Hard day's wife: The Fab Four wives' club
Saturday 22, March 2008
It's not just Heather Mills who has had a rocky relationship with the British public. We've struggled to accept most of the Beatles' other halves
The Beatles' management must have known from the start that the Fab Four's fans would not take kindly to seeing their idols domesticated. Why else would Brian Epstein have tried to keep John Lennon's first marriage – and the existence of his son, Julian – a secret as Beatlemania erupted in 1963?
Lennon met Cynthia Powell at Liverpool College of Art, where they were both students in the late 1950s. Their relationship began before The Quarrymen had even changed their name to The Beatles, but by the time Cynthia fell pregnant in 1962, the band were on the cusp of releasing their first album, Please Please Me.
The couple married, against the wishes of Lennon's aunt and guardian, Mimi; Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, was best man.
John finally allowed Cynthia to be photographed with him on the band's first US tour in 1964, but he later left his young family at home for long periods while the Beatles were touring. Cynthia and Julian are now seen as victims of Lennon's callous disregard, subject to the volatile Beatle's verbal (and occasionally physical) abuse, his many infidelities and the ill-effects of his drug use. The marriage finally ended when Cynthia arrived home after a holiday to find Yoko Ono installed in their home. In the popular narrative that paints Ono as a scarlet woman, Cynthia fulfils the thankless role of wronged wife.
In 2005, Cynthia published a memoir, John, about the couple's difficult marriage. Julian, now himself a musician, was famously the subject of "Hey Jude", which started life as "Hey Jules". The song was written by Paul McCartney as he travelled to visit Cynthia and her son after her separation from John in 1968.
Yoko Ono used to be as much of a public hate figure as Heather Mills is today. Mills was just a toddler 1970, and hence too young to be blamed for breaking up the Beatles. Ono had no such luck.
The Japanese avant-garde artist met Lennon when he attended the opening of a London exhibition of her work in 1966. Lennon described his initial attraction to Ono as based on the positivity of her work.
The couple were married in 1969, and Ono's encroaching influence on Lennon's work (in Beatles songs, and in the more experimental fare that the pair concocted together) bothered his fellow Beatles and his adoring fans. McCartney's relationship with Ono has always been famously fraught. Cynthia Lennon, meanwhile, accused Yoko of trying to keep John and his first son Julian apart. This portrait of a self-centred andunfeeling man-eater has endured in the public imagination, despite Ono and McCartney's recent cautious reconciliation.
Between the Beatles' split and Lennon's death in 1980, Lennon and Ono lived together for all but 18 months between 1973 and 1975, when Lennon had a relationship with personal assistant May Pang. John and Yoko's son, Sean, who also became a musician, was born in 1975. Ono was at Lennon's side when he was shot dead outside their home in 1980.
Despite a long, high-profile relationship with Jane Asher, McCartney was the last Beatle to tie the knot. When he married Linda Eastman in 1969, the hearts of hopeful groupies the world over were finally broken.
For many years after the Beatles split, Linda generated public ire to rival that directed at Yoko Ono. As a member of Wings, McCartney's post-Beatles outfit, she was accused of contributing weak keyboard-playing and weak vocals. At one Wings gig, Paul apologised that his microphone wasn't working properly. "Give it to your old lady!" pleaded a punter. Her co-writing credits were considered laughable even when the pair received an Oscar nomination for their James Bond theme, "Live and Let Die". Her other talents – she was a professional photographer – were ignored, while her animal rights activism provoked as much snickering as Yoko's peacenik posturing.
In later years, public affection for Linda grew, and she was remembered fondly after her death from breast cancer in 1998. When the public was introduced to McCartney's second wife, Linda achieved popular sainthood by comparison.
Heather Mills, whatever her faults, has suffered more direct and personal attacks than any unfortunate Beatle wife before her, save perhaps Yoko. Her turbulent relationship with the tabloid press began in 1993, when the News of the World reported the life-changing accident that saw the former model's left leg amputated below the knee.
She became a reasonably popular daytime television guest – until she met McCartney in 1999. The couple married three years later, to cries of "gold digger!" from every quarter. Her relationship with Paul and Linda's four grown-up children was said to be difficult, and soon unsavoury questions about her past began to surface. In 2006, the couple announced their separation, and the voices raised against Mills only became more shrill. Last year, the News of the World unearthed explicit photographs of Mills from her former life as a glamour model, even alleging that she had once worked as a high-class prostitute.
