Cynthia Lennon’s tragic death from cancer recently closed yet another chapter in the The Beatles’ story. She will forever be remembered as John Lennon’s first wife, but when she visited Almería in July 2006 on the invitation of a local Beatles’ association Richard Torné found someone determined to strike out on her own and against a world interested only in the Fab Four.
Cynthia Lennon may not have been a member of The Beatles, but her arrival in Almería was the next best thing as far as the local press were concerned.
For many, her visit 40 years after she first accompanied Lennon to Almería while he shot the black comedy ‘How I Won the War’ closed the circle. If Lennon couldn’t come then at least his former wife – someone with a link to Almería, however tenuous – merited some sort of home-coming celebration.
Accompanied by her jovial husband Noel, who sadly died in 2013, her visit came on the back of a promotional tour to publicise her memoirs, ‘John’ – a behind-the-scenes peek at life with Lennon and, most importantly for her, what came afterwards.
Having lived in the shadow of Lennon for most of her life it was understandable if she appeared weary of The Beatles and the barrage of John Lennon-related questions she had to face. Yet it was an inevitable consequence of having been married to one of the most famous men in the 20th century.
As her interpreter – and impromptu chauffeur – for the day, I was privy when the cracks showed, as when she was obliged to attend a dubious pop-art exhibition by a local artist hell-bent on illustrating Cynthia and Lennon’s gradual rift in comic-strip form. She smiled dutifully as she was escorted through, but when she and Noel hopped into my car she let out an exasperated yelp -“God that was awful!” (I didn’t ask whether it was a comment on the quality of the work – she had after all been a trained artist in her own right – or if the theme had been the source of her annoyance).
Later during a quiet dinner she appeared more relaxed and willing to open up. She rejected the claim that the group had senselessly disbanded in 1970 at the peak of their creative powers. “That was it – they couldn’t have gone on any longer”. In her view, as they were no longer willing or able to function as a unit they had split up at the right time.
When discussing her son Julian, she displayed all the pride you would expect from a doting mother, but having experienced all the trappings of success with John she fully understood the fickle nature of the music business and was philosophical about her son’s chosen career. “If Julian can’t find himself now, he never will.”
I could not resist asking her about Yoko Ono, a figure whom she described as “manipulative” and a nefarious influence on her son’s brother, Sean. “How can a person go to so much trouble to keep two brothers apart?”
She had kind words to say about Paul McCartney, the only Beatle who had offered her any support when she broke up with the emotionally-troubled Lennon, but was less charitable about his current musical form, remarking that Paul’s muse “had abandoned him”.
Disarmingly honest but also insightful and sensitive, she was as down-to-earth as anyone had any right to be under the circumstances. In the end, her voice may have been too small to counter The Beatles’ legend, but at least she tried to set the record straight.