A life in pictures: Sir Paul McCartney

BY Anna Walker

1st Jan 2015 Music

Sir Paul McCartney—affectionately known as Macca across the world—was one quarter of history's most beloved band, The Beatles. We look back on the life of an icon. 

The lad from Liverpool

June 18, 1942, at the peak of the Second World War, James Paul McCartney was born in Walton Hospital, Liverpool, the very same hospital his mother, Patricia, worked in as a nurse.

Although his father was absent for the first part of his life, working as a firefighter during WWII, James “Gentleman Jim” McCartney senior (known as Jim) was important in forming Paul’s musical gifts.

A jazz musician himself (in fact, the band his father led would one day form the inspiration for the iconic albumSgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band), he gave Paul a nickel-plated trumpet for his 14th birthday.




"The Presidents, the Prime Minister, I never met anyone half as nice as some of the people I know from Liverpool"



Although Jim tried to encourage the young Beatle to take piano lessons, Paul always preferred to learn by ear. He composed an early version of When I’m Sixty-Four on his father’s piano.

Speaking about his father to Playboy in 1984, Paul said,

“The Presidents, the Prime Minister, I never met anyone half as nice as some of the people I know from Liverpool who are nothing, who do nothing. They're not important or famous. But they are smart like my dad was smart. I mean, people who can just cut through problems like a hot knife through butter. The kind of people you need in life. Salt of the earth."

As he fell in love with the rock n roll music that was increasingly being played on the radio, Paul traded his trumpet for a £15 Framus Zenith acoustic guitar.

That same year, Paul’s mother died unexpectedly—something he would later bond over with John Lennon, who lost his own mother at 17. As he told Playboy,

“Our way of facing it at that age was to laugh at it—not in our hearts but on the surface. It was sort of a wink thing between us. When someone would say, ‘And how's your mother?’ John would say, "She died." We'd know that that person would become incredibly embarrassed and we'd almost have a joke with it. After a few years, the pain subsided a bit. It was a bond between us, actually; quite a big one, as I recall. And as we became a writing team, I think it helped our intimacy and our trust in each other.”

He’d later name his first daughter with wife Linda McCartney, Mary, after his mother and write one of his most beloved songs, Let It Be, about her. 


The Quarrymen

When he was 15, Paul McCartney met John Lennon and his band, The Quarrymen, at a village fete in Woolton. Lennon’s band played on the back of a moving lorry, flanked by a procession of floats hosted by local scouts, guides and Morris dancers. Later, they set up to play on a permanent stage in a field behind the church.

McCartney was introduced to Lennon, and after chatting demonstrated how he tuned his guitar and played a few songs with the boys, including a medley of Little Richard covers.

As they walked home, Lennon and bandmate Pete Shotton discussed invited McCartney to join the band. After another meeting on the back of a bus, Paul promised to join when he returned from a family trip to Butlins.

His debut Quarryman performance came on October 18, 1957, wearing matching cream-coloured sports jackets with Lennon, which the whole band saved and paid for.

McCartney irritated his bandmates beforehand by incessantly rehearsing the lead guitar for Raunchy, only to miss his cue and play all the wrong notes once they were live. This caused the normally sarcastic Lennon to laugh so much that he “almost pissed himself”.

As he settled into the band, Paul began to write with Lennon. It was the beginning of the most successful writing partnership in the history of popular music.

Paul introduced his friend George Harrison to the band in 1958 and together, the band made their first recording, a cover of Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be the Day. The recordings (see above) were later released on the compilation album, Anthology 1.


The Fab Four

Playing at the Cavern Club with George Harrison, John Lennon and Pete Best on drums. Image via Beatles Wiki

By 1960, The Quarrymen were experimenting with several different band names, including Johnny and the Moondogs and The Silver Beetles, before finally settling on the Beatles. They were shortly shipped to Hamburg for a five-show residency that would change McCartney’s life forever.

The band’s time in Hamburg was a playful one, full of hijinks as the boys grew closer. One night in 1960, Paul and then-drummer Pete Best were packing in a dark room when they lit a condom to get some light. Accused of attempted arson, they were promptly arrested and spent a few hours in jail before leaving for England.



"Life is an energy field, a bunch of molecules. And these particular molecules formed to make these four guys, [the Beatles]… I have to think that was something metaphysical. Something alchemic. Something that must be thought of as magic"

-As told to Rolling Stone



Reluctant to abandon lead guitar, Paul agreed to become the band’s bass player after Paul Sutcliffe left the band in 1961. While in Hamburg singing backing vocals for Tony Sheridan, the band were noticed by future manager Brian Epstein, who took the band on in 1962.

