Artist and ex-wife of Beatle shares her latest memoir 'John'
At home in Mallorca, as she greets me with a warm welcome and a soft Liverpuddlian lilt, Cynthia Lennon is instantly recognisable. Deep, brown, smiling eyes rimmed with kohl, the heavy blonde fringe that still suits her and a beautiful jade necklace that adds a touch of flower power to an elegant black outfit. It’s a sunny spring afternoon and on Cynthia’s shady terrace, allis calm. Tucked around the corner from a secluded cove, the house,although on a residential street, sits high above it on a series of leafy terraces, each its own little oasis of palms, plants and places to sit. Even by Mallorcan standards, it’s an environment that encourages you to drop back a gear or two and this, is how Cynthia likes it. This quiet piece of Mallorca, it seems, is Cynthia’s retreat. It has helped her to lead a “normal life” with her fourth husband Noel Charles.
And being in such a tranquil place, she says, has also helped her tosit down and write ‘John’ the very honest account of her marriage,divorce and life both with and without John Lennon, published in2005. Today, as Cynthia finishes the three day task of replying personally to all of the letters she’s received from readers since the book was published, is a milestone in the project. So why,after so many years, was 2005 suddenly the right time to tell her story? And why after she’d already written “A Twist Of Lennon” in 1978? The first book, she tells me, lighting a cigarette,”was a very cathartic situation. The reason I wrote it was not to make millions, it was to express what I’d been through and also speak to John at the time, because I was not in a position to speak to him, because he’d gone off with Yoko, so in a way it was a letter, an extended letter.”
Between her first book and her latest, Cynthia also had a tough twenty seven years of life to tell us about.”What’s happened since has been mega in so many ways. I’ve gone through divorce and death, inheritance problems and all of the horrors that big money brings people.”With both books there seems to be a similarity in Cynthia’s motives – therapy rather than financial reward.” I really wasn’t going to do it,” she smiles, explaining how ‘John’ came about.”Three years ago it was suggested that I write the book by Julian (Cynthia’s son by John) and his business manager. I started thinking about it and I thought it might be very good therapy. I thought it would keep me occupied and it hasn’t stopped keeping me occupied.”
The publishers wanted the material quickly, so Cynthia took to writing at home in Mallorca daily. It’s not a huge surprise to learn that the girl who met John Lennon at art school chose to write it long-hand “which is also for me very artistic because I love the written letter, I love seeing black on white.” The experience, she admits, was intense. She had to work through many painful emotions whilst writing the book, but she just “got on with it.” “It’s there anyway,” she tells me, matter-of-fact, “it’s in you anyway and you’ve been through it millions of times anyway.The book took me a life time to live and six months to write.”
Committing the truth to paper about her life as well as John’s has obviously been important to her and she feels a great sense of achievement. “I think it was probably time, because in retrospect if you think of the age of all of us at this point, if you don’t get the facts down now, then you never will and if its that important, and it obviously is, then you just do it and that’s what’s happening at the moment” she says, referring to the “can of worms” she feels she’s opened as others follow her lead to write about their first hand experiences of The Beatles and John, including his half sister Julia Baird. “There’s an awful lot of home truths coming out that were always overlooked before, because the people that were writing the books, were not from the inner circle as it were, they had not lived what we’d lived.” Cynthia is struggling to finish Julia’s book, which is on the table, in front of us. “I’m only half way through it, it’s such a tragic story that those two girls and John had to go through,” she confesses.
It seems that despite the years that have past, it’s still difficult for Cynthia to re-visit her life at that time. “I think the hardest thing for me to do was the audio book,” she admits. “I’m in this tiny little studio in London, earphones on, I’ve got my book in front of me, and nobody’s there and it’s freezing…I’m reading my life and I can hear my voice and that really did me in. … Funnily enough it wasn’t John’s death that did it or the divorce that did it… it was actually me reading the fact that Astrid (The German art student responsible for the famous Beatles mop top haircut) was holding Stuart (Sutcliffe an original member of the Beatles) as he was dying in an ambulance in Hamburg, and I just fell apart, that was the culmination of it, it had to come out somehow. “I said excuse me,I’m going to have to go outside for at least half an hour, then I’ll come back and finish it.’” And she did.
It’s this determination to carry on that you can see in Cynthia’s eyes when she talks about spending two years, promoting the book, followed by a twinkle as I ask how she prepared for it.”First of all we went to a health farm for two weeks, to get fit, which worked. Just after the health farm we went to Cilla’s [Black] “sextieth” birthday, which ruined all of the good work that we’d done! Then it was all go. It was straight into it and it hasn’t stopped to be honest.”So how did she do it? “It just comes naturally if it’s what you believe in. Many years ago I did Beatles conventions and I never thought I could do that, but once you’ve been in that situation, beenon a platform being questioned by 2000 Beatles fans, you just go back, it’s what you’ve learnt, what you’ve experienced.”
