My dad the Beatle, my mum the punk
My dad the Beatle, my mum the punk
Showing her work for the first time in Ireland, Mary McCartney shares the pain of losing her mother Linda and reveals her love for family banter and Van Gogh -- but tells Barry Egan that Chuck Berry is such a disppointment
MUM'S THE WORD: 'My mother was ahead of her time, but naturally so. It wasn't an act,' says Mary McCartney. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sunday June 06 2010
THE first child of Linda and Paul McCartney is sitting with legs tucked regally underneath her on a sofa in Ely Place. The picture of elegance, Mary is wearing smart, skinny-cut red trousers that make her look vaguely like a Beatle-y model from the Swinging Sixties.
She doesn't look her 40 years. She possesses the most striking eyes that sparkle like diamonds in the Dublin afternoon sun. Mary also has an immediately relaxing aura about her which she obviously inherited from her mother. (I was half-expecting her to be a pampered, spoiled brat/rich-kid shrew.)
She says that Linda, also a photographer, was known for relaxing her subjects: she got Jimi Hendrix to yawn for her. She grows wistful when I ask about her mother who died from breast cancer in 1998. She took beautiful, poignant pictures of Linda at the family's East Sussex home three weeks before her death.
Mary -- who was named after her paternal grandmother, a nurse and midwife who died of cancer when Paul was just 14 -- says her mother's death was "very unexpected and devastating, because we were very close. Because I have so many friends who have been affected by cancer.
"Obviously, I am quite angry and upset about it. But I try to look at the positive and think that we were lucky because she got to have kids and we all got to grow with her and I knew her really well and we spent a lot of time with her.
"We had a great relationship," she adds. "So I tried to hold on to that. It is never easy. It is horrible and sad and depressing, just awful, but what do you do? Do you just sort of get lost in it -- which you can -- or do you just try to be more positive? And generally I try to be more positive."
Your mother wouldn't have wanted you to waste any of your life being sad about her death, I say.
"I like to moan and grumble and complain but at some point you have to stop and realise you were really lucky to have had her. She was a really lively and quite unique person. She would try to look on the bright side.
"She had a really full life. It is going to happen to all of us at some point."
She once said that when she looks in the mirror she sees more and more of her mother: the mannerisms and expressions in particular. "It's also in my nose, jawline and shape of my face."
In her time, Linda McCartney was accused of contributing to the break-up of The Beatles. When she played with her husband's new band Wings in 1971, the criticisms of her were often misogynist and poisonous but at Paul's insistence she continued recording and touring with Wings. In 1976, Linda gave an interview to Rolling Stone. She was asked about her detractors, those who constantly found fault with her. "My answer," Linda replied, "is always the same: 'F*** off.'"
"She was quite punky," smiles Mary now. "She was ahead of her time -- but naturally so. It wasn't an act; that was just what she was like. She was strong but kind."
Do you think your late mother, who got such a hard time from the press herself, would have thought your father's ex-wife gets too much of a hard time from the press and should be left alone?
"I kind of keep out of that whole area of things," she says. "I don't really read a lot of that kind of media. So I'm not that up on it, to be honest."
Did you get to know Heather? "I knew her because they were married. But that's not really my relationship so I try to keep away from that in interviews and things. It is not my relationship. I knew her. You know, they were married and they have a lovely... I have a lovely little sister," she says, referring to Beatrice Milly McCartney.
Mary is here to promote an exhibition of her photographs, Collective Works, that opened recently at Kildare Village and will be on show until July 31 (admission is free). She'll be back again for the Irish Derby on June 27. Her exhbition includes artist Tracey Emin dressed as uber-artist Frida Kahlo and the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Lily Cole, Kate Moss and Helen Mirren revealed anew through Mary's lense. There is also a striking portrait of her friend, the actress Tilda Swinton.
"She is really graceful," Mary says. "There is something intriguing going on in her mind. Sometimes you meet people and they are kind of quite disappointing. Tilda wasn't disappointing."
I ask Mary who has disappointed her. "Chuck Berry," she replies. "I love him -- but then I met him. I had just read an article about him alleging he had set up a secret camera in the women's loo in his club: That isn't right. It changes your view of him. Maybe it might have been a bit too much information."
Mary rarely does interviews so information about her is hard to find. The first time the world saw her face was on the back cover of her dad's first solo album in 1970. In a photograph taken by her mother, baby Mary was peeping out of her father's jacket.
