Linda Eastman’s marriage to Paul McCartney goes down as one of pop’s greatest love stories. Not too long ago, letters written by Linda in the 1960s – once written for Paul’s eyes only – were published. Her letters reveal the pure excitement she felt about dating the Beatles star and being commissioned to photograph other “groovy” bands of the time.
Linda was the first of Paul’s three wives, but had she lived past the age of 56 instead of passing away from breast cancer in 1998, chances are she would have been his one and only. It was a tragic loss for the Beatle, who reportedly “cried for a year” after her passing. Such a love story tends to happen once in a lifetime – if that.
This is Paul and Linda’s tale of love and loss…
It was June 1967 and Linda, an American, had been dating Paul for weeks. She found and photocopied an American gossip column that included a sentence about her. She sent it to her friend with the sentence underlined. It read: “They say Beatle Paul McCartney’s latest favorite femme is Linda Eastman, a Yankee Doodle fan-mag [photographer].”
On the back of the photocopy, she wrote to her friend: “Thought you’d get a big laugh over the enclosed clipping. Have no idea where they picked up that lie, but it just shows how truthful newspapers are.” That friend was Miki Antony, who realized that gossip columnist Walter Winchell had, in fact, gotten his facts right.
“My reaction was a chuckle as I did know it was true,” Antony later told The Observer. “She stayed with me when she first came to London,” he explained of Linda’s first date with the Beatle. She asked Antony: “Guess who I dated last night? It was Paul McCartney, and we had this lovely evening.”
She also told her friend that Paul really liked white rabbits (of all things). So, she went out the next day, bought a white rabbit and sent it to him. That night, as she recalled to Antony, Paul called her to thank her. He said, “Thank you so much for the white rabbit. Would you like to come out for dinner again?”
Paul had spoken about his “instant attraction” when he first met Linda in May 1967 at the Bag O’ Nails nightclub in London’s Soho. That night, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein was hosting a dinner party to celebrate the completion of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Afterward, Paul went to the Bag O’Nails to see Georgie Fame perform.
It was there that he enjoyed his first encounter with his future wife. The Beatles happened to be regular visitors at the club, especially in 1967 and ’68, and Paul had his own private table. Linda, a photographer, was there with the Animals, whom she knew from her photoshoots with them in New York.
Paul recalled that first meeting: Linda passed Paul and the boys’ table, and he was near the edge. So, he stood up just as she was passing – to block her exit. After introducing himself (as if he even needed an introduction), he told her: “We’re going on to another club after this, would you like to join us?”
It was his pick-up line, essentially, which is something he “never used before, of course, but it worked this time! It was a fairly slim chance, but it worked.” She agreed, asking him how they should do it – whether she would go in their car or not – you know, the awkward but exciting logistics of such an encounter.
The bunch headed over to the Speakeasy, a club on Margaret Street, which is actually when and where they heard Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale for the first time ever, according to Paul. He and Linda “flirted a bit,” before they went together to yet another club.
Eventually, they went back to Paul’s house. Four days later, they met again when Linda attended the press party for Sgt. Pepper at Brian Epstein’s house. Her friend Miki Antony, who became a singer, writer, and record producer, discovered Linda’s letters while moving houses. (He sold them at an auction.)
Professor Kenneth Womack, a Beatles expert, told The Observer: “These letters shed intriguing light on her progress in 1967 from independent rock photographer to the arm of the Beatles’ most eligible bachelor.”
In one letter to Antony, she wrote: “I quit my job at Town & Country magazine to become a freelance photographer. I’m doing very well – sell mainly to teen magazines ’cause most of my subjects are rock ’n’ roll groups. It’s so groovy… The Stones were my favorite, went out with Mick Jagger, he’s really a terrific person, much to my surprise.”
Fast forward a few years…
1969 to ’70 was a turbulent time for the Beatles – the Fab Four had their differences. After 1967, when they lost their beloved manager Brian Epstein, they were navigating the business world on their own. Although Allen Klein came in as their new manager, Paul really wanted Linda’s father, entertainment lawyer Lee Eastman, instead.
It was a time when each Beatle was either thinking about, or venturing out on, solo projects. John and Yoko Ono were already recording together; George had put out a solo album, and Ringo was pursuing film and solo work. Paul also started working on songs for a possible solo album.
In September 1969, John privately announced to the group that he wanted to quit the band. Paul took it the hardest. After all, the band was all he knew. So, what now? Well, he retreated with his wife Linda and their young family to his farm in Scotland, a remote place they called the High Park farm.
It was at the farm that Paul went through a dark period of brooding over the likely demise of his band and his uncertain musical future. He and Linda had been married for less than a year at that point, having tied the knot in March 1969. She was 28, and he was 27.