Cynthia is unapologetic for promoting the book – what some people have described as her cashing in on a meal ticket.
“Promoting the book is just me expressing and explaining what I’ve written. I’m telling the truth, if you don’t believe it, that’s fine, if you have a different viewpoint, that’s fine, because you’ve got hundreds of books that you compare my book with. I’m not demanding you buy it, you make up your own mind what your situation and your feeling for John and The Beatles is, it’s your choice.”
Of course the whole experience was exhausting and Cynthia very much sees Mallorca as a “magical” “special” and “exquisite” place she’s been able to come home to, to re-charge her batteries.”We’ve been travelling so much for the last two years promoting the book. When I’m home I just want to relax and enjoy the place.”It’s not just anywhere in the world that the Lennon’s could enjoy such privacy. “There’s a sort of respect for your privacy here, because they see so many stars popping in and out (I’m not calling myself a star) but you know, if you read the papers… it’s a wonderful bolthole for all of those who want a bit of privacy, but also want to enjoy a bit of life, a bit of sunshine”.
Cynthia is obviously a person who enjoys the relative anonymity that Mallorca allows her, but she believes that the right to privacy is a choice. “You get what you ask for in this life, it’s as simple as that. If you want to go out there and self promote, that’s easy enough to do, you can do that anywhere. But if you know the right places to go, the right people and you have good friends then you can live a normal life. If you want all of that Tinseltown stuff, you can have it, if you don’t, you don’t, it’s up to you.”
So is this why she chose to settle in Mallorca? Only partly. Cynthia came to the island from Normandy, five years ago, where she was living with her husband Noel, whom she met in 1999 and married in 2002. “Julian moved here and said “you’ve got to come and live here” so we came! Simple as that” she tells me. They didn’t pinpoint a particular part of the island in which to live. Julian, Norman and Cynthia went looking at properties, as “Julian was thinking about having a property for all of us to live in,together. We went all over the place, mainly the South West.This was the last house we looked at, we all just fell in love with it. But then Julian found another house and we ended up with this!”
So what’s her life like now in Mallorca? “I’m not really anex-pat sort of person” Cynthia quips. “I relish the fact that we have Spanish friends, we have German friends and a cross section of people whom we’ve met over the past five years.” She, Noel and Julian are all food lovers. “Noel and I love cooking. He does his cooking and I do mine. I’m the traditional English cook, with a twist now and then. Because I was married to an Italian, I’m also pretty good at Italian food. Noel, he can cook anything, so can Julian.” Cynthia and Noel also eat out about once a week. La Cuchara (Sam to CHK with Alexa) in Palma is one of their favourite restaurants. “It’s really wonderful. The King Of Spain goes there. Peter, the owner is an old friend of Noel’s, probably his oldest friend, they went to college together and they’ve ended up on the same island.”
She also talks about the city. “One thing that is wonderful about Palma, is the shops, the fashions, the shoes, the leather….and the prices! My husband and Julian are the real shoppers, they make sure that I’m well dressed!” However, it’s Soller and the surrounding mountains that seem to be her favourite places on the island. “I love Soller, if I didn’t live here I would live in Solller, I just love it. You have the mountains and you have the sea and you have the real character of Mallorca. And they have the most amazing events going on in Soller. But yes, if we weren’t here,that would be my move.” But it’s unclear as to whether Cynthia will settle in Mallorca. “Mallorca has something very very special…I’ve always said wherever I’ve lived ” this is IT, this is it I love it”but….this is why you can never say never, or never say this is it forever… you never know what’s around the corner. I am very grateful that Mallorca was round the corner for me five years ago.”
So what is next for Cynthia Lennon? She tells me that now the book is finished, she’s keen to get back to her art. “I have a studio up here, it’s not a class studio, but it’s my space for painting, I love it, but I still haven’t had a chance to do it.” She’s been invited to donate a painting to Liverpool, to celebrate the city being crowned the European Capital of Culture 2008. The artwork will hang in a Beatles themed hotel “it will get me going in my studio” she tells me excitedly.Whatever the future holds, Cynthia isn’t trying to escape her past. As the diamond in the ring spelling ‘love’ sparkles on her finger she tells me “I’m always going back to the old days.I’m frequently going back to the old days in dreams. Very bizarre dreams. Whatever you’ve experienced in life I think will always stay with you I think, one way or another, consciously or subconsciously, it’s always there.”
‘John’ by Cynthia Lennon is published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Originally published in abcMallorca in 2007.