Oh, she’s copying Linda.” And actually, on closer inspection, it was my hands. But who cares? They’re just having a go. I mean, who gives a shit who gives a V sign?

They also claimed she was doing a cookbook when she wasn’t. We get asked to give a recipe to an Amnesty cookbook or a vegetarion society cookbook, so you do that and it comes out as she’s doing a cookbook. It’s changed a bit since the Parky show. A lot of people like that show, and she changed a lot of people’s minds. In fact, we were walking the dog in Regent’s Park this morning and somebody came up and said, “That was really good on the Parky show!” The main point she made that people appreciated was that with this sort of arbitrary press sniping, it doesn’t affect her so much as it affects the charity, and the disabled people who might have got a leg if there’d been the money raised.

Somebody in one of the papers even said she was under investigation for her charity work, and that completely undermines what she’s trying to achieve. It turned out not to be true but, as you know, the apology appears on page 10 where no one sees it three weeks after all the damage has been done. The same thing happened in the early days with Linda but, as Parky said on the show, it comes with the territory – marrying this guy. It’s not so much me, though, it’s just fame. The same thing happens if you marry Tom Cruise, or Michael Douglas. You get a load of shit. You may have married him because you love him, but now you’re a sitting target.

I noticed that George’s death elicited a very different reaction among my friends than John’s did. John’s was horrible because it was sudden and unexpected and he was young. But I think George’s death reminded my entire generation of our own mortality. It’s as if we measure our own lives alongside the lives of artists we loved. Did you get any sense of that?

To me, of course, it was more of a personal thing. Privately, I felt the same way about both of them. I had lost a dear friend who I would never see again. But when John died, because of the shock, during that day I was asked what I felt about John’s death and all I could stumble across was, “It’s a drag.” I couldn’t gather my thoughts. We were just in shock. I was just shouting stuff about the guy who’d shot John.

I was very lucky that my relationship with John had been healed. It had been vicious, but were phoning each other, talking about kids, baking bread, cats, being a husband – all the simple shit that really means a lot to me. That was the consolation before the terrible shock.

With George’s death, because we knew it was happening, I was able to be more considered in my reaction. I was able to go and hold his hand… but the bottom line is that I will see that man no more, and that’s a little bit horrific for me. When you lose someone dear you just wish someone could magic it all back again. And maybe there is some way, who knows, in the great beyond.

After all he’s been through, McCartney seems more at peace with himself than at any time since John’s death. He is keenly aware that, in the public perception, such actions as seeking to change the credits on Lennon-McCartney songs have tarnished his image, but he also knows that one of the greatest tricks of surviving immense fame is learning to recognise that you have an image, realising that your image isn’t you, and stepping away from it in order to get on with real life.

The punchline of that old song, A Satisfied Mind, is that, “It’s so hard to find one rich man in 10 with a satisfied mind.” There’s no telling how long it might last but it would seem that, for the moment, Paul McCartney is that one rich man.

Last updated on March 9, 2019


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