I first met Paul McCartney — or Sir Paul, who turned 70 on Monday — one summer afternoon in August 1964 at the San Francisco Hilton Hotel.
He was a friendly, unassuming fellow, even though 200 screaming teenagers kept up a nonstop barrage of shrieks outside his hotel room.
I was to travel with the The Beatles on their first American tour, and the next day at breakfast Paul smiled and said, “Morning, Ivor.”
(Pictured: The Beatles stop for a group shot in 1964. Author Ivor Davis is third from the left in the back row.)
I was impressed. I had met the three other lads who were part of the new pop group from Liverpool, England about to embark on a 35-day North American tour. But that trio, to whom I had been introduced the day before, just nodded vaguely in my direction.
Throughout the entire tour that started in San Francisco and ended several weeks later in New York, McCartney was consistent. He was the friendliest and most relaxed of the famous quartet. George was the one I had been hired to ghost a weekly column for my London newspaper. But in those early days he was downright surly. Ringo had very little to say for himself, and John—well, John was John: irascible, quirky and always wickedly funny, but somewhere above the fray.
From day one, Paul displayed an innate sense of PR style that seldom wavered. On the Beatles’ private chartered jet between concert stops, he strolled down the aisle, glad-handing like a presidential candidate looking for votes and taking the trouble to remember everyone’s name. McCartney was the smoothest: articulate, witty and very gregarious.
He had “stardom, here I come” written all over his pretty, cherubic face.
And he was far and away the most successful with the girls. He was then dating the actress Jane Asher, who was home in London — but that didn’t stop him from having a secret fling with young Hollywood actress Peggy Lipton, who told me at the time that Paul told her he wanted to marry her.
In l965, we became reacquainted with the more popular Fab Four when they returned triumphant to America.
Then in 1973, after the Beatles had officially split up, I met Paul for lunch in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He’d come to California to promote “Live and Let Die,” the song he and wife Linda (after starting their new group “Wings”) wrote for the James Bond movie of the same name, which was nominated for an Oscar.
Chirpy and friendly as ever, he sat down at the grand piano and thumped out the piece for me.
“I wrote it in ten minutes,” he proudly declared. The song lost to “The Way We Were” but became a big hit.
From time to time after that our paths crossed. He launched his 1984 movie “Give My Regards To Broad Street,” which co-starred Tracey Ullman, his wife Linda, Ringo and his wife Barbara Bach. Paul said he wanted to branch out into the movies, but the film was savaged by critics — although the music, of course, was a big hit.
Which takes me to the last time I saw Paul. I should clarify that: I and several billion others around the world saw him on TV as he topped the bill at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert in London last week. Dressed in what looked like a Sgt. Pepper uniform, he sang “All My Loving” and “Let It Be” and certainly didn’t look his age: He turned 70 on June 18.
McCartney circa 2012 is rich. Very rich — worth over $1 billion. In October 2011, he married New Yorker Nancy Shevell in a low-key wedding. His new wife (his third) is a breast cancer survivor, comes from a well-to-do New York family, as did his first wife, Linda Eastman. He married Linda in l969, and theirs was a happy marriage. She died of breast cancer in l998. His second marriage, to Heather Mills, was a disaster. The couple wed in 2002 and ended in an acrimonious divorce in 2008.
Watching Paul perform at the Queen’s concert, I thought with all of it he looked pretty good for his age, although obviously he looks much more mature than that round-faced pinup boy of yore.
But don’t we all.
We can only speculate on what his legendary song-writing partner John Lennon would have looked like in old age. Alas, George Harrison died at 58 in 2001, and by then he had also matured into a versatile all- rounder. And Ringo, who turns 72 in July, is still the kid popping up from time to time in concerts and reminiscing about the Beatles era.
The last time I talked to Paul was last September, when he showed up to talk about “The Love We Make: The Concert for New York City,” a documentary about the fund-raising concert shot a decade ago that finally aired last year to coincide with the tenth anniversary of 9/ll.
He was as charming and talkative as ever, recalling his first time on American soil back in the early ‘60s.
“There was the Beatles' first appearance on 'Ed Sullivan' in early l964. And the final concert that year at Shea Stadium after our first tour. But when I think of New York, it’s the people,” Paul explained.
He continued: “I married a New York girl. And I’m about to marry another one (47-year-old Shevell). So I think I would think first of all of Linda and her family and our family and our connections with New York, Billy Joel and that concert at Shea Stadium.
While he admits his New York memories are not fresh, he says they are still etched in his mind.
“Memory is sort of a funny thing,” he says. “ I tell stories many times, but it’s not necessarily the truth anymore. We met Elvis Presley (in l965), which was a big event in my life and in the other Beatles’ lives, but when we came to recount the story, we all had a different version. I said, ‘Elvis met us at the front door and greeted us.’ Ringo said, ‘No, he met us on the couch.’
That Ed Sullivan concert in early l964 gave the Beatles the exposure they needed for their first tour later in the year.
“We didn’t actually know who Ed Sullivan was,” Paul admitted. “We’d say, ‘Who’s he?’ ‘He’s very famous in America. Don’t worry.’ The guy who was holding the curtain for me as I was about to go on and sing ‘Yesterday’ solo with a string quartet said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No,’ slightly bluffing. He said, ‘Well, you should be — there’s 73 million people watching.’”
Inevitably the question always goes back to that very first American tour and the Beatlemania that swept the country.
“Yes,” he recalls. “It evoked such hysteria, and we couldn’t believe that we couldn’t hear ourselves or hear anything. It was like a billion seagulls screaming, and we just looked at each other.”
Paul says film footage of that period clearly shows that. “We’re just in hysterics. John ends up doing a solo with his elbow. It is a long time ago, and we’ve looked at the film. At the time, you think it was very modern, but it’s ancient history. I love it anyway and have very fond memories of both of it.”
McCartney today is considered — along with Lennon — one of the most celebrated writers and musicians of the late 20th century.
And his continued pace of work is breathtaking: There have been world tours, and performances from Tel Aviv to Kiev, from Liverpool to Carnegie Hall as well as selling out at the gritty Coachella Desert California rock festival in 2009. In the '90s, he branched out into composing classical music, including the “Liverpool Oratorio” and modern classical pieces which have been played at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall.
As his 70th birthday approached, one London newspaper carried the headline, “Will Paul McCartney ever be able to escape John Lennon’s shadow?”
A look at his phenomenal body of work and no response is required.
It’s very difficult to live up to a saint — even the secular one that Lennon has become. But I’m sure McCartney wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s used those extra years well and for the most part conducted himself in exemplary fashion, even with that ghastly divorce.
His family has turned out happy and successful, and his work will live on.
So, well done Sir Paul. Happy birthday.