An agitated Mills fought back with a series of public tirades against her treatment by the media. The most recent of these was on the steps of the High Court on Monday, soon after she had tipped a jug of water over her husband's divorce lawyer – after being awarded a £24.3m settlement. Predictably, the media's Heather-baiting has redoubled. Even the judge has joined the haters, calling Mills inconsistent, inaccurate and underhand.
Olivia Arias married Harrison in 1978 in a modest ceremony attended only by her parents. The couple met when she worked as a secretary at A&M Records. As a relatively late and unassuming addition to the Beatles' Wives Club, Arias, a Mexican, escaped the public derision directed at some of her fellow members. Along with Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and Barbara Bach, she became a spokesperson for a children's charity, the Romanian Angel Appeal, in the 1990s, after Harrison's supergroup The Traveling Wilburys released an album in support of the charity.
Dhani Harrison, the couple's 29-year-old son, is also a professional musician. He contributed to the Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall, which was organised by Arias following her husband's death in 2001, to raise money for George's charity, the Material World Charitable Foundation. Harrison's widow even won a Grammy for the concert video.
Unlike other Beatle wives, Pattie Boyd earned public disapproval not by marrying a Beatle, but by divorcing him: in 1974, she controversially left Harrison for his friend Eric Clapton.
By this period, however, wife-swapping had become a popular pastime among many of the rock elite, including the Harrisons. While Boyd had been carrying on with future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood (then guitarist for The Faces), Harrison was on holiday with Wood's wife Krissie. Boyd could count John Lennon and Mick Jagger among her thwarted admirers. When Clapton was first rebuffed by Harrison's wife, he entered a relationship with her younger sister, Paula. Boyd was finally persuaded to leave Harrison after he (George) had another affair, this time with Ringo's wife, Maureen.
Boyd and Harrison met in 1964 on the set of A Hard Day's Night, when Boyd was playing the role of a starstruck schoolgirl.
They were married in 1966. Boyd is credited with introducing The Beatles to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, thus inspiring Harrison and his bandmates' interest in Indian mysticism. She also deserves the thanks of music fans everywhere for inspiring such classic love songs as "Something" (written by Harrison), "Wonderful Tonight" and "Layla" (both written by Clapton).
Maureen Cox certainly had her fill of Beatles. Before she met her future husband Ringo, she was Paul's girlfriend. And the popular consensus holds that her affair with George spelt the end of both their marriages.
A regular at the Cavern Club, Maureen was one of the band's original groupies, but when her involvement with Ringo became common knowledge, she faced violent recriminations from other obsessive fans – one left deep scratches on her face after a gig on Valentine's Day 1963. Her relationship with Beatlemaniacs improved after she was seconded to the Beatles fan club, where she would reply personally to the letters sent by the band's countless admirers.
Maureen married Ringo after turning 18 in 1965 and their son, Zak (who now plays drums for The Who and Oasis), was born the same year. In 1968, Starr had Frank Sinatra record a special version of "The Lady is a Tramp" for Maureen, a big Sinatra fan. But when the Beatles split, the Starkey marriage also faltered, and Ringo supposedly demanded a divorce when Pattie Harrison informed him of Maureen's affair with George.
After the couple finally split in 1975, Maureen was devastated and, according to Cynthia Lennon's memoir, rode a motorbike into a brick wall, almost killing herself. When she died of leukemia in 1994, Ringo was at her bedside.
Barbara Bach has the double distinction of being both a Beatle Wife and a Bond Girl. Moreover, she is the sole remaining Beatle wife, all the others having been widowed or divorced. In 1977 Bach starred in The Spy Who Loved Me as Anya Amasova, the sultry Russian spy who falls under the spell of Roger Moore's hypnotic eyebrows. In 1981 she met Ringo on the set of Caveman, a best-forgotten slapstick comedy starring Bach, Ringo and Dennis Quaid (and financed by George Harrison). The film's prehistoric plot required Starr to tackle drugs, dinosaurs and the abominable snowman in his pursuit of Bach's hand.
Briefly an international sex symbol, Bach retired from acting in the 1980s and studied to be a psychologist. She set up Sharp – the Self Help Addiction Recovery Programme – with Harrison, Eric Clapton and fellow Beatle wife Pattie Boyd in London in 1992. Among the charity's current patrons is another celebrated divorcee, the Duchess of York.