Friday, June 04, 2004

Reluctant McCartney's life as a recluse

Reluctant McCartney's life as a recluse
JAMES McCARTNEY generally finds it easy to pass through life unnoticed. He lives a slow-paced student existence in a small rented flat on the south coast and only a few trusted friends are aware that this unassuming young man is the only son of Sir Paul, the former Beatle with a $1.98 billion fortune.

Those who first enter James's social orbit are seldom trusted with his real surname – such is the desire of the youngest child of Paul and Linda McCartney to lead an anonymous life.

To an extent, he is able to blend in at college because he is a typical student. He sleeps late and likes to drink, favouring bourbon whisky. He makes ends meet with short-term, dead-end jobs, such as waiting on tables in local restaurants.

His hair is long and his clothes scruffy. Only his extreme vegan lifestyle (James touches no meat or animal products, abstaining from both milk and honey) marks him out as being a little different from the crowd. But photographed last month walking with his sister, Mary, there could be no doubt of his true identity.

His features closely echo his father's: that soft-cheeked moon face, the expressive doe-eyes and the small, downturned mouth are pure Paul. Only his strawberry blond hair, shared with sister Stella, is owed to his late mother, Linda.

James's heritage, though, might be described as both a curse and a blessing. He is a talented guitarist and more than passable songwriter – talents which presumably have run in the family from father to son.

However, seven years after recording his first track at the family studio with his father, he is still shying away from openly pursuing a musical career – paralysed, it seems, by the spectre of Paul's success. It also seems he wants no part of his father's fame or wealth, although these might be said to be his birthright, too.

While his fashion designer sister Stella moves happily in A-list circles and another sibling, Mary, a photographer, is self-confident enough to accept the patronage of high-powered friends, baby brother James prefers to fade into the background.

Although he is expected to inherit a great deal of money, for now James is happy to be almost broke.

For the McCartney heritage is responsible for some darker realities of James's life, too. The murder of John Lennon in 1980 – when James was just three – cast a long shadow over his childhood.

Born in September 1977 – two months before his father's group Wings had their biggest hit, Mull Of Kintyre – James missed out on the freewheeling upbringing of his sisters and much older step-sister Heather.

Mary and Stella (who are nine and six years older than him respectively) spent their early schooldays on the road, being privately tutored while touring the world with Paul, Linda and the band. But James's arrival came very much at the tail end of the childhood-on-the-road experiment.

It was Lennon's assassination, at the hands of deranged fan Mark Chapman, that changed everything.

In 1981, Paul and Linda retreated to the modest five-bedroom farmhouse they owned in Peasmarsh, near Rye. "We wanted to lie low more," said Linda later. "There were death threats, some nuts, but we had to take them seriously. We have so much more security around us now. Our lives have really changed."

They left behind the family home in St John's Wood, London, and began to try to shield the children from any kind of publicity. The 159 acres of land around the farm in Sussex formed a barrier between them and the outside world, and the couple set about trying to bring up their children as "normal" and "grounded" individuals.

All the children attended the Thomas Peacocke college in Rye. But while Stella and Mary were teased about their father, James had a far easier ride – mostly because, by then, the novelty of having a famous name in the school had worn off.

One schoolmate described James as "quiet and easy-going" and said he was relatively popular – unlike Stella, who managed to make a few enemies.

Instead, James formed friendships with local boys which endure to this day. His only brush with trouble came, when 16, he was swept out to sea while surfing with friends. A coast-guard was alerted and a helicopter called but 40 minutes later James emerged from the sea.

His teenage years were not entirely carefree, however. James was shattered at the age of 19 when his mother Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Two years of treatment followed, in which he became especially close to his father. He spent the first year of her treatment playing guitar with Paul on his solo album, Flaming Pie, which was released in 1997.

The following year, as Linda's health failed, James continued with his music and studied sculpture at college. He recorded a track with Linda, The Light Comes From Within, a month before her death in April that year. The whole family went to Arizona for Linda's peaceful last weeks and the children were with her when she died. In the coming year, James lived with – and was there to support – Paul during their grief.

The arrival of Heather Mills in late 1999, not much more than a year after his mother's death, was a shock to James.

In deference to James's feelings, Paul at first conducted the courtship in a cottage on the Clive-den estate. But it was impossible to keep it secret from his son. James was the only one still living at home and when Paul invited Heather over he would have to make himself scarce.

