Although she had spent her married life with Paul in England, Linda McCartney died as she was born, an American, and her funeral was a characteristically American affair. A few hours after her death, on the morning of Friday 17 April 1998, Linda’s casket was driven down the desert road from Tanque Verde onto the freeway and into Tucson - past strip malls and apartment complexes - to the Bring Funeral Home, where a private service was held and her body cremated. Paul and the children then flew directly back to the UK with the ashes.
News of Linda’s demise began to reach the media almost immediately, with journalists going first to Paul’s press officer, Geoff Baker, who deliberately misinformed the callers that Linda had died ‘on holiday in Santa Barbara’, Santa Barbara being a codename used within MPL for when Sir Paul was in the USA privately. He had no particular connections to Santa Barbara. As Geoff knew they would, reporters descended upon Santa Barbara and began a wild goose chase for the family and a nonexistent Californian death certificate, the subterfuge giving the family time to get home and scatter Linda’s ashes, which they did at Blossom Farm and High Park in Scotland, where many family pets are buried.
Linda’s death was a major news story, partly because it came as a surprise to journalists, who had gained the impression she was successfully fighting her cancer. Friends were also taken aback. Carla Lane heard the news on the radio at Broadhurst Manor in West Sussex. It was a shock, followed by another shock three days later when the postman delivered a posthumous gift from Linda of antique glass beads Carla had admired. ‘I can’t guess when she posted them or who posted them, I’ve no idea. But they came.’ The children also received gifts from beyond the grave.
Paul invited Carla and Chrissie Hynde to Blossom Farm, where the women found the widower in a sorry condition, roaming around his estate looking at things Linda liked, talking constantly about her, exhausted. ‘Paul was just haggard. I mean, he sat there like an old man, lost,’ says Carla. ‘He was shattered.’ Another friend invited to the farm was the animator Geoff Dunbar, who’d recently suffered a loss. ‘My mother died four days before Linda, so it was like a double hit. I spent a bit of time with Paul and he was racked with grief … He sobbed like a baby. So did I.’
Six weeks later, Paul gathered himself together to lead a memorial service for Linda at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square. Born into a Jewish family, Linda had lived her life without religion for the most part, invoking God only rarely, when she saw animals mistreated, for example, and in extremis. In death she would be honoured in two great Christian churches, in London then later in the month in New York. Paul attended personally to the details with the same professionalism he brought to his concert performances, selecting the music and briefing everybody who would be called upon to speak, sing or play an instrument. Rain was falling as he led his children into St Martin’s on Monday 8 June, a large crowd of press and public gathered around the steps of the church. Though Linda had never been popular with the British press or public, her passing had occasioned expressions of respect and even affection, while the bereaved family were naturally to be pitied. Press photographers caught images of Stella leading a distraught Heather McCartney into church, the older sibling’s face contorted with grief. The 700 mourners inside the church included, above and beyond Paul’s relations, the first public coming together of the three surviving Beatles since Ritchie married in 1981. George Harrison was himself now fighting cancer. There was no Yoko. Other guests included MPL staff, musicians who had played with Paul on his records and on stage, and friends such as Brian Clarke, Dave Gilmour, Billy Joel, Sir Elton John, Carla Lane, Twiggy Lawson, Sir George and Lady Martin, Spike Milligan, Michael Parkinson, Sir David59 and Lady Puttnam, Eric and Gloria Stewart and Pete Townshend.
When everybody was assembled, George and Ritchie sitting alongside the McCartneys, John McGeachy, a Campbeltown mechanic who’d played pipes on ‘Mull of Kintyre’, appeared on the balcony, clad in tartan, playing the tune of Wings’ greatest hit, continuing to do so as he descended through the church and down into the crypt, the pipes reverberating through the building. This was Paul’s idea. The Brodsky Quartet performed arrangements of hymns and songs, including ‘The Lovely Linda’. Actress Joanna Lumley read the poem ‘Death is Nothing’. LIPA students sang ‘Blackbird’, which had been Linda’s favourite song of Paul’s; Carla spoke about Linda’s devotion to animals, and everybody sang ‘Let It Be’, after which Pete Townshend told what he intended to be a light-hearted story about Linda setting her cap at Paul in the Sixties. ‘The story I told at the memorial was that Linda had once - quite tongue-in-cheek - told me she was going to marry “one of the Beatles”,’ explains Townshend, adding that Paul put him right after the service. ‘Paul has never been angry with me over this, but did tell me after the memorial that he had pursued Linda, and she had never pursued him.’ This was of course the opposite of what everybody else said.
In a highly emotional address, Sir Paul told the congregation: ‘She was my girlfriend. I have lost my girlfriend and it is very sad. I still cannot believe it, but I have to because it is true.’ As he spoke, Shnoo and Tinsel, the Shetland ponies Paul had given Lin for Christmas, were led into the church. Two weeks later, Paul presided over a similar memorial at the Riverside Church in New York, attended by the Eastmans and American friends such as Ralph Lauren and Paul Simon, but again no Yoko. She wasn’t invited.
Paul was little seen in public during the following weeks. To distract himself, he did some light work, hiring the up-and-coming musician Nitin Sawhney to mix a drum and bass version of ‘Fluid’, one of the tracks from the forthcoming second Fireman album. Sawhney lived and worked at the time in one room in a house in South London. Paul came over and spent the evening, chatting with the younger man about his life and interests, including the work of the Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore. ‘In love all of life’s contradictions dissolve and disappear’ was a Tagore maxim Paul had quoted in the liner notes of the Pipes of Peace album. Sawhney reflected that, as a British Asian, he had the Beatles to thank for introducing him to the classical music of his ancestral homeland, via the Beatles’ association with Ravi Shankar. Paul spoke to Nitin nonchalantly about ‘the band’ and ‘John’, knowing Sawhney would know immediately what he meant. He wore his legend lightly, helping the younger man relax.
He immediately put me at ease by saying, “I used to live in a place like this years ago and I wrote a track in a room like this called ‘Scrambled Eggs’ and it went on to become ‘Yesterday’. I went, ‘Wow!’ Then he played it on my guitar, which freaked me out as well.
Paul went away having made a new friend.
