We know that The Fabs were never huge sports fans. We’ve heard that they’ve fancied bits of football, and have been seen at some sporting events. George was into racing, but can we really call that a physical sport. No, I don’t want to get into an argument about the nature of car racing as a sport, but it’s not like football, rugby, or cricket.
Face it folks, the members of The Beatles were never the athletic bunch. They were quite the British bunch, though, and it’s no surprise that Paul would become the spokesperson for an amazing bunch of British athelets.
Isn’t that a great photo by the way!
Here’s what we’ve read.
He was useless at football, worse at cricket – but luckily he had other talents to draw on in a city obsessed with sport and music. Now he’s leading a campaign to help the British Paralympic team. Interview Tim Lewis
It has sometimes seemed that Sir Paul McCartney is one of only four Liverpudlian men (the others being John, George and Ringo) who have never shown much interest in sport. However, the 65-year-old Beatle is soon to become the unofficial face of the British Paralympic team, fronting a cinematic TV ad campaign that aims to showcase our top disabled athletes and raise £2m to send them to Beijing. He agreed to do one interview, exclusively with Observer Sport Monthly, on why he wanted to be involved – plus whether his loyalties are with the red or blue half of Liverpool, and whose idea it was to put Albert Stubbins on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s.
OSM: We understand that you wanted to be involved with the British Paralympic team after meeting a disabled equestrian rider, Sophie Christiansen. How did your paths cross?
PM: I like the Olympics, I like that it stands for the unification of people through sport. So I was looking for something to do connected to the Olympics, then it occurred to me that there might be more to do with the Paralympics, because the Olympics is sponsored by all sorts of big companies. I just gave them a ring and on our first meeting Sophie came along and I was knocked out to hear that we have gold medallists that we don’t know about. She’s one of them, she’s got an equestrian gold.
Did you know much about the Paralympics?
A little bit, but not as much as I now know. That’s one of the things: most of us know the Paralympics exist, but I thought it was probably a good idea to raise awareness of it. Also to raise some money, because they are pretty underfunded and, of course, with someone like Sophie it takes quite a lot to get her and her horse and her support team to Beijing.
Were you surprised by the dedication and level of preparation of our disabled athletes?
Well, I admire it, you know. It’s a great human effort when you are faced with something as devastating, or potentially devastating, as illness or injury. To be able to overcome it and make something of it, I think it’s a good metaphor for a lot of things that happen in the world. It makes you think: ‘Whoa, if they can overcome that, what am I moaning about?’
So, you decided you would like to help, but did you have an immediate idea for what you could do?
My concept for the ad was pretty basic: you see great sportspeople, looking great and doing great, and it’s gradually revealed during the film that they are disabled. It’s glamorous, but very meaningful. Not only would people get to know about it, but then they would get to know the extra effort that has to be put in over and above normal sportspeople.
You must have met a lot of athletes during the process – were there any individuals who particularly made an impact on you?
There was a guy, Matt Skelhon, with a kind of mohican cut, going for the groovy look. The idea that I picked up was: ‘Look just because this has happened to me, I’m not going to shrink away. I’m going to be bold.’ He’s got a look that identifies him and he’s a very positive guy. I am a great believer that if you can put a positive spin on things, it can attract luck back into your life. One of the guys said: ‘Oh, I’m going to Beijing, I’ve qualified.’ Oh, who is the competition? ‘Well there’s a couple of guys, but I’ve beat them so I’m not worried.’ It’s a sporting attitude, which I think most of us admire anyway, but coming from this place it’s perhaps even more inspiring.
You grew up in one of the most sport-obsessed cities in the world – has sport always been a passion of yours?
No, actually. I was terrible, pretty hopeless, really. I used to enjoy football in the street, but by the time it got a bit more formalised, I wasn’t very good at it. That puts you off, there are always guys mightily bigger or better than you are. And that’s how it was with the Beatles; none of us was very sports-minded. I like watching the football on the telly, I go to the occasional match, but I’m not a massive fan.
Can you settle the argument once and for all – Liverpool or Everton?
Against all the laws of sport and supporters, I support them both. Here’s the deal: my father was born in Everton, my family are officially Evertonians, so if it comes down to a derby match or a crunch or an FA Cup final between the two, I would have to support Everton. But a great thing happened to me when Kenny Dalglish was leading the Liverpool team, and we had a concert in Wembley Arena. I always said to my promoter: ‘If we don’t sell out all the seats, go out on the street and give them away. Ring your relatives, I don’t care, just fill the place.’ And I opened this concert with Wings and I noticed right in front of me – on the second or third row – a whole line of empty seats and I thought: ‘I’ll kill that promoter!’ It’s just so demoralising.