James, according to a source, has tried throughout to duck out of any family conflict, although at times he has not been able to hide his feelings.

Relations between him and Heather are not close. He has not turned up to either of the large birthday parties she has thrown for Paul, nor did he attend a lavish party which she hosted soon after the birth of her and Paul's baby, Beatrice, in October 2003.

He took the plunge last year and set himself up on the south coast, where he is understood to have enrolled in a music college.

So, James McCartney is living in a quiet residential street close to the seafront. One day, when he has finished his studies, he will have to emerge into the spotlight and be judged on the music he is making.

How fascinating it will be to hear the songs he sings.



Mark said...

Disappointing to hear that Paul was courting Mills only a year after his wife's death. It was understood here in the states he was sad and grieving now we find out he was with that tart all along. I feel for James. What a nightmare.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous said...

No disrespect to the writer here (for the most part I found this article interesting and obviously based on some solid research) or to Mark above but, Mark, maybe you shouldn't believe everything you read so easily... Or be quite so judgemental so quickly. Everyone is different and everyone deals with grief differently. I don't think it's for you or I to judge Paul on his starting a new relationship 'so soon' after Linda's passing. I don't think his dedication to Linda can EVER be called into question. I think Paul's been through enough these last ten years - not least in 2006. He's made mistakes... but he doesn't need people like us who only 'know' him from afar passing judgement.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous said...

Looks like James was right to be reluctant to accept Heather Mills. Sometimes the children see things a Father in love misses. I know from personal experience.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that those with the happiest marriages, also remarry the soonest after the demise of their partner, hoping to recapture the wonder of their marriage. Sadly for Paul, as we know in hindsight, the second did not come close to giving him what he had with his Lovely Linda. The children's feelings toward Heather, were unstandable if they did not readily accept their father's new relationship. All in all, i would agree with a previous post, one could never question the dedication of Paul to Linda and vice versa.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous said...

I recall when I first heard of Heather Mills, and I thought "OH, NO!!!". It was obvious to me that Ms. Mills was a golddigger after the money of the very much older, Paul McCartney. I pittied his four children, having recently lost their mother. I do hope that if there is a "next Lady McCartney", that it is a lady much more Paul McCartney's age, and able to blend with his four children. She will also have the unenviable task of tolerating Heather Mills, for the sake of his fifth child, Beatrice McCartney.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous said...

Well, I have to add something to this discussion on grieving... I lost the love of my life, Sarah back in Feb. 2001. It was devastating. I was very much thrown off balance and within a year became involved in an ill-advised relationship (also significantly younger) That took me longer to extricate myself from than to stumble into. I needed warmth and comfort as I suppose Paul did. When you lose someone like this sometimes it feels as though if you don't try to carry on, you'll just crumble. I can see how it happens.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous said...

Well, I have to add something to this discussion on grieving... I lost the love of my life, Sarah back in Feb. 2001. It was devastating. I was very much thrown off balance and within a year became involved in an ill-advised relationship (also significantly younger) That took me longer to extricate myself from than to stumble into. I needed warmth and comfort as I suppose Paul did. When you lose someone like this sometimes it feels as though if you don't try to carry on, you'll just crumble. I can see how it happens.

9:09 AM  
Dr said...

Thanks for adding that comment, I always felt he was trying to fill in the empty space left by Linda. I can only imagine. I lost my son in 2001 but that's much different. Paul and the Beatles have dealt with death all their live's, more than most it seems, so I just wrongly thought Paul would deal with this one better. Heather knew what was going on though and jumped in to use him. IMHO

10:01 AM  
Anonymous said...

Error in Para. 11, which refers to Heather McCartney (not Mills) as James's step-sister. They shared the same biological mother, Linda, but different fathers, so she is his half-sister.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous said...

Minor error in Para. 12 as well. Mary McCartney was born in August 1969 to James's Sept. 1977, so she is 8 years older than James, not 9 as stated.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous said...

HI I enjoyed your article as I am so curious about Paul & Linda's only son...would love for him to do an album...I know he can play...I'd love to hear him sing.

11:34 PM  
Diane said...

What a lovely story of Paul and Linda's son James, I always wonder about him. It's wonderful to hear that he can get on with his life without letting the money and fame swallow him up. Sir Paul, I bet is very proud of him.

4:08 PM  

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