BBC archive interview with Paul McCartney and girlfriend Jane Asher
John and Ringo – young lads, new to London, new to untold wealth – had moved to the suburbs into mock-Tudormansions on an estate in Weybridge, Surrey.
Sir Paul and Lady McCartney, Nancy Shevell
They thought: “This is posh. This is what you do, as lads from the North.”
George got it even more wrong – he had moved into a horrible modern bungalow in Esher, also in Surrey.
But Paul was ahead of the game, realising inner-London was the place to live, in a period house, among the affluent and upmarket, arty, intellectual folk. I noticed a Magritte painting above the mantelpiece.
Goodness, how did a lad of 24 know about such artists, growing up in a northern council estate, as I had also done?
Paul still has that same house today as his London home. A sign that, deep down, he is a conservative sort of fella. I had gone to see him to ask him where the words of Eleanor Rigby came from. I thought they were amazing: so literary, clever and evocative.
I was sure it would be the best poetry of 1966 – as if I knew anything about poetry. Later that year, in December 1966, I went to see him again. This time, I was there as a screenplay writer, not a newspaper hack.
Paul McCartney’s childhood home in Liverpool
I was working on the script for the movie of my first book (Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush). The director wanted Paul to write the theme tune. Paul thought about it, but later said no.
While I was with him, I suggested a biography of The Beatles – a proper hardback. There had at that stage been only two thin paperbacks about The Beatles.
I told Paul: “If I do it properly, for the rest of your life, when people ask you the same boring questions – why is Beatles spelled that strange way or where did your funny hair come from? – you can say, “It’s all in the book.”
There and then, he helped me write an a***-licking letter to Brian Epstein, their manager.
I had to tell him how upmarket the book would be and how upmarket I was. Well, I did have a column in The Sunday Times, and had two books published – stuff that would impress Brian. And Brian said yes.
It struck me at the time that Paul was the charmer of The Beatles: the PR man; the fixer. During the writing and research of the biography, The Beatles came to my house for a meal. Paul brought Jane Asher, his fiancée. They were a lovely couple.
Paul McCartney and Jane Asher, his girlfriend before Linda
I discovered that Paul had previously been living for some time in a flat in Jane’s parents’ house in Wimpole Street.
They were a middle-class, artistic, musical, academic family – the sort he had never experienced in his Liverpool days.
In January 1967, after I had got the commission to do their biography, one of the directors of my publisher Heinemann said: “Nah, the bubble will burst. We know everything we ever want to know about The Beatles.” You don’t hear that anymore.
In 1968, my wife and I and our two young children had a year abroad. One December night in Portugal, in Praia da Luz, Paul arrived by taxi from Faro, some 50 miles away – with no money to pay the taxi driver.
He had flown in from London on a private jet and had given his English money to someone at the airport to change into escudos – and then jumped into a taxi and forgot the cash.
We didn’t know he was coming.
We had no phone, but we had been in touch and he knew our address.
Paul, Linda and Heather arrived unannounced to stay with Hunter (left) and his wife Margaret (right)
With him was a blonde American girl called Linda, whom I had never seen before, with a child (Heather, who Paul would later adopt) from a previous relationship.
Our first impression was that Linda was a groupie – a one-night stand. How wrong we were. It was real love, which lasted till she died in 1998, aged only 56.
While in Portugal, we did have words one evening about bringing up children. Our son Jake, aged two, was running around holding a knife, so I grabbed it off him.
Hunter quickly changed his tune on Linda (right)
Paul maintained you should leave kids to find out about danger themselves. I said: “You mean when they cut their hand off?”
That said, he was brilliant with kids. Ours competed to clamber over him and play with him, as can be seen in a Super 8 family film I made at the time.
Paul knows how to relate to young children. John, by comparison, was useless.
I admire how, to this day, Jane Asher has never given interviews about her relationship with Paul, and yet reading his recent book, The Lyrics, he endlessly praises her influence and qualities, describing the songs she inspired.
Heather Mills, whom he later married, doesn’t get a mention.
Why did he marry her?
I can only imagine that, like me when my wife died, he was motivated by loneliness and lust – which can happen to even one of the most famous, most desirable people on the planet.
At the peak of Beatlemania in the 1960s, The Beatles were constantly on tour somewhere.
In Portugal, Paul told me one night he decided to leave the hotel in his ordinary clothes and went to a fairground, hoping to pick up a girl.
As a teenager in Liverpool, he had always had success with girls at fairgrounds. He wanted to test if his attraction now was all due to his fame. He failed and came back to the hotel on his own.