After the second number, a whole group came in, crouched down to not cause a fuss, and it was the Liverpool team led by Kenny. They were all in light grey suits, white shirts, red ties and they looked really cool and I got a bit of a friendship with Kenny and I thought: ‘You know what? I am just going to support them both.’ Because it’s all Liverpool and I don’t have that Catholic-Protestant thing. So I did have to get special dispensation from the Pope to do this but that’s it, too bad, I support them both, they are both great teams. But if it comes to the crunch, I’m Evertonian.
Isn’t it unusual for four guys from Liverpool that none of the Beatles was particularly into football?
Yeah, you would think we would be rabid fans, but we weren’t. I think we had been those kind of guys who didn’t really like sport at school. In cricket I was always happy when they stuck me in the outfield, the ball hardly ever reached me and I could just sit around dawdling about. It’s not my idea of fun. And we were on tour the whole time and we never became mad sports fans. It’s the same story with the pub; that little bit of our lives was taken out by our early success, because all of our mates at home grew into the habit of going to the pub after work. We just didn’t do that. They were a couple of things that we probably would have got into if we had stayed in Liverpool. We were sports wimps and proud of it.
Whose decision was it to put Albert Stubbins – the red-haired centre forward who played for Liverpool after the war – on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s? There’s a rumour that he’s on there because John Lennon liked his name…
The idea originally was for all of us to name our heroes because we were going to become this fictitious group, Sgt Pepper’s, so we wanted to give ourselves some background, like somebody like Mike Leigh does. You give your character a story, and everyone came up with their favourites, who their character loved. Of course, being the Beatles this was only taken half seriously and I think John eventually came up with Albert Stubbins. I know Dixie Dean was also mentioned; it was really names we had heard when we were growing up, we really didn’t know very much about them. It’s just a funny name, isn’t it? [Adopts voice] ‘Albert Stubbins! Aye.’ I think it was done more for the humour than anything.
You’ve just played Anfield in front of a sell-out crowd and you said: ‘Every time I come back to Liverpool, the memories come flooding back.’
Well, I land at the airport that used to be Speke Airport but it’s now John Lennon Airport, so right there the memories have to come flooding back. I lived in Speke and we’d cycle out to the airport, which used to seem a long way and now looks like 20 yards. We would plane-spot, just watch the planes and occasionally take down a number or two.
So I start there when I land and invariably I will drive past a couple of houses where I used to live as a kid. If I just take the normal route there are two that I pass quite easily and this time, for example, I was with my kids and it was great; we stopped at 72 Western Avenue, and we had our picture taken outside it. The people from the house came out: ‘All right Paul, how are you doing?’ It was quite funny.
And after that I went through Allerton, which is the house we moved to two houses after Western Avenue, and I was going to stop and have my picture taken, but there was a coachload of tourists, so I just went round the block. I thought that might get a bit out of control. And I will say: ‘Oh, I remember us coming along here, me and John, dressed in black with drainpipe trousers and our guitars slung over our backs…’ It reminds you because you are in the same place and it’s only time that’s changed. Then when we got to Anfield and it was like: ‘Wow, this is the hallowed ground’ – one of the hallowed grounds, anyway.
You became famous very early – do you crave normality because of the short period of your life when nobody knew who you were?
I do, but of course the grass is always greener. So I crave that, but then I remind myself that I was really fed up that no one noticed me back then. And girls wouldn’t go out with me. So I remind myself of that and I think: ‘You are all right where you are, be happy.’
What other sports did you enjoy?
One of the reasons that I love the Olympics is that I love athletics; on telly that’s probably my favourite thing. I love the condensed effort of sprints; I like the 400, the 800, the longer ones, but by the time it gets to the marathon I’m a little bit bored because I have got a short attention span.
Sean Connery said that he would cry when he watched athletics on TV. Do you understand what he means?
I do, the distance events particularly can be emotional. I remember Jim Peters when I was a kid – God, that was harrowing [Peters collapsed from dehydration in the stadium at the 1954 Commonwealth Games marathon while well clear of the next runner]. He looked like he’d won and then he was staggering in and someone touched him and he lost. All that effort come to nothing. All that effort and I’m watching the pay-off moment live. With the Paralympians, it is even more emotional because you just know they have been through what other athletes have and more.
And do you ever shed a tear yourself?
I’ve been known to.
· The campaign launches on 2 July, with an advertisement during ‘Location, Location, Location’. Alternatively, you can view it at bt.com/paralympicsGB or donate directly by calling free on 0800 111 4321
Source: UK Guradian