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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Interview for The Times

Paul and Mary McCartney on meat-free life, losing Linda and craving normality

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney

Last updated on January 2, 2022


  • Published: Dec 22, 2021
  • Published by: The Times
  • Interview by: Danny Scott


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Read interview on The Times

Life had just started to get a bit messy when Linda became pregnant with Mary. Allen Klein [the American business manager] was involved with the Beatles and, over the year, things seemed to get more chaotic and worrying. Then, the miracle: our Mary. The chaos got pushed to one side and all I cared about was being a dad. But there was still a lot of unpleasantness flying around, so in the end I said: “Let’s get out of here, go to Scotland and be a family.” It wasn’t planned, but Mary came at exactly the right time. She changed my perspective to a degree where I could look at what was happening with the Beatles and think, “Does it really matter?”

If you were a dad in the late 1960s, you were part of that first wave who got involved with the whole process of pregnancy and birth. One afternoon I remember going down to the local Family Planning Association and picking up a booklet called You Are Having a New Baby. I loved reading it: “At this-many-weeks, your baby will be as big as an orange.” And then being there at the birth! In my dad’s day, that would have been unheard of.

My first solo album came out in 1970 and I decided to use one of Linda’s photos of me and Mary on the cover. This tiny head poking out from the inside of my jacket. These days you wouldn’t do it because it feels dangerous to put pictures of your kids out there, but back then we weren’t bothered. A lot of musical acquaintances warned me that being a dad would change my professional life. You can’t take kids on tour, you can’t have them in the studio. My professional life did change because I was no longer in the band, but I was still writing and recording. For the first Wings tour in 1972 we simply packed a load of nappies and toys and took the kids with us.

Later, when they were at school, I’d have a word with the headmaster. “Look, we’ll be away for six weeks and I don’t relish the thought of getting a call in Australia saying something’s happened to one of the kids.” The school gave us a list of the lessons they’d be missing and we took a tutor with us, which the kids hated. They saw it as a six-week holiday. Like all parents, we were dreading the rebellious teens, but the most rebellion we had from Mary and Stella was having to listen to Wham! all day long. Looking back, I guess that wasn’t too bad.

In 1998 Mary and the kids lost their mum and I lost … Linda. I knew it was my job to be “strong Dad who keeps it together”, but you can’t do that the whole time unless you completely hide your feelings. Eventually my emotions started leaking out. That’s when the roles were reversed and the kids rallied round me. We got through it, but we all struggled because she was the glue that held everything together.

Linda would have been so happy to see how far vegetarianism has come since we started the food business [in 1991]. And now Mary’s continuing the tradition with her own vegan cooking show. Yes, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved musically, but I’m also proud that Linda played such a big part in bringing vegetarian food into people’s homes.

Christmas and new year were a big family thing when I was a kid, so I keep the tradition going. Me and Nancy [Shevell, whom he married in 2011] like to go to Mary’s, the grandkids running around with their new toys. I do it for them as much as me — I want them to experience the same joy I felt at their age. That connection with family is what keeps me sane. I’ve got my fingers crossed for 2022. Like everyone, I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to do some of the things we’ve missed out on, see the people we love. It’ll be nice to have a bit more normality.

Paul McCartney

My earliest memories are split between London and the farm in Scotland. The excitement of city life versus absolute solitude. It was still exciting but in a different way: riding ponies, climbing trees, helping Mum in the kitchen. And the sound of Dad’s guitar.

It makes me laugh now, but there were some afternoons when we’d be watching cartoons and Dad would wander over with his guitar. He’d sit down and start playing this beautiful music, messing around with melodies and songs. We’d all give him an evil stare. “Dad, we’re watching telly. Go in the kitchen.” One time he said: “Do you know how many people would love to be sitting here now, listening to me play guitar?” I just shrugged. “But we can’t hear The Wombles.”

Being a vegetarian family in the late 1970s marked you out as different. Everybody said it was all Mum’s idea and she’d forced Dad to stop eating meat, but they did it as a team. I remember them discussing recipes and Dad saying he still wanted something he could slice for his Sunday roast. Mum was always excited about cooking and she inspired me. Dad’s pretty good in the kitchen — he’d make a great sous-chef. If you ask him to sort out the mashed potato, it’ll be the best you’ve ever tasted. He’s meticulous, just like he is in the studio.

Of course people made fun of Mum and Dad for being veggie. They made fun of Mum for a lot of things, saying she wasn’t a real musician, she wore odd socks and charity-shop jumpers. The real problem was that she didn’t fit the mould of the woman they wanted Paul McCartney to marry. They wanted someone who went to all the chichi parties, but Mum was more interested in feeding the animals on the farm.

Mum and Dad insisted we went to the local comprehensive school, which made me feel a bit awkward at the time. I’d be in school for a term, then off on tour. When I came back, all my friends had made new friends. Now, when I look back, I realise what a smart move it was. It kept us grounded.

Dad was almost too enthusiastic when it came to helping with homework. On my own I could knock it off in half an hour but Dad would get out the encyclopaedia, he’d be cross-referencing and drawing graphs. The teachers must have got suspicious when I gave in these ridiculously detailed essays. Dad said education changed his life and he wanted to pass that love of learning on to us.

I look at Dad and think, after all he’s been through, how has he managed to stay in one piece? He has found a way of keeping a level head, no matter what else is happening in his life. My own personal theory — I’ve not talked to Dad about this — is that he needs normality because that’s what inspires him. Real life and real people. That’s where all the music comes from.

Every year that goes by I seem to find a new level of admiration for what Dad has achieved — and Mum too. My husband and I have this game where we try to get through a day without coming across a reference to Dad or the Beatles. What usually happens is that I get to around nine o’clock, then something comes on the radio or I see an ad for the new Beatles documentary.

I do listen to the Beatles at home, but it’s the Wings stuff I play the most. Mum’s not around any more, but when she’s doing her backing vocals I can still hear her and Dad together. There’s a song called I Am Your Singer — that always gets me. “When day is done, harmonies will linger on.”

Mary McCartney
Paul McCartney writing

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