Beatlemania was in full swing in the swinging sixties
He tried a similar test with a song, Woman, written for Peter and Gordon under the assumed name of Bernard Webb.
It got to number 20 before the secret was out, but it indicated to Paul that it was his writing, not his fame, which did it.
One of the many things I admire about Paul is not just his amazing musical fluency: songs just flow out of him; he can play any instrument.
It struck me at the time that Paul was the charmer of The Beatles
But he also sent his children to state schools, unlike almost all pop stars and footballers who are suddenly earning loads of money.
He can be a bit annoying, going on about what an ordinary fellow he is, but that’s what he tries to be, and what he still feels, despite everything.
He drives his own car and does try to live an ordinary life. He came to my house once, back in 1967, and announced he had to go and buy some cigarettes.
Sir Paul with his daughters Mary (left) and Stella (right)
“Must you?” I asked. “I’ll get them for you, if you are desperate. You’ll be mobbed.”
But still he walked to the newsagent round the corner.
When he came back, our street was filled with hundreds of screaming girls, banging on the front door.
I was furious.
Over the years, he has also exhibited his paintings and written books and an oratorio. What a polymath. He hasn’t produced a novel yet, as far as I know.
When he was staying with us in Portugal, I found him one day, bashing away with two fingers on my manual typewriter. I asked what he was writing.
He said: “A story.” I have asked him since if he ever finished it. He shrugs and says it is locked up in his archives. I suppose one day he might get it out again.
I admired what he did with Wings, the group he formed in 1971 after The Beatles broke up. He was determined to go on the road again, starting from scratch, playing student union gigs, often just arriving and offering to perform. He took Linda, by then his wife, despite her limited musical talent.
The Fab Four in their early days
He knew she would be mocked, but he wanted her to be with him. He wanted to perform in public, on stage again, like in the old days. And he is still at it.
He clearly loves performing. He’s always taken any chance to get up and sing or play the guitar and piano.
In Portugal, while staying with us, he went into a local hotel, the Penina, and sat in with the local quartet and strummed away. It is not conceit, self-regard or showing-off. It is still what gives him great pleasure in life – making music.
Paul McCartney and artist Peter Blake who designed the Sgt Pepper album
His father, Jim, was like that, too. He played several instruments. He was also a charmer – a lovely man and retired cotton salesman. I stayed with him in the house in The Wirral Paul had bought for him.
By chance that day, the acetate of When I’m 64 had arrived from Paul.
I danced to it all evening with Jim’s new wife, Angie.
Paul and his brother Michael were not exactly enamoured when Jim got married again, after 10 years or so on his own as a widower, bringing up two boys.
History repeated itself some years later when Paul’s own daughters were not exactly thrilled by their father’s marriage to Heather.
Six years ago, I was invited by Paul to a private party, where there were several old friends including the artist Peter Blake. I met his present wife, Nancy Shevell, for the first time. Lucky man. What a good choice.
Attractive, gentle, modest, unpushy. Paul’s elder daughter Mary was also there. I told her: “You were conceived in my bed.”
Paul and his current wife, Nancy
She looked rather alarmed. I explained that, when her parents came to our Portuguese house in l968, we gave up our bedroom and moved into the spare room. Nine months later, Mary was born.
“Goodness, that must mean you are my, my, er… dunno. What, my step-godfather?”
When I came home, I told my wife what I had said to Mary. She was appalled.
I last saw Paul a few months ago at the private premiere of Get Back. He does look slim, fit and well at 80, with a grand head of hair. Lucky beggar. I know it’s all real – because I’ve inspected it.
Thank goodness he has now let it go grey. It was laughable when, for a while, he touched it up.
He is a sensible, sensitive fella, but also a good businessman, tougher and more controlling than he might appear. He is at ease with his global fame – which he’s had for the vast majority of his life.
Paul is still going strong at the ripe old age of 80
I could see the VIP guests, some of them awfully famous, twitching and stammering the moment he arrived.
He managed to have a brief friendly word for them all. Which must be a right drag, keeping on doing that, after almost 60 years of being a public face. John was always more likely to tell people to f*** off.
Paul’s a gent. Just like his dad. And a musical genius. I think we all know that now. The scoffers have disappeared. Paul is loved, and admired, by all ages, classes and countries. He has grown into a national treasure.
We are lucky to have him among us.
This article first appeared in the June edition of The Oldie.
The Beatles: The Only Authorised Biography by Hunter Davies (Ebury, £14.99) is out now.