Pattie Boyd came to fame as a top model in the 1960s. She looks back at her childhood in Kenya, hanging out with The Beatles and being a muse for Eric Clapton
My earliest memory is of sitting in a high chair when I was nearly three years old and my mother feeding me spinach. It was so disgusting that I remember spitting it out. My mother was in the ATS during the Second World War, met my father at a dance and married very early at age 18. We moved around a lot when I was young—from Somerset to Scotland for some reason, then Guildford for another reason—but it seemed normal because I didn’t know any different.
My father was a bomber pilot during the war and he was badly injured when the plane he was flying crashed into another plane during take-off in Malta. He suffered severe burns on his hands and his face, and he later had to have plastic surgery at the famous McIndoe Centre in East Grinstead.
Pattie Boyd Archive
When I was four we moved to Kenya and I loved it there. It always seemed to be sunny and we all stayed with my grandparents, who had a most glorious house in Lang’ata and who were wealthy so there were servants and nannies to look after us. The house had beautiful gardens that flowed into the wilderness where wild animals would sometimes get lost and come up to the house.
My parents divorced when I was at boarding school in Nairobi but I only learned about it when, at half-term, I was taken to a new house that my mother had moved into. She said to me, "Darling, I’d like you to meet your new father." I shook this man’s hand and I felt terribly guilty because I thought, What on earth is Daddy going to think about this? Myself and my siblings eventually moved back to England with her and her new family but it was never explained exactly what had happened.
Starting out as a model
After school I got a job at Elizabeth Arden in Bond Street, London, because I wasn’t qualified to do anything and my mum knew the CEO there. I shampooed people’s hair and took their coats. I was a general dogsbody but I must say it was terribly glamorous because it was where I first saw fabulous magazines like Vogue, Tatler and Harper’s Bazaar. A client who worked for Honey magazine asked me if I’d ever thought of becoming a model, she arranged for me to get some test shots done and that lead to me signing with an agency.
"A client who worked for Honey magazine asked me if I’d ever thought of becoming a model"
Seeing myself in magazines was so exciting. I couldn’t wait to show my mother and she was totally amazed, saying, "How on earth did you do that?" She had no idea that I’d been tramping the streets trying to get jobs and hopping on busses and trains to persuade photographers to take pictures of me so that I’d have a nice portfolio. I went on to do lots of lovely shoots, although I never enjoyed posing for Freeman’s catalogues. They’d book you for three or four days in a row which meant lots of money but the clothes were hideous and far too big so they had to have dog clips at the back.
Pattie at her first professional photo session © Pattie Boyd Archive
Jean Shrimpton was my hero. The man who was to become my boyfriend as my career took off in the early 1960s, the photographer Eric Swain, was friends with David Bailey and Jean so I eventually got to meet her. We’d hang out together occasionally and she was glorious and so beautiful. I was in awe of her really but she was very down-to-earth.
Meeting The Beatles
It was most odd how I ended up in A Hard Day's Night. I was sent to an audition where I recognised the director Richard Lester, who I’d done some TV commercials with, so I went away thinking, "That was for a crisps commercial maybe." When I got home my agent rang and said, "You’ve got a part in The Beatles film." I panicked and said I didn’t want to be an actress because I was far too shy but it turned out I only had one line, namely, "Prisoners".
Paul McCartney and John Lennon in India © Pattie Boyd Archive
When I first met George Harrison I thought he was very handsome. His eyes were a stunning velvety-brown and he was rather shy, like me. I found him very gentle. During filming, we spent many hours on a train and he asked me out. I told him I was seeing my boyfriend that evening. His face dropped and I thought, He’s from Liverpool and he doesn’t know many people in London, so I invited him to join us. He declined, but of course we subsequently began dating.
Life with George Harrison
Being with George was wonderful because we were hanging out with the rest of The Beatles and we met all sorts of interesting people in the music business and we went to lots of clubs and restaurants. One of the most memorable times was when we went along to a recording studio in Hollywood. We were taken up to the control room to meet Frank Sinatra, then watched him go into this enormous studio with a full orchestra. He stood in the middle, sang "My Way" in one take, then said, "That’s it, we’re going for a drink."
Pattie and George Harrison in a rose garden © Pattie Boyd Archive
For our honeymoon we flew to Barbados, which in the 1960s was still rather wild and untouched and it looked quite poverty-stricken. But it was the most beautiful island and the sea was delicious. Brian Epstein had rented a house for us and one day from the garden we saw Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip going along the road in an open-top car. The street was lined with kids with little Union Jacks waving at her. It was lovely to see that.
"Barbados was the most beautiful island and the sea was delicious"
Being in India was a magical time. We were there in 1968 to learn more about meditation with the Maharishi. All The Beatles were together and they were happy, serene and calm. What was lovely was when we took time off from meditation, which we could whenever we liked, they started writing songs, most of which ended up on The White Album. Those were happy times, although my modelling career suffered when I was with George. It was alright if I was working when he was on tour or in the studio, but if I was working and he was doing nothing he found it irritating.
Being Eric Clapton's muse
I found Eric Clapton to be very sexy, and it was when he and George began making music together in the late 1960s that I became aware of his infatuation with me. We’d known each other off and on for years, because musicians like to hang out with each other, but I did find him pursuing me in the way that he did quite difficult at the time.
Eric Clapton in a hotel room © Pattie Boyd Archive
But when I first heard "Layla", which was inspired by me, I was really touched by it because it was such an emotional song. Things were on the wane between me and George and I could no longer resist.
It was incredibly exciting being on tour with Eric. I was lucky enough to be at the side of the stage so I could see the band play, photograph them all and also see the audience—which especially in summertime would stretch back as far as the eye could see. But later his drinking started to get out of control, plus he’d had a baby with some stranger—or rather someone who was a stranger to me.
Meeting Rod Weston
When I was still married to Eric I went on holiday with a friend to Sri Lanka, which is where I ended up meeting Rod [Weston, a property developer]. We were at the same party and I found him very charming and handsome.
"We decided our puppy Freddie should be the best man"
We kept in touch and later got together, and finally in 2005 we were married at Chelsea Registry Office. We decided our puppy Freddie should be the best man and as we were only allowed a few people in there we had a reception at the Beaumont Hotel afterwards.
Getting into photography
I first began taking photographs in the 1960s and I went everywhere with my Pentax camera. In 2005 I put on my first exhibition [of pictures of Harrison and Clapton] in San Francisco and I was as nervous as hell.
Photographing sister Jenny at Friar Park © Pattie Boyd Archive
I was very insecure and I thought that I would be condemned for showing photos of my ex husbands. It was a surprise when it was so nicely received. Some of the pictures are in the new book, along with ones of my life and career. It’s a nice balance.
Cover image © Chris Floyd
Pattie Boyd: My Life In Pictures is published by Reel Art Press RRP £39.95. For further information and full list of stockists visit reelartpress.com
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