That July, Paul travelled to Liverpool to preside at the LIPA graduation ceremony, whereby he appeared on stage with Mark Featherstone-Witty to listen to speeches and present each graduating student with a commemorative pin, shaking the graduating men by the hand and kissing the women. He had committed to do this every year and was good to his word, deporting himself like a benevolent nineteenth-century mill owner. Behind the scenes, Featherstone-Witty found his Lead Patron a changed man, however. ‘He had lost his greatest companion, and the meetings we had he was always in tears.’
Backstage at the graduation, Paul shared a beer with an old acquaintance named Joe Flannery, who’d booked the Beatles in association with Brian Epstein in the very early days. ‘You know, Joe, Linda’s there,’ said Paul, patting his shoulder as if to indicate an angel sitting there. That same day, his old home, 20 Forthlin Road, was being opened by the National Trust, who had bought the house and returned the décor to how it looked when the McCartneys were in residence. It was a rare honour to have the National Trust turn one’s childhood home into a museum, and Flannery asked Paul if he was going to attend the opening. No, he said. To his mind, it was his parents’ rather than ‘Paul McCartney’s house’, as it was being billed in the press, and this description of the house had clearly annoyed him. Also, while he’d driven past 20 Forthlin Road many times, he’d not been back inside since he left in the Sixties. He feared it would upset him.
That August, Paul returned to Long Island with Mary, Stella and James. This summer the annual family trip had a melancholy aspect in that Linda wasn’t with them and, worse, Paul and the kids had to sign legal papers allowing Linda’s will to proceed to probate. To avoid UK taxes, the will had been drawn up under the laws of New York, where Linda had been technically domiciled during her marriage, sporadically exercising her right to vote, maintaining her principal investment account with a Manhattan firm, while brother John handled her affairs at Eastman & Eastman. As a beneficiary of the trust, Heather McCartney’s signature was also required on the papers, but she failed to accompany her adoptive father and siblings to the signing on 28 August. Reportedly, she had also arrived in Tucson a few minutes too late to say goodbye to her mother.
Long Island summers had been a feature of the McCartney Year since the mid-1970s and were a source of happy memories. Paul and Lin had watched the kids grow up with their American cousins on Lily Pond Lane, Paul amusing himself beachcombing, painting and sailing his Sunfish on Georgica Pond. They had been content to stay with the Eastmans for most of this time, only recently renting a house of their own. Now Paul bought a summer house in the area, to show he meant to maintain close relations with Linda’s American family. One mile down the road from John Eastman’s residence, in a part of East Hampton favoured by the super-rich, Paul typically bought a much more modest house in the less showy village of Amagansett. The property at Pintail Lane was tucked away in the woods, literally on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, without an ocean view; not where one would expect to find a great celebrity, yet in character with other homes he had acquired over the years.
The McCartney family appeared together in public in Sussex on Saturday 27 September when Mary McCartney married Alistair Donald, whom she’d met at school in Rye and who now worked in London as a film-maker. The service had been on hold for some time because of Linda’s illness, but couldn’t be postponed much longer because, like her mother when she married Paul, Mary was pregnant. Sir Paul walked his daughter down the aisle of the church of St Peter and St Paul in Peasmarsh, having driven her the short distance from Blossom Farm in a vintage Hispano-Suiza he’d owned since the Sixties. James McCartney turned up rock ’n’ roll-style swinging a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, which a church warden confiscated at the door.
The following month Paul released a posthumous collection of Linda’s songs as the album Wide Prairie, a CD put together with love, but not one that did Lin’s memory any favours. Rather, it reminded the listener of what a dud note Linda struck as a singer, the recordings shrill and amateurish despite Paul’s presence. Linda’s aggressive parting message to the world, ‘The Light Comes from Within’, had been written during her journeys to and from London for cancer treatment, when she was feeling crotchety. ‘It was her answer to all the people who had ever put her down and that whole dumb male chauvinist attitude that to her had caused so much harm in our society,’ explained Paul, who charged his song plugger Joe Reddington with getting this difficult record on air. When Joe told Paul that the BBC simply wouldn’t play it, primarily because of the bad language, but that he’d persuaded the Corporation to put Linda’s more attractive tune ‘Seaside Woman’ on its playlists instead, the angry star fired his plugger. ‘He just threw a wobbler,’ recalls Joe, ‘said: “Get rid of him!” And that was it.’ In truth, ‘The Light Comes from Within’ was a terrible song. Even when Linda covered a lovely old standard like ‘Mister Sandman’, as she did on Wide Prairie, she sounded coarse.
Far more impressive was the second Fireman album, Rushes, slipped out at the same time as Wide Prairie, and similarly ignored by the press and public. Ambient trance music was never destined for mass consumption, but Rushes is music that stirs the soul, showing a considerable development in McCartney’s partnership with Youth. For the second track, named ‘palo verde’ after a tree native to Arizona, Paul incorporated recordings of Linda talking, and her horse galloping, snorting and whinnying in a ghostly 12-minute wash of sound. Paul’s voice is heard assuring the spirit of his departed wife that he will love her ‘always’, the track concluding with six doleful glockenspiel notes, repeated like a death knell. This was unusual and inventive new music, in the same pioneering tradition as the tape loops of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and the orchestral sections of ‘A Day in the Life’, growing on the listener the more often it is heard.
The death of Linda had hit all the family hard. James, the youngest, had been particularly close to Mum and was very upset, while Linda’s eldest was bereft. Always something of a worry, Heather McCartney stayed at home much of the time after her mother died, unable to function normally. ‘I could see no reason for living any more,’ she told the Sunday Times a year later, presenting herself as a jittery, insecure woman of 36 who’d never married or had children, living as a virtual recluse in her cottage on the edge of the Sussex estate with her Airedale dog and two cats. Some days she felt so wretched she couldn’t even answer the telephone.
