Executive Honorary Members
Sir Paul McCartney
Sir George Martin
(The Original Quarrymen):-
1940 - 1980
John Lennon Remembered
I wish John had never picked up an instrument
In a just world, the anger would have been quelled by now, replaced by fond memories of a loving brother who died too soon. Julia Baird tries.
She tells you of her pride in being the half-sister of John Lennon, of knowing that her big brother left the world such an amazing legacy. She refers to his musical genius. The intellect. She talks movingly of the John who wasn’t just a Beatle, but a brother who took her to the cinema. and let her crash her bike into his.
Eventually, however, the anger takes over. As it always does. Twenty years after he was gunned down in a New York street, John Lennon’s sister rages at the sheer Injustice of it. Surprisingly, her fury is not simply directed at Mark Chapman. the man who murdered Lennon.
It is aimed at the relatives she feels wrenched John from his mother in his youth, scarring him for life, the bizarre family code of secrecy that left an indelible pain on all their lives - and the cruel twists of fate that left them orphans. But most of all, her anger is directed at his success, success which took John from her, long before Chapman’s bullet did.
"I know how much John meant to people, but I wish with all my heart that he had never ever picked up an instrument. I wish he had never become a Beatle," she says. "If he hadn’t been swept away to fame and fortune, things might have been so different. We might have all been able to make sense of our lives. When John died, I lost everything. We all did. Our childhood was so bizarre that we were all going to have to come to terms with things one day."
She says Lennon suffered terribly, struggling throughout his life to come to terms with his confused - and confusing - childhood. "He spent his whole life trying to understand it," Julia says. "The worst thing is that he died without being able to make sense of his past. I know why people say my mother gave him up. I know about the sister we didn’t know we had. I understand. John never did."
Now 53 and a mother-of-three, the petite teacher looks uncannily like her brother. And today, on the 20th anniversary of John’s death, Julia will help, unveil an English Heritage plaque on the door of the Liverpool home where John spent much of his early days. But the sentiments will be mixed. A few weeks ago, Julia turned down the chance to go back into the house that saw so much history.
"It would be too full of ghosts," she explained. Dysfunctional is the word she now uses to describe her family. On the surface it seemed perfectly normal —but the truth was more complicated. Much more complicated. Julia, her sister Jackie and John shared the same mother - also called Julia. Julia and Jackie shared the same father - but John had a different dad. A fourth child, Victoria - by another man again - had been given away for adoption. None of the other children even knew of her existence until recently.
And amazingly, they knew nothing of each other’s parentage. "It was layer after layer of secrets," explains Julia. "The grown-ups closed ranks. Wouldn’t talk. To them, children should be seen and not heard. And when our mother stepped out of line, she was made to do what they wanted. They wanted to protect my mother. Even after she died, they were so protective."
Finally she learned the truth from an aunt. "She told me: ‘I will tell you only once, then you are never to speak of it again. I will not share your mother’s hurt with you'.
"Then she told me that my mother had had a daughter before me, Victoria. It was a scandal at the time. She was still married to John’s dad, although he’d run off years before. Victoria’s father said he would take her and the baby on - but he didn’t want John. My mother told him where to go. But the family stepped in. Mum’s father, Pops, was strict disciplinarian."
And it was Pops who ordered Julia Lennon to hand her young son over to his Aunt Mimi. Later, it would be claimed that Julia Lennon had abandoned her boy. Many think John died believing this. His sister is adamant it was not so. She insists that her mother was forced by her own father to give John up.
Pops thought she was an unfit mother because she was pregnant by a man other than her husband - despite the fact her husband had run off years before. "My mother had two children wrenched from her," she says. "Victoria and John. You cannot begin to know what that did to my family."
In fact, Lennon adored his mother. In his teens, they became particularly close. Artistic and creative, she provided the stimulus his Aunt Mimi couldn’t. Julia remembers the pair of them dancing around the house, and her forcing John to play his guitar. John never got over Julia’s death, in July 1958, at the hands of a drunk driver.
Immediately after the accident, the family sprang into action to protect Julia and Jackie, then 11 and eight. No one told them their mother was dead and they were bundled off to school as usual. Then the family was torn apart. "The headmaster was crying," Julia recalls. "I knew something was terribly wrong, but didn’t know what. When we got home, we were put in the car and driven up to relatives in Edinburgh." Still no one told them. "It was ten weeks before my uncle caved in and broke the news. He couldn’t stand It any more."
Back in Liverpool, John, at 17, was deemed mature enough to get on with his life. Soon he was off to art college, then to London. The rest would be history. By the time, Julia and Jackie’s father died again from a car accident - eight years on. John was physically and emotionally removed from them.
"Having lost our parents, we would have turned to John." says Julia. "Like a parent. John could have filled that gap had things been different". But as The Beatles took Liverpool, then the rest of the world, by storm, she still thought the world of him. Her eyes shine when she tells you of the shopping spree where John bought everyone coats to match his. Hers had cost £80, a fortune in the early Sixties.
The years went on, and the emotional distance grew. There were odd letters, but mostly she would chart John’s progress - the break up with his wife Cynthia, his experiments in drugs, the early days with Yoko - through newspaper reports. "There was no falling out ... work took him away. He had to make sacrifices. We were all gutted when he and Cynthia split, but it was John’s life. He was a big boy."
Then suddenly, after years of virtually no contact, he called from New York. "He sounded exactly the same. He was our John. He asked me to fly over to see him. But I didn’t. It seems stupid now, but I didn’t know I would never see him again." In the last years there were several phone calls In which John seemed desperate to talk about his mother.
"Once, he asked me to describe the room I was sitting in, I told him about a picture of Mummy on the wall. The original had had him in it, but I’d cut him out. I only wanted her in it. "He asked me to send it to him. He wanted everything. Every picture. Even his old school tie." Now, the anniversary is opening old wounds, and Julia cannot talk about the day John died.
For years, she couldn’t listen to a Beatles track on the radio, but now she has trained herself to separate "her" John from the Beatle John. But she still can’t bear to listen to him talk.
"How many people have to turn on the radio or TV every day and find their dead relative talking to them?" she asks. "I find it so hard to accept that I can’t just talk back to him. There is so much I want to tell him. The family history is out in the open now. There were no secrets anymore, Maybe he would have been at peace."
By Jenny Johnston
Where were you the day John Lennon died?
John Lennon Remembered