At the time, Linda had her hands full with her seven-year-old daughter Heather (from her previous marriage) and their newborn baby, Mary. Regardless, Linda was the rock in Paul’s life during those troubling days. She helped him get back on track.
She not only encouraged him musically; she boosted his confidence. She also helped him finish his solo album, which he had already started recording. The album was titled McCartney and included the song Maybe I’m Amazed, which was dedicated to Linda. No big deal – it only became one of his most famous solo songs.
“Baby, I’m amazed at the way you love me all the time
And maybe I’m afraid of the way I love you, maybe I’m amazed
At the way you pulled me out of time, you hung me on the line
Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you.”
This song was purposely placed at the end of the album so that what you to take away is his love for her and how she’s going to be his new great source of inspiration. It’s well documented that Paul was hitting the bottle quite hard at this point, and it was Linda who showed him the light.
Although one of the album’s songs was The Lovely Linda, which was also written on the farm, it was Maybe I’m Amazed that stood out. It was his ode to Linda, his muse. But she was so much more than just Paul McCartney’s wife.
Rewind a few decades…
Linda Eastman was born on September 24, 1941, in Scarsdale, New York, to Russian-German-Jewish parents. She went on to become not just the envy of women across the world as the first wife of the dashing Beatle, but an acclaimed photographer, musician, and animal rights activist.
Music and art were in Linda’s life from an early age as her father worked in entertainment law. He worked with high-profile clients like Tommy Dorsey, Jack Lawrence and Mark Rothko. Lawrence wrote a song called Linda for the four-year-old girl, at her father’s request.
The song was recorded by Buddy Clark in 1947, and the single even reached number one. Perhaps Linda was just destined to be a star. After high school, she went to Vermont College of Fine Arts and afterward to the University of Arizona. Things were looking up… until…
During her time in Arizona, Linda’s mother was killed in a plane crash – the 1962 crash of American Airlines Flight 1 in Jamaica Bay, Queens, New York. Following this devastating turn of events, Linda turned to both animals and nature to find some sort of peace.
In 1962, she met and fell in love with a man named Melville See. The two got married and had their daughter, Heather. But three years later, in 1965, the couple divorced. 1965 turned out to be a life-changing year for Linda. Shortly after her divorce, she started dating photographer David Dalton.
It was her relationship with Dalton that encouraged her to try her hand at photography. After a few clicks of the camera, she was hooked. At the time, she was working as an editorial assistant at Town & Country Magazine. And, before long, she became one of the world’s most coveted rock photographers.
There was one gig that became a turning point for the photographer. Linda was commissioned to photograph The Rolling Stones on a yacht. “I was the only photographer they allowed on the yacht,” Linda recalled. “I just kept clicking away with the camera, and they enjoyed it and I enjoyed it, and suddenly I found that taking pictures was a great way to live and a great way to work.”
Linda landed the role of the unofficial house photographer at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East venue. It was really the gig of a lifetime as she was capturing the likes of Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, The Who, John Lennon and Neil Young… to name a few.
Linda was making a name for herself. By the time she met Paul on that fateful night at Bag O’Nails, she was already cemented in the industry. But London wasn’t her home… yet. She went back to New York. A year later, when Paul was in the city, they reunited.
A few months after, she went to London to live with her new Beatle beau. The two were infatuated with each other. Paul managed to persuade the mother and daughter to move to London permanently. When Paul and Linda started dating, he took readily to her daughter, who was then six years old.
Once they moved to London to live with him, Paul spent quality time with Heather, read her stories, drew pictures with her, and even sang her bedtime tunes. (Can you imagine a Beatle singing you lullabies?) On March 12, 1969, the pair married in a small civil ceremony in London.
Meanwhile, women around the globe were brokenhearted, as Paul was no longer a bachelor. As we know, Beatlemania was a very real (and dangerous) thing. The Beatles had to stop playing live shows since the fans would scream so loudly that they couldn’t even hear their own music.
As it turns out, Paul and Linda’s wedding was no different. Paul had proposed to her after they dated for a year, and while they indeed tried to keep the ceremony secret and without any fuss, the fans still found out.
The stairs of the courthouse (the Marylebone Registry Office) where Paul and Linda got married were absolutely crammed with weeping young girls. There were so many people on the streets that police had to escort the car the couple was riding in because girls were literally trying to block the doors and stop the wedding.
What people might be surprised to hear is that the happy couple nearly called off the wedding the night before. Look, even the most loving couples have their fights. Paul and Linda were no exception. They reportedly had a big argument the night before the wedding.