Living up to the McCartney name had long been a source of anxiety for Heather. She had tried to make her mark as a photographer, like Mum, then as a potter, seemingly soon wearying of both pastimes. Now, less than a year after Mum died, Heather attempted to launch herself as an interior designer, making a rare public appearance at a trade fair in Atlanta, Georgia, in January 1999. In Atlanta to show-case the Heather McCartney Housewares Collection - a range of cushions and other household knick-knacks - she brought Dad to help her face the press. ‘I knew that if I felt overwhelmed, he would say: “We’ve got to go now - Bye,” and he would get me out. He has always guided me like that. Protected me.’ Sir Paul sat alongside his daughter as she spoke about her designs, which apparently owed a lot to the experience of going to Mexico with Mel See to meet the Hoichol Indians, not that she mentioned her natural father by name. She referred to Paul as her ‘real daddy’. The next day, Paul and Heather flew to New York, where Heather belatedly signed the necessary probate documents, printing her name in childish, wobbly letters markedly different to her siblings’ confident signatures.
One of Linda’s dying wishes was that Paul should be inducted into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in his own right, and this happened in March 1999 when Paul was carried in on a wave of sympathy for his loss. Stella McCartney attended the New York ceremony with her father wearing a white T-shirt printed with the words ‘ABOUT FUCKING TIME!’ The following month, on 3 April, Dad became a granddad when Mary Donald (née McCartney) gave birth to a son named Arthur. Sir Paul showed off his grandson at the Royal Albert Hall two weeks later during a rock concert in Linda’s memory. ‘He said, “Look, he was born between Easter and Passover, so that’s perfect, because he’s Jewish, because his grandmother is Jewish,”’ reports Danny Field, who visited Paul’s box and was surprised by what he heard the star say, because Linda had shown no interest in her Jewishness. ‘Linda would never have said that.’ Meanwhile, Chrissie Hynde confided in Danny that Paul had laid down the law to her about the line-up for the concert, wanting different acts. ‘No one wants to be around him when he’s not smiling,’ a chastened Chrissie told Danny after a difficult meeting with the great man.
The curator, Wolfgang Suttner, also found Sir Paul in uncompromising mood as final preparations were made for the long-planned show of paintings at the Lÿz Art Forum in Siegen, Germany. Generally, Suttner had found Paul easy to deal with on the project. The musician agreed that the cost of the show shouldn’t fall on the taxpayers of Westphalia, saying he would pay for the transportation and insurance of his pictures. Sir Paul was punctual for meetings and Suttner learned that McCartney’s word was his bond. ‘What Paul said happened. If Paul said, “I’m there,” he was there. That was fantastic.’ Reliability is often considered to be a characteristically German virtue and it is one that Paul appreciated. ‘He told me once, “I love to be punctual, and you Germans are so efficient.”’ It also helped that Paul had a little of the language, actually less than one might think considering he studied German in school and spent part of his youth in Hamburg, but enough to be polite. ‘He likes Germany … He told me it’s his second best market in the world after the USA, and one of the best countries to tour.’ Also, Germans didn’t resent his wealth, as Paul sometimes felt the English did.
In the build-up to the art show, Suttner found how sensitive Sir Paul was to criticism. The curator had asked an academic, Professor Gundolf Winter, to look through Paul’s pictures with a view to writing an essay for the catalogue, but Paul didn’t like what the professor wrote. ‘He said a lot of wonderful things about the pictures, but he also said Paul would never have a position in art history,’ says Suttner. ‘He’s a good painter but not a worldwide [artist]. At that time he was not happy about this. He told us: “No, I don’t want the show! … I won’t come.” He was a little bit pissed off.’ At times like this, Paul forgot his invented persona as the humble, unknown English painter Paul Miller and reminded Wolfy that he was Sir Paul McCartney, former member of the Beatles! What’s more, he was the Beatle responsible for the iconic jacket designs for Sgt. Pepper, the White Album and Abbey Road, so he knew a thing or two about art. Professor Winter’s essay was quietly dropped from the catalogue, replaced with a more complimentary one by Christoph Tannert.
Having sent his artist friend Brian Clarke ahead to make sure everything was in ordnung, as the Germans say, Paul arrived in Siegen on the eve of his show, requesting last-minute changes just when Wolfy and his team were exhausted. ‘He is never getting tired. He costs you a lot of strength.’ A large number of press turned up for the opening the next day, 30 April 1999, Paul effortlessly charming the journalists, and posing patiently for the photographers. Then the doors opened to the public. Typically, a show at the Lÿz Art Forum attracted 4,000 people during its run. Approximately 45,000 people came to see Paul McCartney’s paintings.
As to the quality of Paul’s art, opinion was divided. The waspish British critic Brian Sewell was profoundly unimpressed:
Paul McCartney’s paintings are a self-indulgent impertinence so far from art that the art critic has no suitable words for them - they are, indeed, beneath criticism. They may have some private and personal value as therapy, but exposed to the public gaze they betray his arrogance and vanity … he is not a painter.
The less demanding viewer could find things to enjoy in the work of this enthusiastic amateur: a modest, dream-like quality at least. On the scale of rock star painters, of which they are many, Paul comes fractionally above Bob Dylan (who is very bad), but below Joni Mitchell, who is quite good.
RUN DEVIL RUN
Two months later, Sir Paul attended an awards show at the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he had once celebrated the release of A Hard Day’s Night and, later in the Sixties, had an acrimonious business meeting with Allen Klein. This time he pitched up at the hotel with a host of celebrities to support the Daily Mirror newspaper’s Pride of Britain Awards, whereby the paper recognised people who had ‘made a difference’ in various ways, including by acts of bravery. It was a coup to have lured Sir Paul out of mourning for the event. Little had been seen of him in public during the 13 months since Linda died. Paul was so inactive that MPL had just recorded a £368,979 annual loss ($564,537). He came to the Dorchester on 20 May 1999 primarily to remember Linda, by presenting an award in her name to a campaigning vegetarian friend of theirs, Juliet Gellatley.
Towards the end of the ceremony, Heather Mills strode on stage, a good-looking woman of 31, wearing an eye-catching, red, translucent top. With large, shapely breasts, a wide, inviting smile, and a flirtatious toss of her thick blonde hair, she was what Paul might once have termed ‘a right little raver’. Speaking in a strong northern accent, Heather explained to the audience that she was at the Dorchester to introduce a friend of hers, student Helen Smith, who had shown fortitude in coping with the loss of both her legs, an arm and a hand due to septicaemia. Although it was not immediately obvious, Ms Mills was herself an amputee, wearing a prosthetic leg. A slight stiffness in her walk was the only sign of the disability.
