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May 05, 2001 • From TV Guide
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The foyer of Paul McCartney’s London office, where I await his arrival, is adorned with two photographs, both depicting the world’s most famous singer-songwriter at the world’s most famous pedestrian crossing. The shots were taken 30 years apart, yet neither McCartney nor Abbey Road looks any worse for wear.
This impression is confirmed when I meet McCartney. The idol wears sandals, gray pants and an open-neck shirt. His smile, both wicked and innocent, is the same one that reduced a generation of girls to tears and screams.
Other things, of course, have changed. One of the greatest forces in 20th-century popular music today seems more interested in his latest preoccupation — painting — as his first-ever exhibit moves from Bristol, England, to Liverpool. He has dabbled in classical music and confides that he recently completed his first (as yet unpublished) volume of poetry. Never have I met a man more excited by the newness of things.
But McCartney is also a man who has spent nights dreaming of the past, ruminating over the losses of both his partner in art, John Lennon, and his partner in life, wife Linda. When I mention Linda’s name, more than two years after her death from breast cancer, McCartney’s eyes fill with tears. He tells me he drives himself forward yet cannot resist glancing back. Fortunately, something else seems to linger: McCartney’s playfulness. One of his paintings is called “The Queen After Her First Cigarette,” depicting her majesty with a naughty smirk. “It’s just a little joke,” he says. McCartney may paint at Magritte’s easel (a gift from Linda), but he is modest about his art. “I get interested in things,” he explains. “That’s my problem.”
Certainly, McCartney continually defies expectations, both professionally and personally. He and Linda steadfastly refused to send their four children to exclusive schools. Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade recently remarked that she envied the McCartney children for their ordinary upbringing.
“Linda came from a wealthy family,” McCartney says, “and she saw a lot of false values. She used to say she had gone into lots of big houses, where there was lots of money, but it was terrifying. There was no love, the kids walking around in echoing corridors with priceless sculptures.”
So maybe McCartney, one of the richest men in entertainment, is guilty of hamming up the regular-bloke business, but isn’t that preferable to superstar preening? McCartney apparently thinks so. During our discussion, he makes an offhand remark about Leonardo da Vinci, then catches himself. “Paul McCartney reckons he is Leonardo da Vinci,” he says, imagining a possible headline. “You better not put that in.” When I ask about his poetry, his eyes dart to his public-relations handler. “Can I talk about this?” he asks, then, without waiting for an answer, points to his desk. “There is the manuscript,” he says. “I am trying to write a poetry book. I started when a friend, Ivan Vaughan, died. I couldn’t write a song about somebody dying, so I started on this.”
McCartney has turned loss into art before. “Yes, there is a lot of sadness in my life,” he says slowly. “My mother died when I was 14. Three years on, I was up and running in the Beatles. It was actually one of my great bonds with John, because his mum died [when he was 17]. Both of us had mothers snatched from us, and we both loved them dearly. ‘Yesterday’ was probably about that. ‘Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away'” A long pause, then, “You don’t really want me to cry in public,” he says, looking very much as though he might.
Nowhere are his emotions more evident than in his portraits of Linda, the most recent of which he describes as “turbulent” and “stark.” He painted her when she was healthy, when she was ill and has since her death. He still aches for her.
“I did a lot of portraits, none of which capture her but all of which capture a certain essence. We often used to sit late at night, and I would paint her. The ones I have done since she died…” His voice fades, then resumes. “Thirty years is a lot to get over. She was a very powerful person in a very quiet way. I talk to my kids and they say what they miss is just coming into a room and feeling her presence. You are going to make me cry now,” he says, dabbing his eyes.
Losing a spouse would send most of us sobbing under a blanket, I say. “Yep, been there,” McCartney answers. “Sure, it’s tempting, but then you just find yourself under a blanket. She was such a positive spirit. She would want us to get on with it.
And he is trying. McCartney says he is “very into” his relationship with model Heather Mills, who lost her leg in a road accident. He met her at a British awards ceremony last year, and their romance became public in March. “She’s a great girl,” he says. “And I talk to Linda about it. You know, ‘What am I doing, babe? How do you feel about this?’ And what she says is, ‘If I was there you’d be dead meat, sucker. But I’m not there and I want you to be happy.’ That’s the feeling I get back.” He continues: “They [Linda and Heather] have a lot in common. Not on the surface so much, but a toughness of spirit.”
As for his other great loss, Sir Paul says, “John is a central figure in my life, always will be. I will always be grateful for having so much intimate time with him.” McCartney remains rather in awe of Lennon. “I used to do caricatures of John. When I painted him recently, I found myself saying, ‘How did his lips go? I can’t remember.’ Then I’d think, ‘Of course you know. You wrote all those songs facing each other.'”
But certainly McCartney can’t spend the rest of his life mourning. Will he remarry?
“I have no plans,” he says, “but life develops, and I might. I feel better than I have for a couple of years. In one respect, I want to be as close to Linda as when she was alive, but the healing aspect is another thing.
“All our relatives will die. We will die. And you know, you’ve just got to get on with it.” London-based journalist Jasper Gerard has written for the Sunday Times of London, where this article originally appeared.