Ringo Starr also joined the band that year, marking the first time the four Beatles played together. In October, the magic formula was set, and the band released their first hit, Love Me Do. Beatlemania wasn't far behind…


And I Love Her…

When the Beatles performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963, they were asked to pose with a model who later interviewed them for the BBC. The model was Jane Asher, and the encounter was enough to leave Paul completely enamoured. 

He lived in London with Jane for three years and in that time she inspired many of his most famous love songs, including And I Love Her, You Won’t See Me and I’m Looking Through You.

In 1967 he met a beautiful young music photographer named Linda Eastman, but despite their attraction, she flew back to New York after her photography assignment was completed. Paul proposed to Asher shortly after her departure. 

The engagement wasn't to last long. Jane called it off after finding him in bed with another woman—just one in a long line of infidelities. 

In 1967 he met Linda again, this time in New York City. They married just six months later. 

Paul would later tell biographer Barry Miles,

"We were crazy. We had a big argument the night before we got married and it was nearly called off. We were very up and down, quite funky compared to the eventual image of 'Twenty-five years of married bliss! Aren't they lucky for people in showbiz?' But we are. You get this picture of us swanning along in a little rowboat managing to avoid the white water, but we were right in the middle of that white water, man, so it's even more miraculous that we made it. But we did."

Paul wrote Let it Be's Two of Us about the long country drives he and Linda enjoyed sharing together. 


Bye to the Beatles

 The band in happier times. Paul's sheepdog was named Matha. Image via LIFE

In 1969, John Lennon privately informed the three other Beatles that he had no intentions of returning to the band. It wasn't until a year later that Paul announced the split publically, beating John to be the first to make the announcement. It was a devastating time. 

Speaking to Playboy about the breakup, Paul said:

"I was impossible. I don't know how anyone could have lived with me. For the first time in my life, I was on the scrap heap, in my own eyes. It was just the feeling, the terrible disappointment of not being of any use to anyone anymore. It was a barreling, empty feeling that just rolled across my soul, and I'd never experienced it before. I really was done in for the first time in my life. Until then, I really was a kind of cocky sod. It was the first time I'd had a major blow to my confidence. It was bad on Linda. She had to deal with this guy who didn't particularly want to get out of bed and, if he did, wanted to go back to bed pretty soon after. He wanted to drink earlier and earlier each day and didn't really see the point in shaving, because where was he going? And I was generally pretty morbid."

It's Linda that Paul credits with getting him through this time and inspiring him to believe he could write music again. He wrote the song Maybe I'm Amazed about the support she gave him through that time. 

Paul formed Wings in 1971, with Linda on keyboards, Denny Seiwell on drums, and former Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine.


"We were terrible. We weren't a good group"


The band were met with general derision despite stand out songs such as Band on the Run, particularly because of Paul's decision to include his wife—who wasn't a trained musician—in the lineup. 

Speaking to the Telegraph years later, he conceded,

"We were terrible. We weren't a good group. People said, 'Well, Linda can't play keyboards', and it was true. But you know, Lennon couldn't play the guitar when we started. We knew Linda couldn't play, we didn't know each other, but we learned. We had some funny experiences. Looking back on it, I'm really glad we did it."


Band on the run

Photographed by Linda while recording Band on the Run in Lagos. Image via Paul McCartney's Twitter 

On a hot September night in Lagos, 1973, Paul and Linda were walking back from guitarist Denny Laine's flat to their own when a car skidded to a halt before them. 



"Don't kill him, he's a musician"



"I went into the friendly Liverpudlian mode. You know, 'Hey mate, we don't need a lift, ta very much,'" Paul recalled. But the men weren't there to offer the McCartneys a lift. Five strangers quickly piled out of the car and attempted to rob the couple at knifepoint. 

Looking back, Paul claimed Linda's quick thinking was what saved their lives. She shouted to the assailants, "Don't kill him, he's a musician!"

Recording in Lagos. Image via Paul McCartney.com

Instead, the robbers made off with all the recordings and demos for Band on the Run—the only copies to exist in the world. Luckily, Paul had all the music stored in his mind, and they went on to record it in its entirety in just a week. 

The promo tours for Wings were odd. Paul and co would turn up at random universities, asking if they'd like them to play a show. "It wasn't exactly hippy," Paul told the Irish Telegraph, "but that time was all about the two of us going off on this adventure. It was about wanting to be free after being told what to do for so long."

Paul's arrest for marijuana possession put him in Japanese prison for nine days in 1980

"We would look at a map and say, 'Ashby-de-la-Zouch… we like the sound of that. So we drove there and, no offence to the people of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, but it didn't seem like much more than a signpost. Then we discovered that Nottingham University was nearby, so we showed up there."