‘Who’s that?’ Paul asked Piers Morgan, Editor of the Mirror.
‘That’s Heather Mills,’ replied the journalist, briefing Sir Paul on someone who was a minor celebrity in the tabloid world: the plucky model who’d lost a leg in a road accident and now raised money for charity.
‘She’s quite a girl, isn’t she?’
Heather travelled to Cambodia after the Dorchester show. When she returned home she discovered that Sir Paul had telephoned and left a message for her: ‘It’s Paul McCartney here. I’d like to talk to you about the charity work.’ He meant the Heather Mills Health Trust, an organisation Heather advertised in the back of her newly published autobiography, Out on a Limb. Although Heather did charitable work, and tended to talk casually about ‘my charity’, she hadn’t yet registered the trust with the Charity Commission, as organisations with an income over £5,000 ($7,650) are obliged to do in England before they can properly call themselves a charity. Heather’s organisation received a windfall 30 times this amount when, in August 1999, Paul invited the charity worker to his office and gave her a cheque for £150,000 (£229,500), which she gratefully accepted for the trust. But she didn’t get around to registering the Trust as a charity for a further seven months.
As she left MPL that summer day, Heather noticed Sir Paul was admiring her backside. He hadn’t looked with lust at a woman since Linda died. He felt guilty doing so, then told himself Linda wouldn’t mind. Indeed, he convinced himself that Lin was sending him messages via the wildlife on the Sussex estate: ‘… there were strange metaphysical occurrences that seemed to mean something. Animal noises. Bird noises. You’d ask yourself a question under the stars and, like, there’d be like an owl in the valley going whoo-whoo-whoo.’ In short, he had decided to date Heather Mills.
In contrast to her predecessors, Jane Asher and Linda Eastman, but in common with Paul himself, Heather had been raised in the working-class north of England. Born Heather Anne Mills on 12 January 1968 - that is, between Magical Mystery Tour and the Beatles’ White Album - Heather was the middle child of John and Bernice Mills, with an older brother named Shane and a younger sister, Fiona, to whom she was close. Dad was a soldier, living in Aldershot when Heather was born, and her life prior to meeting Paul was troubled, eventful and slightly mysterious.
Family life started to fall apart in the mid-1970s when Mum was involved in a car accident. During her convalescence, Heather and Fiona were taken into care. Heather came to look back on the children’s home as preferable to life with her dad, whom she disliked intensely. When Mum came out of hospital, the reunited family moved to a council estate near Washington, Tyne and Wear, where Heather claims Dad hit Mum, and that she and another girl were abducted by a man who kept them prisoners in his flat, fondled Heather and masturbated himself, until the girls were rescued by police.60 Mum then left home, to live with an actor named Charles Stapley, leaving the children with their father.
When she was ten, Heather was caught shoplifting. The police let her off with a warning. Dad seemed unconcerned about her thieving, but flew into rages if the house wasn’t in order, lashing out at the kids. Heather decided her father was a madman. Around the time she was 13, John Mills was imprisoned for fraud, with the result that the children went to live with their mother and Charles Stapley in Clapham, South London. Heather claims she ran away from this home at 14 to join the fair on Clapham Common; she started sleeping rough under railway arches, mixing with drug addicts, rent boys and prostitutes. Then she got a Saturday job with a jeweller, from whom she stole. Heather was arrested, taken to court and given a probationary sentence for theft. A precocious teenager who dressed provocatively, Heather next strayed into the fringes of the sex industry, finding employment around the age of 16 in a Soho hostess club; that is, a red-light district bar where men are encouraged by semi-clad women to spend extortionate amounts on drink. She didn’t work as a hostess herself. When she went for the interview she showed herself to be so naive, apparently, that the boss put her to work as a regular barmaid. Nonetheless, our heroine entered the seedy side of Soho, which exists alongside the smart offices of creative types like Paul McCartney, whose building was just around the corner on Soho Square.
Paul was promoting Press to Play when Heather met her first husband in a Soho bar named Bananas. Alfred Karmal, who went by the name Alfie, was ten years Heather’s senior, a father of two going through a divorce. He took photos of Heather for her first modelling portfolio, which his sister shopped around town. Agents suggested the busty teenager might be suited to ‘glamour’ modelling, the sex industry euphemism for topless and soft porn shoots, though Alfie says he only found out later that Heather did such work. By Heather’s account she progressed almost directly to being a more respectable ‘swimsuit model’.
Two years passed. Alfie and Heather were living together in a semi-detached house in suburban Stanmore, Middlesex. Their relationship was tempestuous.
One Friday she called me and said she’d been asked to go to Paris for some modelling … I didn’t hear from her all weekend. I just wondered where the Hell she was. I was worried about her. And then she phoned up on Sunday night and said, ‘I’m not coming back. Bye-bye.’
Heather writes in her memoir that at this stage in her adventures she became ‘the face’ of a large cosmetics firm, which brought her to live and work in France. ‘I would have to live in Paris for twelve months with an option of another year if things went well. But the best thing about it was the money - I’d be paid £1,500 a day [$2,295] … It was the chance of a lifetime.’ The firm was sufficiently substantial to accommodate Heather in a luxury Paris hotel. She was earning so much that she sent enough money home for Dad to buy himself a new BMW. Alfie has no idea how much if any of this story is true. ‘It was difficult to believe anything she said, because I caught her out lying to me so often - Where she was going, what she was doing …’ Heather’s frankly incredible French adventure came to a suitably improbable ending in December 1988 when, by her own account, the unnamed boss of her unidentified cosmetics firm fell so violently in love with his model that she fled France, catching a late-night ferry home to Dover. Heather telephoned Alfie to pick her up at the docks, thus resuming their relationship. ‘She asked me to marry her about 50 times that same week.’
