'People didn't speak to me or they were just rude to my face. It did hurt and it was tough,' said Yoko Ono
Already an acclaimed avant-garde artist and musician, Yoko Ono became infamous worldwide when she began a relationship with John Lennon.
‘I had no idea when I met this man in my gallery how everything would change,’ she says. ‘Nothing was ever the same again.’
Born in Tokyo in 1933, Ono is used to hardship. Her family lost everything in World War II, and her father was incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp.
She married twice and spent a brief period in a mental institution before meeting Lennon in 1966. The couple lived at the Dakota building in New York with their son, Sean, until Lennon was shot by a deranged fan in 1980.
‘I think we were lucky in that we did have a lot of time together as a couple,’ she says. ‘I feel very sorry for young celebrities today who don’t seem to get that time.’
I didn’t break up the Beatles.
The Beatles were a group made up of four very complex men, and my small hand could not have broken these men up. They broke up because they had reached an end, but in doing so they all also created new wonderful beginnings.
For many years I was hated by the whole world.
When I met John, I was blamed for breaking up the Beatles, I was blamed for ruining John and I was painted as a dragon. I had to deal with that. John had to deal with that. I could have turned and ran, but that was never an option. People didn’t speak to me or they were just rude to my face. It did hurt and it was tough, but I always kept my focus on the bigger picture. Every day I told myself I was a lucky person because I’d met the man I loved, I wasn’t starving, I wasn’t ill, there was no bomb in my house. I just had to get through it, and it was a great learning curve, because I had to find my own strength inside of me, inside of the two of us.
'They (the Beatles) broke up because they had reached an end, but in doing so they all also created new wonderful beginnings'
I went from great wealth to begging for food.
I was born into a very important family in Japan. My grandfather was a descendant of the Emperor and we were very wealthy. Then one day when I was 12, Tokyo was bombed and everything went. We had to beg for food. I was a child. I didn’t see it as a loss; I just saw it as my new reality. It made me very aware of how things can change, how the wheel of fortune can turn so quickly, without any warning. It also gave me an insight into what people, what families, go through in wars, which is why I’ve spent my life trying to inspire peace.
Paul McCartney saved my marriage.
John and I separated for a year in 1973 (he began an affair with his PA, May Pang), but Paul brought us back together. He spoke to me, he spoke to John, he got John to come back and understand the door was open. It was a very big thing Paul did for us. Paul has a very sweet side and he and I have made our peace. We are both business partners in Apple, and we speak and things are good between us. We know each other very well, and while we’ve had differences in the past, there was never a rift as people think. It was never so black and white.
If John were around today he’d love Facebook.
He would love the way the world has changed. He’d love the internet and Twitter. He’d be sending out pronouncements and messages and giving his opinion all the time on everything. He would be 70 years old, but he’d want to know everything that’s going on. We share that curiosity and that energy. At 77, I can’t stop. I draw my energy from people around me; I fly round the world with my art and to keep John’s legacy alive.
'If John were around today he'd love Facebook. He would love the way the world has changed'
My ex-husband kidnapped my daughter, Kyoko.
It was after I married John, in 1971, and I didn’t know where she was and all the private detectives in the world couldn’t find her (the two weren’t reunited until 1994). I was in torment. If a girl her age came on the television John would switch the channel, because he knew what I was going through. When Sean was born, John stayed home and looked after him. I had in my head this fear that he too would be taken away. After John was shot it was because of Sean that I got through that grief, that agony. I wanted to create a life for myself and Sean, and I wanted Sean to know that everything would be OK.
I have no regrets in my life.
On December 8 it was the 30th anniversary of John’s death, and I was in Japan at the Dream Power concert to raise money for a foundation to build schools in Asia and Africa. It would have been better if he hadn’t died, but you can’t sit and cry. These are things life throws at you and you have to learn to overcome them, you have to try to make good from bad. After he died, Sean and I would just sit together on December 8 and think of him and be sad. Ten years ago we set up the foundation, and we celebrate his death and we’ve raised money to build 85 schools – that’s a lot of little children who are being directly helped by John.
The world was shocked when I put a picture of John’s bloody broken glasses on the cover of the album Season Of Glass.
To me it was the natural thing to do. John had been shot, these were the glasses he was wearing when he was shot, this was the reality. John was a musician, he was my husband, he was a Beatle, but under all that he was an artist. I am an artist. As artists, neither of us wanted reality swept under the rug. This is what John would have wanted done. Anyone who loves John needs to hear the remastered albums (out now on EMI Records). Often in his music you can’t hear his voice so well because of effects and the sound recording, but these albums are beautiful; you hear his voice pure and clear. It’s as if he’s speaking directly to you – it’s incredibly moving.
'Paul McCartney saved my marriage. John and I separated for a year in 1973, but Paul brought us back together. He spoke to me, he spoke to John, he got John to come back and understand the door was open'
My favourite photo is still the picture of John and me as the Two Virgins.
I look at it now and it makes me laugh. We were coming from such a place of innocence and spontaneity. There was no retouching, no waxing – it was just us as we were and we weren’t ashamed. I was worried about how Sean would feel about it as he got older, but Sean loves this photo too.
'Robbie Williams and his wife call themselves the new John and Yoko. Apparently they stay in bed all the time'
Life has become more beautiful as I’ve grown older.
I appreciate everything as I live each day thinking it could be my last, and so I enjoy the blue skies, the grey skies, the sun and the rain. I’m still passionate about making a difference, big and small. The world has finally stopped hating me – I hope – but I am what I am because of everything that has happened to me.
Lady Gaga has a very pretty bottom.
She performed with me on stage wearing a see-through lace catsuit and people thought it was an insult because you could see her bottom. I’m the lady who did an exhibition of bottoms. How could hers offend me? She has a very lovely bottom. I think she’s wonderful. John would have loved her, because she’s an artist, she’s fearless and she pushes every limit, which we both always adored. She has played on John’s white piano and I think that’s wonderful. Life moves on and you embrace it.
Robbie Williams and his wife call themselves the new John and Yoko.
Apparently they stay in bed all the time, and I believe Robbie’s father gave them the nickname, so I sent them a signed photo of myself and John in bed together. I like to connect, to reach out to people.
I am never afraid.
A lot of things have been thrown at me in life and I’ve got through it all without a rule book, taking it one day at a time. You can’t plan in life; you just have to try to do the best with what life gives you. John taught me to laugh a lot at life, and I do.
John Lennon’s remastered solo catalogue is now available on EMI Records
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