Paul never revealed what it was actually about. Still, he said that they got so carried away and angry that they seriously considered canceling the wedding. “We were crazy,” Paul later stated. “We were very up and down, quite funky compared to the eventual image of 25 years of married bliss!” Aren’t they lucky for people in showbiz?
He gave a metaphor: “You get this picture of us swanning [sic] along in a little rowboat managing to avoid the white water, but we were right in the middle of that white water, man, so it’s even more miraculous that we made it. But we did.”
In the end, of course, they went through with the wedding. But the ceremony began an hour late because Paul’s best man, his brother Mike, was delayed on British Railways. As for Linda’s bridesmaid, it was her six-year-old daughter.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds made their way through the insanity of the crowd and were driven to a local church where the marriage was blessed. They were later interviewed by ITV at the Ritz Hotel in London after their “wedding breakfast,” a British term for the meal served to the married couple and their guests. Paul spoke of their honeymoon in a couple of days, but it was likely an attempt to keep the press at bay. They did go on a honeymoon, after which they visited Linda’s family in America.
While Linda was his first wife, Paul had already experienced his share of ladies. And although he had literally millions to choose from, he chose one to have a long-term relationship and almost-marriage with: British actress Jane Asher.
It ended, though, when Asher suspected that he was romancing other women. But when it came to Linda, Paul’s eyes were only on her. She was the apple of his eye, so to speak. He and Linda had a lot in common, and one shared interest was their love of nature.
Around the same time, John Lennon married Yoko Ono, and Yoko and Linda were, at times, cast by fans as the reason why the Beatles broke up. It came to a point where Lennon publicly criticized the press for its treatment of Linda. He stated: “She got the same kind of insults, hatred, absolute garbage thrown at her for no reason whatsoever other than she fell in love with Paul McCartney.”
As we know, it got to the point that they needed to break away. When the McCartney bunch moved to their Scotland farm, Linda said it was “the most beautiful land you have ever seen, way at the end of nowhere.”
To Linda, being on the farm was “the first feeling I’d ever had of civilization dropped away… it was quite a relief.” The album that resulted from their hiatus on the farm wasn’t just Paul’s first solo album; it was also a display of Linda’s photography.
The album cover, which featured a photo of an emptied bowl of cherries on a white strip, was taken by Linda. As was the famous photo of Paul and their baby girl Mary. Before the album was released, the press released a statement from Paul and the Apple label about Paul’s departure from the Beatles.
The statement made front-page headlines, of course, on April 10, 1970, and so Paul was seen as the prime mover in the group’s breakup. The truth was, however, that there were multiple reasons for the split. At the time, Paul was personally unwinding, taking a break from the fast-paced music industry.
He was enjoying family life, marriage, and being a father (the couple also had Stella and James together). He described his solo album as, “home, family, love.” It was also the year that he taught Linda to play the keyboard, and, soon enough, the couple began working on an album together.
Their joint album was titled Ram, and the cover featured yet another photo by Linda of Paul and a ram from Scotland. While the album involved a few other musicians, it was mostly a Paul and Linda project, and it was recorded in New York City in late 1970/early 1971.
The album had several songs that were construed as musical digs against Beatles members. For instance, the song Too Many People was said to be aimed at John and Yoko, while the song 3 Legs was targeted at George, John, and Ringo.
By 1971, Paul and Linda formed the band Wings, and even though Linda was criticized for becoming Paul’s musical partner, she continued as part of Wings until the band broke up in 1981. Linda then continued with Paul’s subsequent touring band until 1993.
Wings went through periods of changing band members, but the core trio remained, consisting of Paul, Linda, and former Moody Blues singer/songwriter/guitarist Denny Laine. For those who don’t know, Wings produced the memorable James Bond theme song and 1973 hit, Live and Let Die. Seven years after Paul’s hit Maybe I’m Amazed debuted, Wings released a live version of the song on their Wings Over America album.
Another 1977 Wings single, Mull of Kintyre, was a tribute to the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland, where the McCartney farm sits. It became one of the U.K.’s best-selling singles. In more ways than one, Wings was, especially in the ‘70s, a way for Paul to get over the Beatles and prove himself as a solo artist.
But Linda was a constant – she was a presence throughout and the two were practically inseparable. When the McCartney family was with Wings on the road, Paul reflected on the period as an essential and memorable time.
Meanwhile, Linda was becoming a true animal rights activist, writing and publishing several vegetarian cookbooks. She and Paul also founded the Linda McCartney Foods company, which marketed a range of food products in the ‘90s and made Linda a millionaire in her own right.
In 1992, a book of her photographs was published, titled Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era. However, history would repeat itself. Just as she was on a clear path (as she was in her college years), and things were looking up, there was yet another devastating turn of events…
In 1995, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years later, she succumbed to the disease. Sadly, her chemotherapy treatments didn’t suffice, as the cancer spread to her liver. She passed away at the family ranch in Tucson, Arizona at the age of 56, after 29 years of marriage to Paul.
