I used to hate Cynthia Lennon.
A lot of us teenage girls were a bit psycho, that way, in the psychedelic Sixties. Pinning Beatles to our bedroom walls like crazed etymologists. Insanely jealous of wives and girlfriends. Fantasising about John/George/Paul/Ringo – take your pick – Eight Days A Week.
Cynthia was married to MY John. It was MY hand he wanted to hold. That was Yesterday. The Fab Four dropped to the bottom of my album collection and Cynthia didn’t cross my mind again for the next 40 years.
And then, last week, she did.
I went to see Julian Lennon’s Beatles Memorabilia Exhibition in Gibraltar (where John married Yoko Ono) and there was his Mum, Cynthia, … looking good (for her age) with a warm smile and thick (bottled) blonde hair, sharing intimate moments of her life with John from a TV screen.
Imagine! As it turned out, not quite as I’d imagined…
Being the wife of a Beatle was not such A Taste of Honey … more of A Hard Day’s Night, as you may discover if you visit this extraordinarily personal exhibition and read between Cynthia’s poignant lines.
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away explains her situation, all those years ago. I can see clearly, now, what I didn’t then.
Among the platinum discs and treasured belongings there’s another story not doing too much struggling to get out about the husband and father known to the world as John Lennon.
A bit of a selfish sod, our John, despite his amazing talent! Too much Lucy in the Sky, perhaps…
Well, how would you feel? Your kid is involved in a car crash with your ex and his new bird and you hear it from the TV news! Cynthia freaks. No one has bothered to call. Not John, not Yoko. But, hey, Julian’s fine. Let it Be, woman!
Like a paper trail, the story unfolds through a timeline of albums and news cuttings, (and a line of white feathers stuck to the floor – but that’s Julian’s story, a child of five when he lost his Dad to divorce, and 17 when he lost him forever).
This is Cynthia’s story. Told to music, in case you didn’t notice. Click the titles to hear the songs.
They met … at Liverpool Art College. “He was blind like me – we swapped glasses and from that moment it was fate.” But was she more short-sighted than him?
The proposal … was not the stuff of dreams.
“Don’t worry Cyn, we’ll have to get married,” was how John put it to his pregnant girl friend. There was no bended knee – but no twisted arm, either. Julian was a ‘Saturday night special; the way that most people get here’ and ‘came out of a whisky bottle’, John allegedly said later.
The wedding … was a disaster. No flowers, no photographs and it rained. They had to shout their vows over the noise of a pneumatic drill. Everyone wore black (cue Baby’s in Black) and the registrar reminded Cynthia of a funeral director.
The honeymoon … was postponed. (John was working.) When they finally got it together at the George V in Paris, it was a bit of a crowd. The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, came along for the ride, and two women friends of John and Cynthia’s shared the nuptial bed. Come Together?
The birth of Julian… went ahead without John. (He was touring in Spain.)
Motherhood … was far from normal.
Cynthia was constantly mobbed by fans “trying to kiss The Beatle child.”
The superstar lifestyle … largely ignored Cynthia. Ditto Princess Margaret when John tried to introduce them at the premier of A Hard Day’s Night .
Cynthia “didn’t get much money” for child support (although John must have been making a few bob). Selling the memorabilia helped to make ends meet (shades of Lady Madonna). But, considering their 10-year relationship, there’s still a lot to see:
old vinyl singles, family photos, John’s tatty ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ afghan coat (exhibited behind glass like a ceremonial robe); the Honda ‘monkey bike’ he rode with Julian; the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar inscribed ‘To Julian from Daddy, Christmas 1973’; the letters from Julian to his faraway Dad (Hello, Goodbye); and Paul McCartney’s original, handwritten lyrics for Hey Jude (originally, Hey Jules, written to comfort Julian after the divorce, though the lad didn’t realise it for another 20 years. McCartney changed it to Jude because it was easier to sing).
Perusing the Beatles kitsch (mugs, t-shirts, hats, bags and the usual paraphernalia – although no music) I picked up a copy of Cynthia’s 2005 biography, John, and read the introduction:
“There is so much that I have never said, so many incidents I have never spoken of and so many feelings I have never expressed: great love on one hand; pain, torment, and humiliation on the other. Only I know what really happened between us, why we stayed together, why we parted and the price I have paid for being John’s wife.”
Of course, you’ll have to judge for yourself…
Afterwards, you can post a personal note to the family on The Message Tree. Lots of people have. I wish I had, too. Mine would have read: I don’t hate you any more, Cynthia Lennon. But maybe you Should Have Known Better.
Information: The exhibition is on loan from Liverpool to Gibraltar for the rest of 2013 at the Gustavo Bacarisas Galleries in Casemates. Opening hours, Monday to Saturday, 10am – 7pm, Sundays 10am – 4pm. Entry £8 adults, £4 children or family ticket for 2 adults, 2 children, £20. A quarter of the proceeds goes to Julian Lennon’s White Feather Foundation charity for environmental and humanitarian causes.