On the assurance that she would see a psychiatrist, to help her stop telling lies, so he says, Alfie agreed to marry Heather. Their wedding took place on 6 May 1989. They couple lived once more in Stanmore, then Hoddesdon, a commuter town in Hertfordshire. Heather suffered the first of two ectopic pregnancies, ran a small modelling agency for a while, and had cosmetic surgery on her breasts. Then she went to Yugoslavia for a ski holiday, had an affair with her ski instructor, Milos, came home briefly, then left Alfie once and for all in 1991. He recalls:
I came home from work and she’s gone, packed all her cases, smashed the front door. A big pane of glass by the front door. She’d scraped all the wallpaper carrying her bags, getting out - took off. And that was that. I didn’t know where she was. Her sister didn’t know where she was. Nobody knew where she was … I found out she was in Yugoslavia, fucking around.
He also claims to have found out that Heather had driven the car he’d bought her to the nearest garage and sold it for cash. Alfie says Heather sold her rings, too. In her memoirs, Heather tells the story differently, writing that she told Alfie she was going to Yugoslavia to be with her ski instructor boyfriend. ‘My marriage hadn’t had a pretty ending. When I told him I was leaving, Alfie had been first shocked, then angry, then bitter,’ she wrote in Out on a Limb. ‘He’d told me that running away to Yugoslavia was just like running off to the fair when I was thirteen.’ In any event, she left and Alfie filed for divorce.
Heather now found herself in the middle of a civil war in Yugoslavia, as the country began to fall apart with the collapse of communist hegemony in Eastern Europe. She became involved in aid work for war victims, developing a particular interest in people who had lost limbs in landmine explosions. On trips home to the U K, Heather raised money and resources for these people and resumed her modelling career, which became so successful, by her account, that she was able to buy a Saab convertible and a flat in the salubrious London suburb of Hampstead. Milos was history. One night at Stringfellow’s nightclub, Heather met a well-paid bond dealer named Raffaele Mincione, with whom she began a new affair. Heather had already resolved to end this relationship when the couple set off for a walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday 8 August 1993. As they crossed Kensington Road, walking towards the park, a passing police motorcycle collided with Heather, tearing off her left foot in the accident. Surgeons subsequently amputated all but six inches of the leg below the knee to create a clean stump. This was the turning point in Heather Mills’s life.
For a single 25-year-old woman with little education who traded on her looks, losing a leg would appear to be an almost insurmountable calamity, and it seemed that way to Heather at first. The sight of her stump was shocking, and when Heather tried to go to the toilet on her own she fell over. She wept, asking ‘Why me?’, but then pulled herself together in a way that showed tremendous character. The tabloid press was eager to tell the tale of a sexy model turned plucky amputee, so Heather auctioned her story to journalists from her hospital bed. Apart from being photogenic, she proved a good talker, quite charismatic in her own way. After discharging herself from hospital, Heather started to appear regularly in the tabloids and on daytime television. The Daily Star gave her its Gold Star Award for courage; she met the Prime Minister, John Major, at Downing Street, a previously unimaginable situation for the shoplifter turned glamour model. As Charles Stapley observes, the attention Heather now received because of her accident made her a somebody, ‘which she’d always wanted to be’.
Soon Heather was doing bits of broadcasting, and writing her autobiography. She courted publicity, talking to journalists about her charity work and her love life, which continued to be eventful. Raffaele was dumped, two more fiancés following, neither of whom she married. Heather now seemed obsessed with her celebrity, granting endless interviews to talk about herself and her causes. Likened by credulous journalists to fellow landmine campaigner Princess Diana, Heather became the subject of increasingly improbable articles: she was being nominated for a Nobel Prize; she planned to ski for Britain in the Paralympics; a Hollywood movie was to be made of her life; a career in politics beckoned. ‘By my mid-forties I want to be Secretary of State for Health,’ she announced ridiculously in 1998. Then something almost as unlikely happened. Heather began to date the greatest living Englishman.
‘THE MORE YOU MET HER, THE MORE YOU KNEW SHE WAS A NUTTER’
That July, Sir Paul McCartney attended a choral concert at Charterhouse School in Surrey to commemorate Linda’s memory. Sir Paul, the recently knighted Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, David Matthews and Paul’s old friend John Tavener were among nine composers who contributed choral works for A Garland for Linda. Paul’s piece, Nova, has a distinctly religious feel, Paul asking in the libretto the question Christ asked on the cross: ‘God where are you?’ Paul concluded that God was everywhere, in nature, in every snowflake and blade of grass. Paul may have gone further in this spiritual direction, in his music and in his life, had he not been yanked out of his grief by his vivacious new girlfriend.
Heather Mills had only recently got engaged again, after a ten-day romance, to documentary film-maker Chris Terrill. The couple set 8 August 1999 as their wedding day. A week beforehand, Heather called it off, telling her fiancé she was going on holiday to Greece. In fact, she accompanied Sir Paul to America for his summer vacation in the Hamptons. When they returned to the UK, Paul and Heather were inseparable. They tucked themselves up in the Forecastle, a quaint hideaway cottage Paul owned in Rye, near the town’s old church. Then, in October, they left the love nest to release a charity record, Vo!ce, in which Heather delivered a monologue about limbless people while Paul played guitar and sang backing vocals. Heather proved herself to be as hopeless a musical partner as Linda had been. It was, though, typical of Paul to take on the interests of the women in his life. He had always done so.
Paul had also always been one of the most romantic of men. For Hallowe’en he arranged a tryst with Heather in a London hotel, filling their suite with Hallowe’en lanterns. Heather noticed Paul was so happy he was literally dancing down the street, like his hero Fred Astaire. A few days later, he invited Heather and her sister Fiona to Peasmarsh for a bonfire night party. Blossom Farm had become a shrine to Linda since her demise, with a memorial fountain tinkling outside the kitchen window where she and Paul had once fed Wirral the Squirrel. Heather couldn’t decently come and stay here. So she and Fiona were accommodated in another property on the estate, a house named Beanacres. The News of the World broke the story of the romance after its photographers caught Heather leaving the property the next day. Clearly they had been tipped off.