"It was taken in Scotland. Mum and Dad used to go horse-riding a lot so he zipped me up in his jacket," she says, "then he'd get on the horse and go for a ride with me in his jacket to keep me nice and snug."
When I met Paul the previous week he told me to ask her: "Do you love your dad?" So I do. "Of course I love my dad!" she laughs. "We have this funny thing as a family, where we'll go: 'Oh, almost wonderful father' and then he'll say 'who we really revere!' and then we'll say 'who we fear!' We all do that in families. I like that kind of friendly, family banter. To me, he's my dad. So I don't look on him as the iconic Beatle Paul McCartney. Unless I'm seeing him perform and then I look on him as a great performer and I'm really proud of him -- but generally he is just Dad."
She adds that she might come over to her dad's show at the RDS next Saturday.
Hers was an unstarry upbringing, growing up on the McCartneys' farm near Rye, East Sussex. Mary and her siblings (James, Stella, and step-sister Heather, Linda's daughter from a previous marriage) were raised as vegetarians with a natural love of animal rights surrounded by cows, chickens, lambs, pigs, ducks, deer and wild boar. As a child, Mary used to "love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from watching Sesame Street."
I tell her I used to have a similar fetish for sausage and jam sandwiches that I saw made on Jim'll Fix It. "I think I wrote to him once," she says.
She is grateful that, unlike the dysfunctional children of famous rockstar dads, Mary and her siblings didn't have to contact his manager to get a meeting with their ex-Beatle rockgod da. "They were always there for us." She says it was good that "both of my parents were creative and they let us go in the directions we wanted to go in and they encouraged us."
Born in London on August 28, 1969, she grew up "around photography and my mother's stuff. And when I left school I used to go into her archive and look through her contact sheets and I would help her edit things.
"I really got inspired looking through the contact sheets because there were so many different subjects. It made me want to pick up a camera."
Magazines like Rolling Stone, Harpers Bazaar and Vogue are surely glad that she picked up a camera. We discuss the obsession with youth in the media in general.
"That obsession with youth has always been there. It makes sense really, because the youngest, in a way, is the most beautiful," she says. Actress Anouk Aimee said that "you can only perceive real beauty in a person as they get older". Mary appears to agree.
"It's not that older people are more interesting than younger people, per se, but I do really love looking at older faces. You can see stories. I love it when you meet men and women who are just gracefully older. If you have the right bone structure you can carry it off. You might lose character if you..." she says, trailing off. "Working in fashion photography you do deal with retouching and it is that thing of 'How far do you go in perfection?' I think imperfections are interesting."
On her website, Mary has a gloriously bucolic image she took of Liam Neeson. "I love that image. His suit merges in with the woods." It is quite a painterly portrait of the Northern Ireland actor. Mary's favourite work of art is Van Gogh's Starry Night. She believes you can physically feel him in his paintings: the bold brushstrokes, the intensity, the passion.
She raves about US Vogue's ginger goddess Grace Coddington in the movie, The September Edition. She quotes Grace saying, "always look out the window when you're travelling".
"I looked out the window when I came here. I looked at the Harp building over the bridge," she says. "I haven't been in Ireland in 12 years."
She told the London Times in 2004 that her most treasured possession was a primrose-yellow Dior top that belonged to her mum. In the same interview, they also asked her what she wears to bed and she cheekily replied: "My husband."
She is no longer with him, TV producer Alistair Donald. They have two sons, Arthur and Elliot. Mary has a third child, Sam, with her partner, the film-maker Simon Aboud.
When Sam was born in August 2008, Paul cut short his Route 66 road trip in the US after becoming a grandad for the sixth time and jumped on a plane back to London with his girlfriend Nancy.
She tells me that she and her dad and sister recently got involved in the Meat Free Monday campaign "to safeguard Linda's legacy". She laughs out loud when I tell her I will join the Meat Free Monday campaign if she has a Vegetable Free Friday. Her children are vegetarians "but they don't have to be," she says. "It would be their choice. I don't like to force it on people. I don't like to be told what to do, so I don't like to tell them what to do."
Then she's off to catch her plane home. Mary In The Sky With Eyes That Sparkle Like Diamonds.
Mary McCartney: Collective Works is on show in the exhibition space at Kildare Village outlet shopping until July 31. This is the first time Mary has shown her work in Ireland and she will be in Ireland again on June 27 to judge the Kildare Village Most Stylish Lady Competition at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh. For more information, visit www.kildarevillage.com
- Barry Egan