John Lennon at 80: How late icon who embodied peace and love had his heart in Scotland

He was a man of the world who embodied peace and love, but John Lennon, who would have been 80 today, had Scotland in his heart.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 7:00 am
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono with their children by previous marriages, John's son Julian, 6, and Yoko's daughter Kyoko, 5, in Sutherland, 1969.
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono with their children by previous marriages, John's son Julian, 6, and Yoko's daughter Kyoko, 5, in Sutherland, 1969.

Envisaging a universe bereft of The Beatles and their music, there is a scene near the end of Danny Boyle's 2019 heartfelt musical comedy Yesterday which [spoiler alert] tantalisingly depicts a man who, in the viewer’s dimension, changed the world.

Having never tasted the trappings of its global fame, let alone its grave dangers, John Lennon, played to a tee by an uncredited Robert Carlyle, is shown safe and sound in his dotage painting landscapes in a remote coastal location somewhere in Scotland.

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A work of fiction it may be, but, when it came to imagining where an older Lennon, had he lived long enough, might have spent his twilight years, the filmmakers were all too aware of the former Beatle's lifelong infatuation for the lands north of Hadrian's Wall.

The Beatles With Lord Provost In Edinburgh. (l-r) Paul Mccartney John Lennon Ringo Starr George Harrison. 1964.

Irish by descent, Liverpudlian at birth, New Yorker in his final years, and with a half-Japanese son, John Winston Ono Lennon was a man of the world, but he made no secret of his fondness for Scotland.

Summer holidays for Lennon as a youngster often involved a trip up to Edinburgh to live with his Aunt Mater and her second husband in middle class Ormidale Terrace, Murrayfield, no more than a drop kick or two from Scotland's national rugby ground.

And it was here he developed a strong bond with his older cousin, the late Stan Parkes, and joined the family on their annual vacation to their croft in Durness in the north-west Highlands.

Writer and lifelong Beatles fan Ken McNab, author of The Last Days of The Beatles, says the experiences made a lasting impression on the young Lennon.

Sign post for the Durness village hall garden and John Lennon memorial, Durness, Scotland.

He said: "John loved the great outdoors and the unfettered freedom that he found in the Scottish Highlands.

"You have to remember that Liverpool was in the early to mid fifties still a city recovering from the damage done by the Luftwaffe in World War Two. It was almost dystopian; there were still huge craters left from bombing raids, and large parts of the city were little more than a slum.

"So for Lennon this was the great escape and it opened his mind to a much different outlook."

Visits up to Scotland became rather restricted when John hit the big-time, but he still made the odd fleeting appearance to see his family at Ormidale Terrace if the Beatles were playing north of the border.

On 29 April 1964, Edinburgh was gripped by Beatlemania when the Fab Four arrived to perform at the ABC Lothian Road.

Despite his celebrity status, John opted to crash at his cousin Stan Parkes’ house on Bryce Crescent, Currie after the show. The following morning, Lennon made a quick trip to the nearby R S McColl to buy a packet of Rothmans. The girl behind the counter “nearly fainted” when she clocked who it was.

At the tail end of The Beatles’ career, in the summer of 1969, Lennon made what would turn out to be his final visit to Scotland, bringing with him his second wife Yoko Ono, her young daughter Kyoko, and John's son Julian, from his marriage with Cynthia.

Driving up from his home in Ascot to Liverpool, before travelling to Edinburgh and Durness, the plan was to introduce Yoko to his various relatives dotted around the country.

Rather famously, however, the trip was a near-fatal disaster, as Ken McNab explains: "To drive all that distance was a bizarre decision. John had hardly been behind the wheel of a car since passing his driving test a few years earlier. He was also very short-sighted and a pretty lousy driver.

"When they left Edinburgh after visiting Stan he suddenly announced he was going to drive to Durness. In these days it was indeed a long and winding road.

"Stan’s last words to John were to remember the etiquette of driving in the Highlands and to give way to oncoming vehicles.

"Not long after arriving at Durness, Lennon set off for Tongue. On their way, they noticed s car coming towards them on a single track road. John panicked and the car ended up a ditch.

"All four were taken to the Lawson Memorial hospital, with John, Yoko and Kyoko all requiring stitches. Julian was unhurt."

Ken adds: "At that point he was probably the most famous person in the planet, because it came at the height of his political activism calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam.

"So it was a bizarre spectacle for the staff to suddenly find a Beatle in their midst. One nurse even took a call from Paul McCartney just checking up on Lennon’s well being."

Though Lennon would never again set foot on Scottish soil, his affection never dissipated.

He came close to buying a house in America just because it happened to have a tartan carpet, and, according to cousin Stan, who died aged 82 in 2016, had been very tempted at various points to purchase the house at Ormidale Terrace and the croft in Durness.

Had the Durness sale come to pass, Lennon would have shared fellow Beatle Paul McCartney's status as a Scottish landowner, with Paul having owned a farm on the Mull of Kintyre since 1966.

Recording his diaries shortly before he died, John expressed a love for the Edinburgh Tattoo and his intention to take his second son Sean to the city in 1981.

Tragically for Lennon, his family and the world, the dream of a return to Scotland would remain unfulfilled.

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