Rejuvenated by his relationship with Heather, Paul picked up the reins of his career, releasing Working Classical, a CD that featured attractive arrangements of tunes Linda had inspired, ‘My Love’, ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and ‘The Lovely Linda’, played by the Loma Mar Quartet. He also returned to his roots, recording a new rock ’n’ roll album, Run Devil Run, with guitarist mates Dave Gilmour and Mick Green. Ian Paice from Deep Purple played drums and Pete Wingfield keyboards. Recorded quickly over five days at Abbey Road Studios, Run Devil Run had the same attractive live sound as CHOBA B CCCP and Unplugged. Like those two records, the set list featured songs Paul had grown up listening to, most of them obscure, with a couple of newly written tracks including the title song, ‘Run Devil Run’, inspired by a voodoo remedy Paul had picked up in Atlanta to ward off evildoers, thieves and liars. To promote the CD, and help mark the end of the millennium, Paul decided to perform these rockers at the Cavern.
Music fans had come to appreciate what a grievous loss the destruction of the Cavern had been in 1973, with the result that a replica had been built nearby, opening for business in 1984. The new Cavern was on the same side of Mathew Street, but slightly deeper underground, with a recreated vaulted ceiling, and a second, larger stage area where various acts performed, including Beatles tribute bands of which there were now many. Sir Paul performed in this larger room with his Run Devil Run band on 14 December 1999, playing to 300 selected guests and millions watching on the Internet. A rather clinical, emotionless event was enlivened by a heckler yelling for ‘Satisfaction’. Paul stopped, glanced up crossly and said: ‘There’s a little wag in the crowd - read my lips [then mouthed the words] Fuck Off!’ Later he discovered the heckler was a member of his own family.
A few days later, Paul invited Heather to Rembrandt to help the McCartneys usher in the new millennium. It was at this Merseyside house party that Heather was introduced to Paul’s children, ‘a difficult situation for everybody,’ she later admitted. The ‘relies’ also looked upon her askance. ‘The first time she ever appeared was at Paul’s house, New Year’s Eve,’ recalls Mike Robbins. ‘I went in the kitchen for some reason. It’s only a little kitchen there. Seated at a table in the kitchen, in white fur, and a white Cossack fur hat,61 is this very glamorous-looking blonde who I’d never seen.’ Mike extended his hand. She didn’t shake it, and seemed to want to stay in the kitchen rather than join everybody else in the living room.
I said to [my wife], ‘Have you seen the bird?’ She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Go and have a look.’ So [Bett] wandered into the kitchen, comes back a bit later and said, ‘Oh, very strange young lady.’ I said, ‘One of Paul’s brief bits of crumpet I presume.’ And that was Heather - the first time we met her. And the more you met her, the more you knew she was a nutter. She was weird.
Paul clearly didn’t think so. After the holidays, he took his children to Parrot Cay, a resort island in the British West Indies. The day the children left for home, Heather flew in to join her boyfriend. During a walk along the beach Paul told Heather that pirates once used the island and pirate relics could sometimes be found under the rocks. Coming to a likely stone, he suggested she turn it over. Heather did so, discovering that Paul had been out on the beach earlier and scratched a heart, with their names in it, in the sand underneath. ‘I stood there shaking my head in disbelief. This man was too much.’
ANOTHER DEATH IN ARIZONA
For the past 15 years Mel See had lived with his partner Beverly Wilk on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. Recently, he’d begun seeing a new woman in Santa Fe. He seemed unable to choose between his two lovers. Feeling guilty, Mel became depressed, withdrawn and increasingly irrational. ‘He kept saying, “I betrayed you,”’ recalls Beverly. ‘He was just really weird …’ Mel was prescribed anti-depressants, but didn’t like taking them, and became increasingly intense and strange. He read the Bible and his favourite Ernest Hemingway books obsessively and said peculiar things. Mel hit bottom on Saturday 18 March, 2000, pleading with Beverly not to leave him. Beverly said she wasn’t going anywhere, though they slept in separate rooms. She woke in the night to find her boyfriend standing over her bed. ‘I couldn’t do it to you and Heather,’ he told her.
‘What’s wrong, Mel?’
Beverly didn’t get a sensible answer.
She got up in time to see Mel walking out of the house. ‘I’m going down to the wash for a walk,’ he said. When he didn’t come back, Beverly went to look for him. She found Mel lying in a hollowed-out palo verde tree that he loved, having shot himself in the head like his hero Hemingway. Remarkably, Mel had chosen to take his life in exactly the same way, and at exactly the same age, as Hemingway: both men were days away from their 62nd birthdays when they blew their brains out. ‘I looked and I saw him lying there,’ said Beverly, ‘and I just ran …’
Mel had left a note of sorts in his office; a piece of scribble, with crossings out and addendums. It began: ‘To Heather, executor, instructions for my cremation …’ Obviously realising this was too great a burden to put on his daughter, Mel had then struck out Heather’s name and addressed the note instead to a male friend, informing him that he wanted his body to be cremated and his ashes scattered over his parents’ grave. He asked for forgiveness. A phone call was made to John Eastman, who contacted Paul, who told Heather that her father had died. Mel’s suicide placed an almost intolerable additional strain on an already fragile woman who, two years after losing her mother at 56, now lost her natural father at 61 in extremely distressing circumstances. More upset followed.
It is standard police procedure in Arizona to have a homicide unit investigate any violent death, a fact the British press got hold of and beat up into a story about Linda’s first husband possibly being murdered, nonsense that was fuelled by irresponsible local gossip about who might have wanted Mel dead. Such rumours persist in Tucson, with one former neighbour claiming improbably that Mel’s anthropology had been a cover for his real work for the CIA. This is almost certainly untrue, as was the homicide story. ‘It didn’t turn into a full-blown murder investigation,’ says Lieutenant Deanna Coultas of the Pima County sheriff’s office. ‘I believe it was classified as a suicide.’
Although the main purpose of Mel’s ‘will’ was to make sure his friends and family had his body cremated, he was buried on 27 March at the Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson. The marker reads:
JOSEPH MEL SEE COMPANION MENTOR AND DAD 1938-2000
So ended the life of the man who may have been the Jojo of ‘Get Back’. More significantly, it was an event from which Heather McCartney seemed unable to recover, becoming a virtual recluse thereafter. Her design businesses fell into desuetude, as did her pottery. A high wooden fence was erected around her Sussex cottage, where she became a hermit. ‘The last time I met her [she] was in a dreadful state,’ says neighbour Veronica Languish. ‘Terrible thing, a girl like that, got everything to live for and nothing.’
