Pattie Boyd was the face of the '60s. Her blonde hair, deep bangs, long legs, and perfect pout got her on magazine covers and snared her a bit part in the Beatles' first film, A Hard Day's Night. She met George Harrison on the very first day of filming, and he asked her out—thinking that she looked exactly like Brigitte Bardot.
She married the quiet Beatle, living a rarified life that few of us will ever experience. Boyd not only is famous for her iconic beauty, but for introducing the Fab Four to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and also for leaving Harrison for his best friend Eric Clapton and inspiring some of rock's most heart-torn classics like Harrison's "Something," "I Need You,” and Clapton's "Layla" and "Beautiful Tonight."
After her divorce from Clapton, she has gone on to be a telling and intuitive photographer, recording some of the brightest moments of an epoch when it did seem possible that love was indeed all you needed. You can’t help but think of Boyd with the debut of Martin Scorsese's documentary, George Harrison: Living In the Material World, But while she penned her own autobiography back in Wonderful Today: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me, she didn’t participate in the star-studded documentary. The Morton Report caught up with the still lovely Boyd to figure out why.
You must run into a lot of people who remember where you were an icon of beauty for that whole generation.
Yeah, how funny. But it happened more so in America than it did in England.
You were so exotic, American women just didn't look like you. It’s that whole Chelsea girl look that we all aspired to. We’re not that well put together, and you have that perfect hair.
Thank you for saying that.
I interviewed Marianne Faithfull. She said all the songs in the '60s and '70s were written about her. So I want you to respond to that.
I love Marianne. But Marianne is in love with herself.
She is so confident.
Yes, and totally. I know, she’s got so much. She’s amazing.
I know at least three that were written about you. What’s your response to all the songs that were written about Marianne?
I don't know what was written about her, or for her. “As Tears Go By,” I suppose. I think she might have “Sister Morphine,” but I don't really know.
What about yourself? Eric Clapton told me his two favorite songs he’s written were “Beautiful Tonight” and “Layla.”
Oh, really? God, it’s wonderful. Well, they are. You know, they are incredible. And also if you see him on stage, I don't know if you have at all, but the audience reaction is really strong when he sings those two songs. I think that everybody can relate to those songs, because they’re so honest and they’re so real and they’re so passionate.
Was being a famous wife stifling for you? While you were in the relationships, did you feel like you were thwarting your own creativity?
It didn't occur to me that I had any creativity. I wasn't ambitious, and so I really didn't think about myself in any way that wouldn't involve my husbands.
I sort of lived and partied and whatever, whatever, and made their lives really happy and comfortable and enjoyable and warm, and I nurtured them. I love cooking and gardening. And so I would do that whole traditional thing of looking after your man.
What cracked for you? When did you know that it was time for you, that you had to do something?
I think when things were going quite badly for Eric and me, and you know it was a very bad time for him. He was struggling with alcohol. And then every so often I’d drink too much, and I think, oh, God, this is ghastly. Life is just so meaningless. And I felt this deep sense of wanting to get out of this mire that I’d found myself in, and see who I am and whether I’m able to do anything else. And I went and had a couple of years of psychotherapy, and I rebuilt myself to find out who I was, really. And it’s a long process, and then gradually I became more and more confident. It takes time. It really helps, because you know you can start believing that you are not an appendage of someone else.
Being a rock appendage is so demeaning for a woman.
Yeah, it is. It is. And the thing is that once you make your bed you’ve got to lie in it, and so I created this nice, cozy homes, and I couldn't get out of that mindset, being that person, to try and have a career or strike an independent stance.
At the height of Beatlemania, did you feel that you could have a normal life within that strange, rarified world? From the outside it looked like a bubble, that you were the beautiful people and had the perfect lives. Now looking from the other side, does that seem like a normal life?
It was very normal to me. It was fantastic. And I knew it absolutely, I was aware of how great it was and how fantastic it was, and I knew that this is absolutely the best. This was the most joyous.
You were in an elite club, the Beatle wives. It’s an image that lives on. Did you all get along? It wasn't like you could mingle with civilians.
Well, I obviously hung onto my old girlfriends. I was the only one who did that. The other wives didn't seem to have girlfriends, I never saw any, but I did. So my girlfriends always seemed to hang out with us, too. And there was just a very small group of us, really, with the Beatles. And so, which was nice. But it was only with people that we could totally trust, because they hated it if anybody talked or told the press about them, because they didn't want to be more public than they already were.
I remember a story about how you and Cynthia Lennon had to dress up as maids to escape. Did you feel like your life was like the movie?
Yeah, I thought it was hilarious. I thought, oh, good, this is great fun! Four of us were staying in a castle in Scotland, and the press somehow found out that we were there. The hotel manager was so cool, he came up with the idea of us being put into laundry baskets and taken out of the back door, and then being put into these vans and driven to a private airport. It was the funniest thing.
Did you ever have an instance where the fans did get after you?
