In his luxury flat in London's St John's Wood, Beatle Paul McCartney found that fame didn't give him the happiness he had expected. The place was full of fly-by-night friends and hangers-on. The flat was neglected, uncared-for. Unwashed glasses, plates and dirty ashtrays littered the living room after countless parties that didn't end until the sun came up.
"What you need is a wife, Paul," someone said. "This place is a tip." But while he had countless girlfriends, including the singer Jane Asher, there was no one Paul McCartney was prepared to share his life with. That was until the summer of 1968 when he met an American photographer named Linda Eastman. She was in London to photograph pop groups and Paul had never met anyone like her. She was the rich daughter of a New York lawyer but she wasn't interested in money. She was relaxed and confident. She had a five-year-old daughter, Heather, from a brief previous marriage. Within weeks, Paul was ringing Heather in New York to tell her: "I'm thinking of marrying your mummy."
They married at a London register office in 1969 and within weeks, Linda had transformed Paul's squalid bachelor pad and then set about transforming his life, too. He needed all the help he could get. The Beatles were breaking up and Paul was locked in a bitter legal battle with John Lennon. It's breaking my heart," he said. Linda took over. She whisked Paul and Heather to a remote farm Paul owned in Scotland in order to get away from it all. "I had a breakdown," Paul admitted years later. "I suppose it was the hurt of it all and the disappointment and the sorrow of losing a great band and great friends.
"I wouldn't get up in the morning and when I did, I wouldn't shave or bother with anything. I'd just reach for the bottle, don't know how Linda could stand it. But she did. And she pulled me through." Linda also wondered how much more she could take. She now had a seven-year-old and a baby to look after and a husband who was morose and often drunk. She later told friends it was one of the most difficult times of her life.
It was her idea for Paul to start making music without the Beatles and slowly, painfully, he came out of his depression. His next step was to sue the other Beatles to free himself from their business partnership, which came as a profound shock to John George and Ringo. John retaliated by saying Paul's first album with his new band, Wings, was rubbish but the fans didn't see it that way.
Now producing music that he thought was worthwhile, Paul settled down happily with Linda and his growing family. They bought an eccentric circular house in East Sussex and built up a menagerie of dogs, cats, chickens, horses, deer, sheep and rabbits. Nothing was too good for their pets — they once sent a mongrel with a broken leg on a 280-mile taxi trip to a veterinary hospital. They also became vegetarians and Linda founded a vegetarian food business which her husband was happy to promote — he even wrote a song about it. Everyone accepted that Linda had transformed Paul's life. A writer friend, Barry Miles, said: "I had never seen such a loving family. They were always saying how much they loved each other."
But tragedy was already waiting in the wings. In 1995, Linda found a lump under her arm and was diagnosed with breast cancer. After an operation she ordered that no one should ever refer to her medical problems again. But her health slowly declined and when Paul received a knighthood in March, 1997, Linda was too ill to attend. Instead she gave her husband a watch inscribed with: "To Paul, my knight in shining armour."
Paul refused to accept the inevitable. Linda was subjected to every possible treatment from chemotherapy to bone-marrow transplants, but she knew time was running out. "This cancer business," she told her friend the writer Carla Lane, "has got a hold of me."
In March 1998 the McCartneys flew to their ranch in Tucson, Arizona. It was springtime in the desert and they went riding together on the trails. Doctors suggested that Paul should warn Linda that she was about to die but he said she wouldn't want to know. On the afternoon of April 15, the couple went for a last desert ride and the next day Linda stayed in bed. Red-tailed hawks were wheeling overhead as she slipped into a coma.
The children told their mother that they loved her. When Linda became restless, Paul held her in his arms and told her she was on a horse riding with him through the Sussex woods. "The bluebells are out and the sky is clear blue," he said. By the time he had finished the story, his wife was dead. (Susan French/Tony James Features)