The first Beatle baby is turning 60 this week (born April 8, 1963, 6:50 am, Liverpool time), and Julian Lennon is far more than just the offspring of a member of the most famous band in the world. His 60 years have revealed personal ups and downs, musical successes, authorship, photography, and caring philanthropist. So unique is his life ride, he has only recently admitted to getting his head peacefully together.
Julian’s distinctive story starts in uncharted waters as the world had no precedence for what would/should happen in the life of the children of famous Rock & Roll band members. Soon after his birth, John Charles Julian Lennon became the baby no one wanted to brag about.
Since her surprise pregnancy in August of 1962, a directive had come from Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein to have his mother’s (Cynthia, nee Powell) subsequent marriage to John Lennon shrouded in secrecy. It was Epstein’s belief that a married Beatle would not be desirable to their fans. Of course, once the news leaked out, and the baby was born, those in charge were now faced with the more unknown territory- ‘Is this a promotable event?‘
The closest example up to that period was perhaps Lisa Presley. Although by the time of her birth, Elvis was more of a Hollywood type, (a single-star performer, as opposed to a band member) the birth of Lisa was headline news. In what was more telling of the nature within the Beatles’ camp, Julian’s birth had not been kept a secret but kept relatively quiet.
John came to the hospital in a whirlwind visit 3 days after Julian’s birth, (“Cyn, he’s bloody marvelous!”) not wanting to disrupt the band’s tour dates. That is why there are no pictures of John leaving Liverpool’s Sefton General Hospital to bring home the baby and mother. “The (hospital) room felt like a goldfish bowl, and it was obvious John couldn’t stay long,” Cynthia recalled in her 2005 memoir, “He hugged me and signed dozens of autographs on his way out. I was disappointed that we had so little time together.” Eventually, her hospital room would be full of fan cards and flowers.
This set up a hard start for Julian. Between 1963 through 1966, John was rarely home, as the Beatles were in constant demand with had near-endless tours. Domestic normalcy didn’t come to Julian until late 1966 when the band decided to end touring for the foreseeable future. Now John would be around to see Julian grow, and many pictures exist of the pair playing together at their Kenwood home.
This was also the era in which Julian would famously come home from nursery school with a self-painted picture of his school friend Lucy O’Donnell, describing to his father that it was his rendition of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Thus, born was one of his father’s greatest Beatles songs with one of his son’s greatest titles. Julian would have another song associated with his childhood, “Good Night” which was recorded for the White Album. Although it was given to Ringo to sing, this was written by John as a nightly lullaby to Julian.
That domestic status quo would be shattered in the summer of 1968 without Julian’s full understanding of the adults around him. He would experience the crushing divorce of his parents when John began his affair with Yoko Ono (at age 5, Julian used to call her “Hokey Cokey”). As John would act cold and one-sided throughout this period, Julian would not see his father for eight months since an acrimonious breakup conversation with Cynthia.
The next time he would see dad would be on television during his public honeymoon with Yoko at the Amsterdam Hilton during one of many “bed-in” protests for world peace. “What’s Dad doing in bed on the telly?” young Julian asked his mother. “Telling everyone it’s very important to have peace” she answered, not doubt through clenched teeth.
Suddenly, Julian and his mother were alone, with many of those from the Beatles camp staying away for fear of retribution from John. The only person to visit during this era was Paul McCartney. Not intimidated by John, Paul made the one-hour ride from London to Weybridge. While driving he began to tinker in his head with an empathetic song for Julian. “Hey Jules” would eventually become “Hey Jude”, the Beatle’s biggest single (more on this later).
Now the tough part of childhood began for Julian and his mother. John drove a hard bargain and did not agree to a generous divorce package. In the end, Cynthia agreed to the terms that more benefitted Julian than herself, with John finally agreeing to leave a trust of 100,000 British Pounds for Julian (of which Julian later learned he had to share with his new half-brother, upon Sean’s birth in 1975). John would move away from their home base of England to New York, and Cynthia would have two more husbands. With each, there were changes that Julian had to get used to. But for him, nothing compared to the issues fame brought to him.
“The whole shadow thing drove me nuts,” he admitted in a 2022 interview. “It was only when other people brought that (his family fame) into the frame it was a reminder of how people viewed me. Mum and I (lived) very simply. Nobody knew who we were, really….we just knuckle down and we got on and we survived. People think it was a different situation that everything was hunky dory and there was lots of money in the bank,” he continued. “That was never ever the case. The thing that was most important to me was there was looking after mum. She was the be-all and end-all for me.”
His mother served as his sturdy foundation back in his insecure teen days, as there were daily schoolmates who would tease him, thinking he was a “rich kid.” But what shocked him most were the adults. “When arriving at a new school I was introduced to the rest as: ‘This is Julian Lennon, the son of John Lennon from the Beatles!’ and I’m going, ‘Really? You had to do that?’ Things like that, it was just soul-destroying because I just wanted to be me and get on with life. And we did for the most part, with little to no help from dad.”
But nothing could prepare him (or anyone) for what was to come. We saw a lone and brave 16-year-old Julian walk into New York’s Dakota building in the week following John’s assassination under the glare of the entire world. By then he had developed an ongoing and workable relationship with John.
It would take decades for him to relive a moment, one that he remembered from a conversation with his father, a significant moment before his death. Julian shared in 2022, “Dad said to me – and I just thought this was very weird – that if something happens to him, the way that he was going to let me know that he was going to be all right, or that we were all going to be all right, was in the form of a white feather.” He looked for that for many years- then the sign finally revealed itself.
While on tour in Australia in 2007, he was beckoned to the lobby of his hotel by two Indigenous elders of the Mirning tribe in Adelaide. They asked him for his assistance in their mission to “embrace environmental and humanitarian issues and in conjunction with partners from around the world.” They handed him a white feather as a gift and asked him to raise funds for their mission. Julian recalls, “So when she [one of the elders] handed that to me, I got goosebumps. For me, that’s undeniable.”
His response was to produce a documentary Whaledreamers regarding the tribe and founded The White Feather Foundation (TWFF) which holds a mission that “embraces environmental and humanitarian issues and in conjunction with partners from around the world helps to raise funds for the betterment of all life.” His work with the TWFF continues to this day.
Last summer found Julian promoting his new album called Jude and he revealed that he asked “Uncle Paul” to be part of the effort. “That’s Paul’s handwriting on the cover,” he told interviewers. His motivation was to embrace the very Beatles’ history that has haunted him for a long time. “For me, it’s the end of a chapter. I’m not going to let other people affect me in any way. I’m determined [to move] forward to remain in a positive headspace.”
His Jude album received rave reviews while hitting #7 on the UK Independent Albums charts. This stacks up with Julian’s past success, never in the league as his father’s career, but he has produced several top 10 hits internationally and a platinum album in 1984, his first, Valotte.
With his head now in a good place, Julian has made strives to continue to build upon his broken family’s history. Even though he made tabloid headlines with his uber-dating various celebrity models in the 1980s, he has stated openly that marriage and kids are not in his plans, an aftermath of his mixed history with his father.
Yet, Julian seems pleased to share the fact that his relationship with half-brother Sean continues to grow. The two video chat each other “at least a couple of times a month” and recently took a California road trip together. “We’re more than brothers, we’re such good friends,” he says. “I wish we had more time together.”
Photo: Julian Lennon, 2018 (Greg2600 via Wikimedia Commons)