Pattie Boyd opens up to Taylor Swift about what it was really like being married to two of rock ’n’ roll’s biggest legends.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Pattie Boyd stood at the intersection of fashion, rock ’n’ roll, art, and fame. Widely considered one of the greatest muses of all time, Boyd, who was married first to George Harrison and later to Eric Clapton, inspired the hits “Something” by the Beatles, and “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” by Clapton. Recently I devoured this intriguing woman’s memoir, Wonderful Tonight. A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of sitting down with her in the kitchen of her beautiful Kensington flat. As the sunlight poured through the windows, her blue eyes lit up as she spoke. There is a playful quality about her and, surprisingly—considering how much she has experienced in her life—a lightness.
TAYLOR SWIFT: I have been so excited to talk to you because we’re both women whose lives have been deeply influenced by songs and songwriting. I stand on one side of it, and you on the other. Does the concept of being called a muse feel like a correct fit?
PATTIE BOYD: I find the concept of being a muse understandable when you think of all the great painters, poets, and photographers who usually have had one or two. The artist absorbs an element from their muse that has nothing to do with words, just the purity of their essence.
TS: What do you feel might be a factor that artists want to communicate with you through song?
PB: I think in my case both George and Eric had an inability to communicate their feelings through normal conversation. I became a reflection for them.
TS: I wondered who and what situation “Wonderful Tonight” was written about, and now I know it’s about you getting ready for a party, changing clothes, and saying, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that.”
PB: I came downstairs with trepidation thinking [Eric] was going to be so angry that I’d taken far too long, and instead he said, “Listen, I’ve just written this song.”
TS: That is so incredible to me.
PB: But you must do that too. You must be inspired by a few moments or something, the way your boyfriend turns or says something to you or a little bit of a smile or “Is he thinking this or that?,” and that would inspire you. Can you write it the moment it’s happening?
TS: There are definitely moments when it’s like this cloud of an idea comes and just lands in front of your face, and you reach up and grab it. A lot of songwriting is things you learn, structure, and cultivating that skill, and knowing how to craft a song. But there are mystical, magical moments, inexplicable moments when an idea that is fully formed just pops into your head. And that’s the purest part of my job. It can get complicated on every other level, but the songwriting is still the same uncomplicated process it was when I was 12 years old writing songs in my room.
PB: Right, right…
TS: I don’t know what it is that makes some people really creatively inspiring. There have been people I’ve spent a lot of time with who I just couldn’t write about.
PB: Yes, now what is that?
TS: I don’t know. It’s just that some people come into your life and they have this effect on you. It’s really interesting because in your case you inspired that creative output from two iconic musicians. That just blows my mind. It’s very rare!
PB: Well, the more you say it to me, the more it’s blowing my mind.
TS: You met George Harrison at 19 on the set of A Hard Day’s Night. All of a sudden your life was changed forever because you fell in love with someone who the world was obsessed with. There was no band as big as the Beatles. Did anyone prepare you for the attention?
PB: No. Nobody took on that role. Nobody thought that role would be significant for a start. I remember a journalist coming to our house one day and saying to George, “In all seriousness, when do you think the bubble is going to burst? When are the Beatles going to be finished?”
PB: If they thought that, there’s no reason anyone would think, “Ah, I’ll look after Pattie and guide her through what is going to buy pamelor online from trusted online pharmacy http://www.bronsonpharmacy.com/product/pamelor/.” The only thing Brian Epstein, their manager, told me and the other wives and girlfriends was, “Don’t talk to the press.”
TS: Were the fans the reason you decided to live in the country?
PB: Living in London with George, there were so many fans every day, it became impossible to leave the flat. Brian Epstein thought there might be an idea that John, Ringo, and George move to the country, have little houses about an hour out of London. We would decorate the outside of our house with spray-paint cans. The whole house was like a psychedelic monster.
TS: I remember seeing a picture of the house, and Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull had spray-painted their names on the wall with the words mick and marianne were here. I read a book about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor recently, and how there was this crazy frenzy surrounding them. In the book, Elizabeth is quoted as saying, “It could be worse, we could be the Beatles.” You are one of the only people who can say they experienced what Beatlemania was like from the inside. How did that feel for you?
PB: In my first experience, I found it absolutely terrifying. I got to see the Beatles play at a theater in London, and George told me that I should leave with my friends before the last number. So before the last song, we got up from our seats and walked toward the nearest exit door, and there were these girls behind me. They followed us out, and they were kicking me and pulling my hair and pushing us all the way down this long passageway.
TS: What were they saying?
PB: “We hate you.”
TS: That is my worst nightmare. You probably felt like, “If you knew me and I knew you, you would not be pulling my hair in an alleyway and saying, ‘I hate you.’”
TS: Has the dynamic changed with Beatles fans now that you put on these incredible exhibitions of your photographs?
PB: George is no longer with us, or John. It was such a long time ago, and the fans haven’t held on to the same antagonistic feelings toward me. Actually they seem happy that I’m sharing the photographs I took. One time I was having an exhibition, and these girls turned up dressed like me in A Hard Day’s Night.
TS: It’s so cute when people do that. I love that.
PB: It is adorable.
TS: That is amazing that you could go from a place of feeling incredibly frightened by the idea of this attention from people who loved the Beatles, and now there is just a huge amount of gratitude from them. For me, one of the most heartbreaking moments in the book is when, years later, you and Eric get married, and George and his new wife, Olivia, come to the wedding party, Paul comes, Ringo comes, but John couldn’t go. He said later that he would have loved to come. That night there was a huge jam session, and had he been there it would have been the last time the Beatles played together.
PB: Can you imagine? I was heartbroken.
TS: My heart was pierced by that.
PB: John felt he couldn’t come because he thought if he left America they wouldn’t let him back in, and it was important for him to be in America.
TS: I found it staggeringly beautiful in the book how you had been through many ups and downs, and told these stunning truths about your relationships, but everyone seems to be on really good terms. I mean, Eric even gave you permission to publish his love letters. What did it take for you to arrive at such a place of goodwill with people you’ve been through so much with? Is that just time passing?
PB: I think time must play a big part. Because it all broke up for whatever reason, there is no need to carry on some sort of hate or dislike for this person. And then with time I thought, “I’ll just call on Eric and see if he’ll let me use these wonderful letters that he wrote, and if he needs anything from me, he just needs to call me, same thing, and I would say ‘yes’ to him.” I think this is all based on my memories of how it was when we were first married and what fun we had, the love that we’d enjoyed together as well.
TS: It sounds like you take ownership of the past, and not just the good parts.
PB: I do. Absolutely.
TS: Lastly, what advice would you give a 28-year-old who’s deeply inspired by your outlook? I would love to look back on my life with the same clarity, wisdom, and peace that you seem to have.
PB: You have to remember that nothing remains the same. It’s always going to change. The whole world keeps changing, we keep changing, things in our lives keep changing. Nothing remains the same. If you’re happy or you’re sad, it’s not going to last forever. You just have to keep remembering that.