- Published by:
- The Sunday Times
- Interview by:
- Sir Paul McCartney
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So much of my life with Linda, and our family, was spent just hanging out either at home or on holiday. The picture on this page is just a simple holiday snap. It was just one of those shots, a photograph of me in Jamaica relaxing in the afternoon. As a photographer, Linda had the freedom to take great family snapshots. She had that knack: when she was taking pictures, she managed to get us all to ignore her, totally.
She could take pictures of pretty much anything and we knew that we could trust her. We knew she’d only take pictures of stuff that she thought was worthy and not too private.
We were made to feel at home. I suppose we were, after all. When I first met her, I realised that as a photographer she was very sympathetic. It’s now 10 years since she died and probably 40 years since we first met. I can still recall our first meeting. It was at a London club, the Bag O’ Nails, when Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames were playing one night. Across a crowded room, as they say, our eyes met and the violins started playing – but they were drowned out by, of all people, Georgie Fame. Another northerner.
There was an immediate attraction between us. As she was leaving – she was with the group the Animals, whom she’d been photographing – I saw an obvious opportunity. I said: “My name’s Paul. What’s yours?” I think she probably recognised me.
It was so corny, but I told the kids later that, had it not been for that moment, none of them would be here. Later that night, we went on together to another club, the Speakeasy. It was our first date and I remember I heard Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale for the first time. It became our song.
Although Linda knew lots of top musicians – she’d worked as a photographer on the first issue of Rolling Stone – she was always very down to earth. In the 1960s we often travelled around by Tube. I took a picture of her one early afternoon. The carriage was completely empty and she wanted to shoot pictures of me.
She was always very beautiful. That picture of Linda on the Tube shows her perfectly: beautiful hands, absolutely no make-up, just the structure of the face. The argyle socks that everyone used to make fun of. She had two pairs and used to wear a red one with a green one. She was a very natural girl, naturally blonde. It was a very casual look. That’s how the two of us went around in those days – down into the Tube, and I shot a couple of pictures of her and she shot a couple of me. Soon after the Tube picture was taken I broke up with the Beatles, which was a horrendous thing for me. Linda was very matter of fact, very down to earth – two of the attributes I really needed at the time. And also she was a woman. Until then I’d felt I’d been dating girls – well, except maybe one or two. Linda was genuinely a woman. She had a five-year-old child and I was genuinely impressed by the way she handled herself in life. She just knew how to do it. I found that very impressive. It’s funny, but a lot of singers and bands these days are more down to earth than you might think. I actually went to dinner one evening with my daughter Stella and Madonna, who showed up on her own. We offered her a lift home and she said: “No, I want to walk home.” You think people wouldn’t want to do that, but they do. I go shopping, I go to the cinema, I do a lot of things like that because it’s a good balance for me between that and the high-profile stuff.
Even at the height of the Beatles era and the screaming fans, I would still go to gigs on the Tube. There was a ring of theatres on the outskirts of London in places like Walthamstow and Finsbury Park and we used to play all of them. I would just take the Tube into the suburbs and walk into the theatre. I remember one night a group of screaming fans recognised me walking along the street on my way to the gig. I always tried to say: “Wait, calm down.” It was a kind of brotherly attitude, like I was their older brother. I’d say: “Hello, girls, what do you want?” I’d just take control. They’d reply: “We want your autograph.” I’d say: “Okay, here’s the deal. If we all walk quietly to the theatre, we’ll chat and I’ll do them. We’ll have a great experience, but if there’s any screaming I won’t.” I cut a deal with them and it worked.
Linda didn’t take a lot of pictures of the Beatles, but she made the most of the opportunity when she was in the studio, usually at Abbey Road. She was very sensitive about not interrupting. She had this knack of not getting in the way. She had this great style where she would sit in the corner and just pull out her camera and take a couple of snaps and put it away. What I love about the shot of John and me is that it shows the great working relationship we had. It was a joy to work with John, particularly when we were writing and organising, as we were in this picture. I can’t recall exactly what we were doing – maybe a lyric, maybe a running order, maybe the medley on Abbey Road. At some point we had to organise what song would go where. I just love the joy of that picture – it’s beautifully composed. There were also the difficulties of the period – which show up in the film Let It Be – which I think have overshadowed the truth. It was a very heavy period. But this picture shows it wasn’t all like that. There was some light. And that’s how I remember our working relationship. Even though there were some tough moments, this was a great friendship.
Faced with the pressure of being married to a Beatle, Linda often wanted to get out of the city.
We would go on visits to places like Cliveden, where Linda photographed me with Heather, Linda’s daughter, who became our daughter. She always called me Dad. It is an interesting shot. I knew Cliveden from making the film Help! – we shot a sequence where we’d used the house, pretending it was Buckingham Palace. I’m not sure the Queen would have allowed that. I’d been out there with the Beatles and we met Lord Astor and he was on his last legs.