BEHOLD MY HEART
The other Heather now took centre stage in Sir Paul’s life, with stories emerging in the press that Heather Mills might not be an ideal girlfriend for the star. Her ex-husband Alfie Karmal made his position clear when he told the Sunday People: ‘Marrying Heather was the biggest mistake of my life.’ Other negative stories followed from different sources suggesting that during her time as a ‘swimsuit model’ in Paris Heather had actually kept rich Arabs company, including the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Heather had been a ‘party girl’, said a fellow model, who claimed to have introduced Heather to a seamy world where pretty girls were rewarded with gifts and cash. It looked bad. A private investigator contacted Alfie, saying he worked for a client who needed to know whether certain things about Heather were true - such as who paid for her plastic surgery. Alfie concluded that the private eye was working for Sir Paul McCartney.
Despite these stories, Sir Paul chose to support Heather, making his support public when he walked onto the set of a cheesy TV show his girlfriend was appearing on, Stars and Their Lives, to affirm his love for Heather. Many onlookers and friends of Sir Paul wondered why the star invested such trust in a self-publicising minor celebrity with a dubious past. Paul’s cousin Mike Robbins suggests the answer is sex. Although Paul had enjoyed a vigorous bachelorhood, he had been in a monogamous relationship for almost 30 years, and in that time friends and family observed that Paul had lost some of his worldliness. Then along came a busty blonde who may have had a certain expertise in the bedroom. ‘I’m being crude now, [but he was] cock happy,’ says Mike. ‘And he confused [sex with love]. He couldn’t tell the difference.’
Another way to look at Paul’s relationship with Heather is to consider that, like John Lennon, McCartney had spent his adult life in a situation where almost everybody he met venerated him. Most people couldn’t behave normally around a Beatle. John and Paul had chosen as their partners gutsy women who treated them as normal people. Yoko, Linda and Heather were all three a match for their dominant, wilful partners. And the senior Beatles were both of them a handful. John and Paul had become so famous, so rich and so powerful that they were inevitably slightly monstrous. They were only comfortable with equally monstrous women.
Other, normal people naturally struggled to see what Paul saw in Linda and particularly in Heather, whom almost nobody had a good word for. Paul’s fans didn’t like Heather any better than his ‘relies’ did. That autumn, a selection of Paul’s paintings were shown at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. Linda Aiello and Toni Kraker showed up, greeting Heather brightly as she left the gallery. ‘Hi Heather!’ chirped the women. ‘She gave us the look, you know, when somebody is saying to themselves “Get a life!”’ says Linda.
She put her nose in the air, she turned her face [away]. Two seconds later here he comes, Paul, bopping up. ‘Hi girls!’ thumbs up. ‘How are you doing?’ Now she sees that he knew us … If I tell you how she changed - like a light switch. She just switched on … smiled all of a sudden. But to me, so fake.
Yet Paul was besotted. Happy in bed, he found himself showered with money again when Neil Aspinall gathered together the 27 Beatles singles that had reached number one in the UK or USA on a CD titled Beatles 1. Although many commentators figured Beatles fans already owned all these songs, and wouldn’t buy the compilation, Beatles 1 made number one in 34 countries, becoming, amazingly, the best-selling album of the decade in the USA. It seemed there was no end to the public’s appetite for the Beatles. Flushed with his windfall, Paul took Heather to India for most of January 2001, arriving in Cochin on the Malabar Coast by private jet, then touring the country, staying in the most exquisite hotels. Paul delighted in arranging romantic surprises and treats for his girlfriend during their Indian holiday, including an overnight train journey to Jaipur on her 33rd birthday. As they lay in their stateroom, rolling through the night, Paul picked up his Gibson Backpacker acoustic and composed ‘Riding Into Jaipur’.
The couple flew on to the USA. Paul took Heather shopping in Manhattan on Valentine’s Day, then to the top of the Empire State Building where he wrote their names on the stonework. That evening, they danced in the Rainbow Room. Travelling west to LA, Paul was inspired to record almost a whole album of new music in two weeks, working with Rusty Anderson, a rangy Californian guitarist, powerhouse drummer Abe Laboriel Jr, and Gabe Dixon on keyboards. The American band created a nice sound, captured by producer David Kahne, but it was the lyrics that were most interesting. Although there were references to Paul’s first marriage on Driving Rain, most of the songs seemed to be about his new relationship, revealing a man befuddled by love, with intimations of disagreements, rifts and doubts. Paul sang on ‘Lonely Road’ that he had tried to get over his new girl, but she had been tested and found true. He sounded vulnerable, making it plain in ‘About You’ that in the wake of Linda’s death he felt he’d fallen into a slump as bad as that he suffered when the Beatles broke up. As Linda saved him then, Heather was pulling him out of his grief now. He was inordinately grateful, and terrified he would lose her, besotted and adoring. To top it all, there was ‘Heather’, a pretty tune with a lyric based on Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, with Paul and Heather sailing away into a dreamy world of magic and love. While he worked on this album, Paul rented a property on Heather Road, Beverly Hills. They liked their ‘Heather House’ so well he bought it. Back home, MPL loaned Heather £800,000 (£1.2m) to buy and fix up another house, Angel’s Rest, part of a terrace of gorgeous, whitewashed houses on a private shingle beach near Hove in Sussex. Paul and Heather were often to be found walking hand in hand by the shore.
Like many a widower who plunges into a new relationship before he has finished grieving for his late wife, Paul’s infatuation with Heather coexisted with deep feelings for Linda. There was a song titled ‘Magic’ on Driving Rain about the moment he first spoke to a girl who became his love. This wasn’t about Heather, but Linda. In May Paul released a double CD retrospective, Wingspan, that charted the story of Wings, the cover art featuring Linda’s hands making the Wings symbol. Paul sat for interviews conducted by his daughter Mary, and filmed by her husband Alistair, for an accompanying documentary, during which he spoke lovingly of that happy time in his life, ‘having my best mate, my wife, to sing along with …’
When a book of Paul’s poems and lyrics was published, it was dedicated to Linda and the children. Introduced and edited by Adrian Mitchell, Blackbird Singing made an ambitious case for Paul as a poet, a singing poet in the tradition of Blake and Homer, Mitchell argued, in that most of the selected works were song lyrics. This was too strong. The best of Paul’s Beatles songs, ‘Penny Lane’ for example, did have a poetic quality, but a modest one. Many of his post-Beatles songs looked bare as orphans on the page, without their music. ‘Mull of Kintyre’ just about worked as a poem, but Denny Laine says he wrote much of that. Of the work Paul had written as poetry per se, ‘Ivan’, ‘Meditate’ and ‘Standing Stone’ were among the better efforts in Blackbird Singing, though again Paul had help with the latter, and Adrian Mitchell acknowledged in his introduction that he ‘made suggestions for small cuts or changes …’ to other poems in the book. As in the workshop of a great Renaissance painter, many talented men now toiled, with little credit, in the illustrious name of Sir Paul McCartney.
