Paul McCartney’s incredible decades-long journey as he celebrates his 80th birthday
As I waited to board a plane that would take me to meet 60-year-old Paul McCartney, a familiar face appeared on the departure lounge television.
Yoko Ono was opening her murdered husband’s childhood home as a National Trust museum, explaining why, in 2003, she finally deserved global recognition.
“The spirit that profoundly changed the world was recalled to this familiar place. He was an exceptionally brilliant man,” she said.
As the plane to Barcelona took off from Liverpool’s newly named John Lennon International Airport, I looked down at the nearby municipal estate where the other half of this world-changing spirit had grown.
And I wondered why the Beatle, which couldn’t have been closer to Liverpool Airport, didn’t even have a baggage carousel named after it.
Especially when Paul McCartney had invested more in his hometown than the rest combined.
He was the driving force behind the Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts, pouring £3million into the project to save his former secondary school from decay in the hopes it would give talented working-class children a leg up. advance in the creative world.
He still teaches there and rarely misses a graduation ceremony.
He’s the one who wrote a classic oratorio about Liverpool, headlined his Bill the Year Capital of Culture and contributed two number one singles to raise money for the families of Hillsborough.
And it was he who regularly came home to show his children, friends and partners how proud he was of his roots – as James Corden discovered when McCartney’s old haunts became the backdrop for his turn Carpool Karaoke and left The Late Late Show host in tears as they dueted on Let It Be.
McCartney was harshly judged by many as the Beatle who was cute in more ways than one. One who is obsessed with money. The one who broke the group. Whoever wrote Silly Love Songs can’t imagine.
Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, every one of his words, songs and deeds has been measured against the world peace icon and working-class hero he wrote songs with.
A conflict launched between the family man with the catchy airs and the hippie with the revolutionary vision.
And when Lennon was assassinated in New York in 1980, McCartney was doomed to be forever compared to a saint he could never hope to surpass in sanctification. Forever shadowed by an assassin’s bullet.
Standing in Barcelona’s sports arena watching the first of two sold-out shows, adoration for McCartney bordered on religious as 18,000 adoring Spaniards shrieked hoarsely.
Female fans no longer left puddles of excitement at his concerts like they did in the 1960s, but there was plenty of moisture in their eyes every time he walked into a Beatles song.
On the floor, they writhed and screamed like maniacal ghosts of days gone by.
On stage, the 60-year-old was reborn, hammering out his spellbinding catalog, offering powerful reminders to his audience of who he was and who he loved.
The love of McCartney’s life was Linda. As the Beatles imploded he fell into a depression and punched the bottle – and admits he was saved by the love of his wife, who convinced him he had so much to offer as a songwriter.
In 1970, he released his first solo album, McCartney, which went to number one in the United States.
The following year a second album, Ram, went to number one in the UK. Later that year, McCartney formed Wings with former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine, followed by Linda as vocalist and keyboardist.
He agonized over the decision: “The wings were always a tough idea because I knew any band that had to follow the Beatles would have a tough job,” he said. “However, it was a choice between continuing or finishing and I loved the music too much to stop.” Wings would become one of the best-selling bands of the 1970s with 14 number-one albums in the US and five number-one albums.
During our interview before the Barcelona concert, I asked him what he thought of the scathing reviews received for some of his Wings productions, including the sneers about Linda’s vocals.
“I’ve learned over time that if you try something different you’re going to get knocked out,” he replied, pointing out that on this tour his Wings songs got the biggest reaction from the public. outside of Britain. He might have added that purists got rid of his 1977 hit Mull of Kintyre, but it sold more copies than any Beatles single.
McCartney and Linda had a happy marriage, spending much time at her Scottish farmhouse in Kintyre.
When she died of breast cancer in 1998 at age 56, McCartney was devastated and needed therapy “to help me get rid of my guilt for wishing I had been perfect the whole time with her. “.
In Barcelona, he told me that life had been hard for a few years after his death. But after touring again and marrying Heather Mills – whom he met at the Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards – he felt “back in the land of the living”.
He added: “I wake up every morning and think, ‘Nah, this has to end, this can’t go on’, but it does.”
That sense of well-being would soon turn sour as he went through a nasty and costly divorce from Mills after having daughter Beatrice together.
Three years after their separation in 2008, he married his third wife, American businesswoman Nancy Shevell, 18 years his junior, with whom he still happily shares his life.
It was his relationship with John Lennon and the bad blood that spilled after the Beatles broke up that I wanted to know. He said to me, “We’ve had our business payoff. It was like a divorce and we were fighting.
“But, look, I’m the guy who knew him better than any other man. We slept together as teenagers, back-to-back to millions of hitchhiking places.
“Fortunately, we became good friends again before his death. It would have been really hard for me to deal with if we hadn’t.
The most moving part of our conversation came when McCartney described how the death of George Harrison 15 months earlier had been a blow.
He told me, “It was different from my mother and John and Linda because their deaths were sudden and George had been sick for a while. But it was sad because I loved him so much.
“I had just gone through cancer with Linda and now I was living with a 50-year-old companion again. He was not my immediate family but almost. He had always felt like my little brother.
“I knew George before I knew the others, before all this madness started and I really loved this man. I’m so proud to have known him.”
He took a breath, focused on a point in the distance, and muttered, “What a lovely boy.” The last time I saw him he was very ill and I held his hand for four hours. As I did, I thought ‘I’ve never held his hand before. That’s not what two guys from Scouse do. I kept thinking, “He’s going to slap me and tell me to fuck off.”
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” But he did not do it. He just stroked my hand with his thumb and I thought ‘Ah, that’s fine. That’s life. It’s hard but it’s beautiful.
I asked him if, for someone who wants to pass for an ordinary guy, his immense fortune bothered him? At the time, he was worth around £700million. Today it’s more like £1 billion.
“Not at all,” he replied. “When I left school, I decided to get a job and earn a lot of money if I could. I’m no different from anyone else.
“Some people think earning all that money isn’t cool. I don’t know. I try to do what I do to the best of my ability. I don’t mind if it means I earn a lot.
“And the best thing about it is being able to help friends and relatives with health issues. This is the real buzz that I get money.
When Wings broke up in 1981, McCartney had successful collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Elvis Costello and continued to record solo work.
His 2018 album Egypt Station earned him his first US Billboard number one in 36 years and in 2020 the album McCartney III received worldwide acclaim.
Tomorrow he turns 80 and next Saturday he will return to Glastonbury for the first time since 2004 as the festival’s longest-serving headliner. He didn’t have a bad life.
McCartney admitted that after his mother died when he was 14, he learned to put a shell around himself. This is why outsiders have found it difficult to understand over the decades.
But he is fundamentally a romantic soul and the key to his music and his personality is his relationship with the people he trusts and loves.
At the end of our interview, I told him that I had become emotional during the soundcheck this afternoon hearing him play My Love, the ballad he wrote to express his devotion to Linda.
It was a song loved by my mother, who died suddenly the year before and I told her it suffocated me.
He seemed genuinely moved and said that he would dedicate My Love to her in the show that night and that I should think of her while he sang.
I thanked him. And he said, “You should never stop thinking about your mom, you know. I do not know. Even though she went there a long time ago. She is always there. They live through you and with you, our moms. Be proud of her.
Happy birthday Makka. It’s up to you to take life’s sad songs and make them better for years to come.
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