I remember him offering us all oxygen. He was saying: “Do you want a bit?” I think we did have a quick whiff.
I knew that Cliveden would be a nice day out for Linda, Heather and me. When we went for a drive, Linda always wanted to get lost. I had an in-built panic about being lost. I always want to know where London is. I don’t want to get to, say, Staines and not know my way back. We would go down to the most obscure places, have a great time, find a little tearoom or a riverbank. She taught me little things like that, to relax and be down to earth. It was very valuable to me then, a great part of the healing process after the Beatles broke up. She adored the country and loved taking photographs there. The picture on the opening spread was taken in Scotland on our farm, in 1982, when we were spending a lot of time there. That’s my Scottish dressing gown – it was itchy on the skin but it’s the one I wore.
My task was to walk from one end of the fence to the other and back, which I did until it got a bit rickety and it became a bit of a health hazard. What I think is fabulous about this picture is that it is one of those moments in time that someone like Cartier-Bresson specialised in. There are famous pictures that Cartier-Bresson took that showed someone jumping over a puddle in the road – it’s that “you’re there!” look. Then you have this lovely figure of Stella just crouching down in the foreground. And then you’ve got the dog perfectly pointing, a little labrador called Poppy, and then you’ve got me balancing. It’s quite amazing.
Linda was a very natural woman. She loved the fresh air and the freedom and the privacy of the countryside. During the break-up of the Beatles we spent quite a long time in Scotland – three to four months. Normally it would just be a two-week holiday. We loved it up there. It was the end of nowhere.
Our farm is in Campbeltown and I still go there with the family. The men in the picture were known by Linda and me as the Old Biddies. They were retired. They used to hang out in their macs and their Andy Capp caps and sit around and have a chat. Later I think someone put a bench there for them. We used to always see them when we went into town to get some groceries. She’d take snaps and there are quite a lot of photographs that are now quite historical. In 30 years, places change. We’ve got pictures of babies, bonny wee bairns who are now great, grown-up farmers.
And the Campbeltown museum has some of Linda’s pictures for that very reason – they’ve become historical. I love the raincoats. Those old guys are all just country types, retired with their sticks. There is some great atmosphere in that photograph. Linda was very fond of the Old Biddies.
One great thing about Linda was that she was able to mix with anyone. Her father was a well-known lawyer. He had been to Harvard and had a very successful practice and lived in an apartment in Park Avenue, a very posh address, with a stunning art collection. She could live in that world, she was very at ease there. But also she could communicate very easily with people on the street. She had a very easy manner. In the 1960s and 70s the press over here didn’t get it – simply because she’d become my girlfriend and then my wife.
She didn’t go on TV and say “This is who I am – hello” and try to ingratiate herself. We didn’t need to do that – it was our life, not theirs. We were too busy living it. When anybody came to the house and met her, they thought she was fantastic. She was just a great person to hang out with: very funny, very smart and very talented. She could just as easily talk to a local postman as a New York art dealer.
It takes time for people to get to know you, especially if you don’t work at it – and she didn’t work at it. Time is the essential factor. People would come round to dinner with us, people like Twiggy and Joanna Lumley. Linda would occasionally do interviews and people would gradually get to know her. The word just got out that she was just a really cool lady. People would say about her: “She’s nothing like the image.” Her priorities were private rather than public, and that’s why it took a bit of time.
For me, probably the saddest and most haunting photograph in this collection is the self-portrait she took in 1997, not long before she died in 1998, in Francis Bacon’s studio in South Kensington. Linda was a great art lover. She had studied art at college in Arizona and her father had a phenomenal collection. So she’d grown up with great art. She admired Francis Bacon greatly and had an opportunity through a friend to photograph his studio after he died. We knew the people who looked after his studio. It was going – the entire contents – to Dublin. She went along and took some pictures. This one is a classic. With the cracked mirror it’s particularly eerie. It is a very strange but powerful picture. I’m not sure, but that looks like somebody’s death mask on the right of the picture.
At the time, she knew she was ill, but she’d had chemo and her hair was growing back. I thought at the time it was a very chic look. She didn’t know she was dying. I’m not actually sure she ever knew she was dying. You have a decision to make as a family as to whether you tell someone and the doctors leave it to you, the immediate family.
I talked it over with the doctor and he said: “I don’t think she would want to know. She is such a strong, forward-thinking lady and such a positive girl that I don’t think it would do any good.” She was fighting right up to the end.
Even on the day before she died, she was out on horseback. She loved riding so much. Sometimes she’d get up on her a horse and I’d say: “You don’t want to get down, do you?” She preferred it up there than on the ground.Paul McCartney
Last updated on March 8, 2019