Exclusive Cynthia Lennon Interview

I'm trying to make Julian feel that John did love him,
even if he can't tell him any more

Cynthia Lennon in her studio in France

By Julia Llewellyn Smith
The Daily Express July 25, 2000

Thanks to Laura D and her friend for sending this...

  Photos of John by Cynthia LennonCynthia Lennon tells of live with and without the murdered ex-Beatle - and the loving pictures that she hopes will ease her son's pain.

THE place was the Liverpool College Of Art, the year 1958. Cynthia Powell was 19, a "posh" girl from the Wirral in a twinset and pearls. As she entered the lecture theatre one morning, she noticed a fellow student, 18- year-old John Lennon.

"I didn't like him," she recalls, 42 years later. "He was scruffy, dangerous looking and totally disruptive. He frightened the life out of me."

John sat in front of Cynthia and, as they waited for the lecturer, entertained the rest of the hall with wisecracks. Cynthia noticed his hair was sticking up. At the same time, her friend Helen noticed, too, and leaned forward to brush it down. To Cynthia's amazement, she was overcome by jealousy "I thought 'How dare she?" she laughs, sitting on the terrace of her farmhouse in Normandy and gazing at the four portraits of John she recently completed as a gift for their son, Julian.

"Despite myself, I had fallen in love. Until that moment I was serious, hard-working Cynthia, who wanted to be an art teacher. But from then on things were never normal again."

John and Cynthia Lennon in 1964Within two years of their meeting, Cynthia was pregnant and married to the young tear- away. At the same time, the world was gripped by Beatlemania. From Hamburg, to Shea Stadium, to India, Cynthia was sucked into an existence beyond her wildest imaginings.

"In two years I went from a bedsit in Liverpool to a mansion in Surrey with gardeners and chauffeurs and a housekeeping allowance of 50 a week. It was enough to blow anybody's mind," she giggles.

But it could not last. Cynthia watched powerlessly as John became obsessed with drugs, fell for Yoko Ono and abandoned his family. Julian grew up hardly knowing his father, acutely aware of the lack of love between them. Then in 1980, when he was 40, John was shot dead in New York.

"I was 17 when I lost my father, John was 17 when he lost his mother and Julian was 17 when he lost his father," Cynthia says softly. "He and John were just starting to talk together when some nutcase decided to knock him off."

Twenty years after his death, Cynthia still has the ash blonde hair she sported in the days when John begged her to turn herself into a Brigitte Bardot lookalike. Her huge eyes concealed behind trademark tinted lenses, her body wrapped in a baggy blue dress. At 61, she has a moving dignity and almost total lack of vanity.

"Glass of wine?" she greets me at the door. "Cigarette? You know, I love living here. I have tranquility and peace - and it's also dead cheap!"

Cynthia makes no bones that her life has been marked indelibly the Lennon legacy, yet for a woman caught up with one of the most extraordinary men of modern times, she is extraordinarily unaffected. After all, she could have ended up living the life of an ex-rock wife in Beverly Hills, filling her days shopping and plastic surgery.

IT'S a thought that makes her chuckle. "I suppose I could have but even when I was living in the mansion in Weybridge, I never blew my money. Sheets and shoes were my only luxury. John and I both came from comfortable homes but he never knew the love and support that there was in my family. So when the whole Beatles thing happened I kept my feet on the ground while he went off on some kind of lunar trajectory"

John Lennon and JulianUntil recently, neither Cynthia nor Julian were rich. Cynthia received the relatively paltry sum of 100,000 from the divorce ("The lawyers told me to ask for more but I didn't want to, I loved him.") Julian, now 37 and living in the South of France, initially received just 100 a week from the 250 million Lennon estate. Later, Yoko gave him 70,000. Three years ago, after a legal battle, he received a settlement reported to be 20million, although he suggests the sum is much less. But more than anything, Julian's suffering has been emotional. The pair had little contact and John treated him coldly, in contrast to his behaviour with Sean, his son by Yoko.

After his death, Yoko refused to give Julian any of his father's possessions. He was reduced to buying Lennon memorabilia at auction. It was with this in mind that Cynthia, who had not picked up a paintbrush in years, decided to create four portraits of John for her son.

"Losing a parent young, is devastating," she says. "I can only try to educate him, to make him feel that his father did love him even if he can't tell him any more. I need him to see that there was love there, to see the letters his Dad wrote to me and to say 'OK darling, he was a man, a simple man with a massive talent and what you have to do is get under the skin of that man rather than read about him in those trashy books.' And I hope that if Julian is ever feeling bitter and rejected he can look at the paintings and feel better."

In the past, Cynthia has made diplomatic noises about Yoko. Now she shoots back a "Who?" at the mention of her name. "I don't discuss certain people," she continues with a smile. "If you haven't anything positive to say then say nothing at all."

It is impossible to resist the odd dig though. "Yoko had 10 years and I had 10 years and I would rather have had the 10 years I had than the ones she did. I had the raw talent and the raw human being, before the sycophants arrived."

Since John, Cynthia has married twice more as well as living with former chauffeur Jim Christie for 16 years. When he left her two years ago, she found herself alone for the first time in her adult life. To be fair, Lennon must have been a hard act to follow, not least because Cynthia clearly still loves him. As she talks about him her eyes brim with tears, she knocks back another glass of wine and draws on an endless supply of cigarettes. There is a vulnerable air to her, which makes it easy to understand how she was persuaded into embarrassing business ventures such as Woman perfume (after the song) and Lennon's restaurant, with a menu featuring such dishes as Rubber Sole.

Now, however, she is in a new relationship with Noel Charles, a 58-year-old Trinidadian-born nightclub owner, who makes a brief appearance before tactfully disappearing to go shopping.

The couple met through Julian, who clearly saw that Noel - with a wide circle of friends in the Princess Margaret crowd - was unlikely to be intimidated by any predecessor. "We're extremely happy," Cynthia says with a grin.

In essence, Cynthia was a suburban girt who simply became overwhelmed. "When John discovered drugs I lost him," she says. "He had decided his path in life and there was nothing I could do about it. He would just take acid every day in the hope of escaping from me, from Julian, from the Beatles. I tried acid twice but it just made me feel sick. My priority was Julian, while John had no interest in responsibility at all."

After their divorce in 1968, Cynthia lost touch with the rest of the Beatles, while Yoko prevented any contact at all with John. "There were so many petty jealousies," she sighs. The last time she saw him was in New York in 1973. "I went there for Julian's sake but it was a very awkward situation for us all. It was certainly no holiday"

DOING the paintings, Cynthia says, has given her a new lease of creative life, reintroducing her to the career she abandoned when she met and married John. Since then, she has painted her farmer neighbors. The locals show little interest in her past, yet much of her contentment comes from her willingness to accept her place as a bit player in rock 'n' roll history.

"If you are part of the Beatles experience you can't deny it," she says. "It would be impossible to pretend none of this ever happened. I try and opt for a quiet life but I have learned by now that once you've experienced the sort of scenario I did it's impossible to settle for normality. If I've learned anything from this, it's not to make any plans. You never know what may be around the corner."

*Limited edition boxed sets of the four John Lennon prints, costing 395, can be obtained by contacting 0118 958 2699 or www.cynthialennon.co.uk