No. Tell you what, a girl came up to me in a restaurant today, at lunch time, in the country here, and asked me if I was me. I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked. I said, “Wow, amazing. You can recognize me.” Anyway, I went to one of the Beatles concerts in London and I knew what was going to be their second-to-last song. And I was with my friends, and so we knew when to leave. So we left two songs before the end, and we went down this long passageway outside the theater, and about ten girls came running after me, and they were kicking me from behind. They kept kicking, and I started running. They were running after me. One of my friends, a man, tried to hold them back, and he said, “Just run to the car.” So me and the other girls ran to the car, and we just managed to get in it, and all the girls were trying to rock it, to stop us going, driving off. It was kind of scary.
I remember you were the one who introduced everyone to the Maharishi. Tell me about that, and do you still do some kind of spiritual practice now?
Yeah, I still meditate. I was meditating. Along with a girlfriend I learned Transcendental Meditation and I told George about it. Then the Maharishi was coming to England and I wanted to see him. And I wanted George to meet him. At that time, Paul wanted to meet him as well. That’s why we all went and listened to his lecture, and he was obviously very happy when he heard that they were in the audience, and he wanted to meet them. When he did he suggested that we all go to Wales for a few days to learn more about meditation: he wanted to initiate them. It was really awful because while we were up there, their manager Brian Epstein died. It was just awful. One can think how extraordinary that the one person who had been guiding them throughout their career, from the beginning of their career, died, just as this spiritual leader is taking over.
Did it feel like a baton had been passed?
Yes. Well, no, it didn't last for very long for some of them, but it did for George, for the rest of his life.
Was it after you felt your marriage was unraveling that you started taking photographs?
No, no, no, I really started taking photographs of the Beatles when we were all in India. So that was in ’68. I’ve always had a camera.
Do you shoot all the time?
Tell me an average day for you. Are you doing studio shots with people, or are you doing things that just really move you?
I take a lot of photographs of children, friends of friends of friends’ children, I think it’s essential for people to have their children photographed. If you don't, they don't realize, as they grow older they change every week. Every month, every week, and it’s really nice to capture them. You know, they grow up too quickly.
What do you think you bring most to your photography?
I will not take a photograph of somebody in a bad pose, or not looking good. Because I always hated seeing horrible photographs of myself, and was always confused: How come the photographer didn't notice that I was looking kind of odd, or not sitting properly? How extraordinary, they didn't notice that. And it’s something that I always notice when I’m photographing someone. And quite often I can tell by looking at a photograph if it’s taken by a woman.
What do you think gives that away?
I think there’s a sensitivity and also kind of the attention to detail, or the color or the human qualities that a woman can see more clearly than a man. Now the attention to detail, I don't mean the same way as, say, Norman Parkinson, or any of those kind of classic photographers where everything was absolutely immaculate. I don't mean that. I mean in a more ascetic way.
There just seems to be a more surreal, deeper, soulful connection.
A woman is more likely to capture the soul of the subject.
Absolutely. A woman’s photographs go deeper, actually much deeper. They show something more emotional and, well, I can tell. You can tell.
Because you’ve lived a rarified life with celebrities, do you feel that famous people are different than the rest of us? And do you like doing photographs of celebrities?
Yes, famous people are most definitely different.
What sets them apart?
They are aware of themselves and what they have to offer. They have that awareness, and it’s wonderful. You can almost touch it. You can feel, you can sense it’s in the air. They have a confidence that normal people don't always have. Sometimes you find it in people, but on the whole it’s really reserved for famous people.
When you photograph a famous person, is that easier for you or is it harder than a child?
It’s easier. And they’re aware of themselves, and they are very comfortable in their skins.
I’m always surprised when they try to shrug off their celebrity, or they’re angry by it.
Yeah. I mean, why?
I don't remember if you modeled for Mary Quant. You’re so closely associated with her.
No, I didn't do any catwalk shows with her. I did them for Ossie Clark who was a wonderful designer. And so I did catwalk shows for him, but otherwise I just did photographic work.
Were you sad to give up your modeling career?
No, I think I felt I’d stretched it for long enough.
Did you take any lessons, or are you totally self-taught?
Self-taught, and then I realized that I didn't understand the mechanics of the camera, the f-stops and sort of mechanics, and so I had three months of lessons with a very sweet, elderly couple. And I’d go twice a week to them, and they were very sweet. And then I learned darkroom techniques there, and the more intricate ways of taking photographs.
Were you comfortable with your looks?
No. I always thought I was getting away with it, and I couldn't believe no one else had sussed me out.
What are you most proud of in your life?
I think what I’m doing now. I feel that I’ve finally shrugged off my insecurities and the idea that it’s okay that I was Mrs. Eric, Mrs. George, and I can actually now feel proud that after all, I do something that I’m feeling quite proud at, and that I really enjoy doing.
When you married Eric Clapton was it like soul calling to soul. You had no choice but to take that route.
Do you know, you are absolutely spot on. I felt that at the time. I felt it was such... there was such a pull. I felt that we were, our souls were meant to be together.
You know they say, when you find your soul mate, you should run the other way.
Yeah. Really, really, really say that. It’s too much.