"Our roadie went up to the bar and said, 'I've got Paul McCartney in the car park, wondering if he can do a gig.' The guy said, 'Pull the other one,' before being convinced to come out to the car park. I'd be there, waving out of an old van."


Family man

The McCartney's family life was well documented by Linda's photography, a talent Paul held in high esteem.

"There’s an urge in us to stop the terrible fleetingness of time. Music. Paintings. It’s the same with Linda’s photos… The night we blew the candles out on a birthday with the kids. Capture it, please."

Despite their fame, Paul and Linda worked tirelessly to provide as normal an upbringing as possible for their children, sending all of them to a state school and giving them normal pocket money in exchange for household chores. 

As he told USA Weekend, "We were there every night to put [our children] to bed, there in the mornings to wake them up. So even though we were some famous couple, to them we’re just Mum and Dad. I think that’s what’s important… and it worked."

Paul had four children with Linda, including her daughter from a previous marriage, Heather, who he adopted when they married. Heather has said that despite knowing her biological dad, she has always considered Paul her father. 

Mary McCartney followed in her mother's footsteps, becoming a successful photographer and vegetarian cookery writer. Stella is a world renowned fashion designer, while James takes after his father, using his musical genes as a singer-songwriter. Paul also had a fifth child, Beatrice, with his second wife Heather Mills. 


Losing Linda

With Linda on their farm in Mull of Kintyre, Scotland, 1970. Image via LIFE

On April 17, 1998, Linda McCartney passed away after a battle with breast cancer. It wasn't the first loss Paul had dealt with—as well as his mother's death, he'd had to learn to live with John Lennon's assassination in 1980 (which he famously described as "a drag"), but the loss of the mother of his children was an especially hard burden to bear.

"At the time she knew she was ill but she'd had chemo and her hair was growing back," he told the Sunday Times. "She didn't know she was dying. I'm not actually sure she ever knew she was dying. You have a decision to make as a family as to whether you tell someone and the doctors leave it to you, the immediate family. I talked it over with the doctor and he said, 'I don't think she would want to know. She is such a strong, forward-thinking lady and such a positive girl that I don't think it would do any good'."



"I'm not actually sure she ever knew she was dying"



In an interview with Diane Sawyer, he recalled how, "after Linda died, all of us in the family would hear noises, or see things, and would say, 'That's Linda, that's mum,' and a lot of things happened like that, and I think in some ways it's very comforting to think she's still here. You'd like to think that, and you do. It's the magic of little things."
With Linda and Stella at home. "I just love the comfort of us all, in our bathroom in the house in St John’s Wood. I love the way Linda held a camera. It looked very elegant; she cradled it." Image via Tumblr

After a disastrous second marriage to model Heather Mills, which saw the pair dragged through the press and a scandal-ridden divorce, Paul is happy now in his third marriage to businesswoman Nancy Shevall. One of the couple's strengths, he told The Times, is allowing Linda to still have presence and weight in his life. 

"She [Linda] is a very powerful memory because I was married to her for nearly 30 years. Now, in my relationship with my new girlfriend, Linda is a powerful presence, and I am lucky that Nancy [Shevell] recognises that and is a big admirer of her work.”

“It is a dreadfully big thing to follow [his marriage to Linda]—so you don’t try. I mean, that’s the trick. You are yourself, you are your own person and if you are nice, then that’s great, but you are not replacing in any way the person that is gone. Once you realise that, it becomes workable and, in fact, rather nice.”



"It is a dreadfully big thing to follow—so you don’t try"



Speaking about his new stepmother, Paul's son James said, "Nancy’s my new mother. I feel that. Definitely. She’s very genuine. She makes Dad very, very happy. We all adore her. My relationship with Heather was not very good. I didn’t like her. But I wouldn’t want to say anything negative about her because she’s a good mother to Beatrice and that’s the most important thing."


Modern Macca

A clip from the music video for Four, Five Seconds with Rihanna and Kanye West

Despite being in his 70s, Paul McCartney continues to be a huge star, playing sold out tours around the world. In 1989, he played to the largest paid audience recorded—350,000 people in Brazil—and his shows continue to draw enormous crowds today. 

In 2012, Sir Paul opened the London Olympic Games with a memorable performance that showcased his continuing talent and stardom, while a recent collaboration with artists Kanye West and Rihanna showed that his appeal continues to defy the generation gap.

He also co-wrote and sang backing vocals on West's song about his late mother, Only One, as well as donating an unused guitar riff to West's All Day. 

With rapper Kanye West, who McCartney once compared to Andy Warhol. Image via Billboard

Undeniably a national treasure, an international icon and one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known, McCartney continues to surprise and delight his fans the world over. 


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