It’s been reported that the couple had spent only 10 nights apart from each other. That separation, by the way, wasn’t because of any touring schedules or anything like that. It was actually the result of Paul’s stint in a Tokyo jail for marijuana possession.
Linda’s memorial service was held in London, and people like George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Billy Joel, David Gilmour, Peter Gabriel, joined the 700 other attendees. Paul and their immediate family scattered Linda’s ashes at the McCartney farm.
“The kids and I were there when she crossed over,” Paul stated. “They each were able to tell her how much they loved her.” As for his last words to his wife, he said he told her, “You’re up on your beautiful Appaloosa stallion. It’s a fine spring day…and the sky is clear blue.”
He then described how he had “barely got to the end of the sentence when she closed her eyes and gently slipped away.” (I’m not crying – you are!) Paul, who already lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 14 years old, found it particularly devastating.
He said the loss left him in a state of constant grief. “I think I cried for about a year on and off,” he confessed to the BBC. “You expect to see them walk in, this person you love, because you are so used to them. I cried a lot.”
In 2000, two years after Linda’s death, Paul said he still “talks” to her. He said he even asked her what she thought of his new romance with model Heather Mills. So, what did his late wife have to say? Well, Paul told the Mirror that she told him: “If I was there, you’d be dead meat, sucker. But I’m not and I want you to be happy.”
That year, Paul donated over $2 million for cancer research. Also that year, The Linda McCartney Centre opened at The Royal Liverpool University Hospital. As for her photography, Paul retains her legacy and has made selections available for public exhibits.
In 2002, Paul married Mills, the former model who also happened to be an amputee and was nearly three decades his junior. A year later, Mills gave birth to their daughter, Beatrice Milly McCartney. By 2006, it was announced that the couple was divorcing, which was initiated by Paul.
According to Mills, though, it was her decision, claiming that Paul didn’t protect her when Barbara Walters went after her on The View when she and Paul were guests on the show. By 2008, the divorce was finalized, and Mills received a very nice payout ($38.5 million).
The settlement stated that Paul was to pay their four-year-old daughter’s nanny, school fees, and $70,000 a year until Beatrice turns 17. After a seemingly brutal lawsuit, Paul wasn’t deterred from married life. An eternal romantic, he just needed to be in a relationship.
He started dating Nancy Shevell in 2007, thanks to their matchmaker, Barbara Walters. Paul was on The View and told Walters that he seemed to fall in love with Jewish girls. Walters then told him, “Boy, have I got a girl for you.”
Walters, who comes from a very small family, thought Nancy Shevell, her first cousin-once-removed, would be a perfect match for the 60-something ex-Beatle. Shevell was born and raised in New Jersey. By 2011, it was announced that she and Paul were engaged.
In October, they married at Marylebone Town Hall – the same place his first wedding to Linda took place in 1969. Shevell became Lady McCartney and was the inspiration for Paul’s song My Valentine from his 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom. The two are still married to this day. He is, after all, 78 (she’s 61).
Shevell may be his current muse, but Maybe I’m Amazed (the song he wrote for Linda) is still among his personal favorites. In fact, he said in a 2017 interview that it’s the song he would like to be remembered by in the future.
Linda’s collection, Sixties: Portrait of an Era, includes portraits of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Doors. Linda chronicled a period of “communal charisma.” She photographed the Who in their quirky attire and poses behind the Fillmore East, the Manhattan club where she served as the resident photographer.
She also captured the Youngbloods in trees and the Grateful Dead on the stoop of a house they shared in Haight Ashbury. Linda once said her photographic role models were Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who took portraits that look formal but felt informal.
Linda had a way of relaxing her subjects by shooting them naturally and spontaneously, without a flash. Her casual attitude allowed her to infiltrate inner rock circles. She considered herself “a band member whose chosen instrument was the camera.”
She captured Janis Joplin, the onstage hurricane, in her offstage, shy demeanor. There was one photo she took of the Beatles during the making of their final album, Abbey Road, which really shows the growing gap between the band of brothers. She titled the photo Four Strangers.
Her collection also contains one of the most endearing shots of her Paul – the one where he’s holding their first child, Mary, in his jacket. Of the non-rockers in the series is soul diva Aretha Franklin. Throughout her lifetime and career, Linda was highly honored.
In 1987, Women in Photography named her its top U.S. representative. Over 350,000 people have viewed the Linda McCartney exhibit since it opened in 1999. It’s safe to say that her photos transcend not only the ‘60s but multiple generations.