In the last months of Linda’s life Paul had been offered a commission by Magdalen College, Oxford, to write a choral work for the college’s new auditorium. Paul and Lin had paid a visit to the ancient university, and accepted the commission, which was prestigious but unpaid. Paul would bankroll the project. He started work shortly before Linda died. ‘We thought, after Linda died, nothing was going to happen,’ says Anthony Smith, then President of Magdalen, but Sir Paul came back to Oxford for All Souls’ Night in November 1998, when Linda’s name was read as part of the service, and resumed work on the commission shortly thereafter. Although Smith had originally suggested a relatively modest piece, reflecting the academic seasons, Paul began to think of a much grander composition to commemorate his love for Linda. He found his title on a flying visit to New York in May 2000, where he had gone at his friend Sir John Tavener’s62 invitation to narrate a poem as part of a Tavener concert at the church of St Ignatius Loyola. As he waited to speak, Paul noticed a statue of Christ, over which was inscribed Ecce Cor Meum. With his schoolboy Latin, Paul deduced that this meant ‘Behold My Heart’.
Paul worked on Ecce Cor Meum with David Matthews through the summer of 2001, frequently travelling to Oxford to stay with Anthony Smith in the President’s residence. When he wasn’t working, Paul could slip over to the college bar where, refreshingly, the students were sophisticated enough not to ask for his autograph, but spoke to him in a normal, civilised way. He mixed easily with everybody on campus, from the choir boys he charmed with stories of his own failed career as a chorister (‘If I’d been accepted by Liverpool [Anglican] Cathedral, there would have been no Beatles,’ he told them) to the dons. Smith feared that some of his learned colleagues might condescend to Paul, but everybody was respectful of what the musician had achieved in his career, and indeed quietly thrilled to have him at Magdalen, female colleagues noticeably dressing up when Sir Paul came to dine. McCartney’s ambition to compose complex classical works seemed to the academics a laudable desire to stretch himself. Says Smith, who found Sir Paul to have acquired gravitas as he neared 60:
He has aspired to be something more as a person. He involves himself in great causes. He wants to do something for the world and as he feels himself growing bigger his musical work is developing at the same time and he no longer wants to write singles for teenagers as he did many decades ago. He wants to be a composer. He is that. How good and durable he is, the future will decide … He has now established himself as a public person in a way that commands respect, [and] I think he also has a sense of himself as a bit of a national monument.
Heather Mills made a less favourable impression in Oxford, the charity worker showing little interest in Paul’s classical projects, unless she had suggestions for changes, which she gave freely in the irritating manner of Yoko Ono. ‘I think she felt she knew best about the music as well [as other things],’ snorts Smith. ‘I think she was trying to put Paul right quite a lot of the time, and I don’t think he felt that was necessary.’ There was a sense of the couple not being entirely at one, perhaps because Paul was working on a piece in praise of his past love, and while he and Ms Mills didn’t row publicly, there were awkward silences at the President’s house. Heather was often on the phone to do with her charitable works. ‘I didn’t get a strong sense that she was in love,’ says Smith,
and then she left in the middle of the night once. She was always doing the counselling work on the phone with kids who were suffering from cancer and so on, and I think it was because of that she left very early on one day, because one of them had been phoning her or something … Her own life was very important to her.
Among Sir Paul’s friends and associates the consensus was that Heather was trouble. Many worrying stories were swirling around about her. Eric Stewart was so concerned about what he heard that he wrote a letter to Paul:
She went to that charity show knowing she would meet him, and I do believe she said to somebody before that she was going to marry him, so I sent a letter warning him. I didn’t get a reply, but as soon as they got together the people I knew at MPL, all these old friends, suddenly [seemed] to disappear, they got replaced. Suddenly I couldn’t ring him there. I could ring him at home or at the studio, but there nobody would put you through to him. What’s going on here? It was like he was trying to sweep out anybody who knew him and Linda together.
At least that was Eric’s perception of what was going on at MPL. When Paul introduced Heather Mills to another old friend, Tony ‘Measles’ Bramwell, with whom he’d been reconciled since their 1978 spat, Bramwell immediately remembered Heather as a girl who used to hang around the London clubs. ‘Heather looked at me in horror, knowing I’d been in the clubs when she was slapping around [looking for] a rich man.’ Unwilling to spend time in Measles’ company, Heather announced: ‘There’s nobody interesting here, I’m going shopping.’ Paul followed her meekly, Bramwell concluding that Heather was every bit as horrible as he had always found Yoko Ono to be.
That summer Paul took Heather to Liverpool, where he was to preside over the annual LIPA graduation ceremony. Beforehand, he introduced his girlfriend to Mark Featherstone-Witty, who didn’t like her any more than Bramwell or Smith. ‘Normally, in a normal conversation, you meet somebody, “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” and at some point in the conversation you expect the favour to be returned,’ Featherstone-Witty observes. ‘Two and a half hours later she was still talking. Ha Ha Ha! I’ve met self-centred people in my life, but I think she has to get the gold star; she has the Oscar for somebody who is self-centred.’
Yet Paul was smitten. After the ceremony, he drove Heather to the Lake District, checking into the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Ullswater where, one night before dinner, he dropped down on his knee and said: ‘I love you, Heather. Will you marry me?’ Paul presented his girlfriend with a sapphire and diamond engagement ring he’d bought in India in January. (The fact he’d waited six months before offering it to Heather tells its own story.) When the charity worker said she would marry him, the famous widower burst into tears.