|On the 15th Anniversary of John Lennon's Death
JULIAN LENNON Remembers his father and tells us about his relationship with the other
Beatles, Yoko Ono and his half-brother Sean.
Lennon has always been the subject of rumour and speculation, not least
because he is the son of John Lennon, who, 15 years ago, was shot down by a
crazed gunman outside the Dakota building in New York. Julian tackled some
of that speculation when he spoke exclusively to HELLO! from his Hollywood
home about his father, his work, and the truth about his relationship with
Yoko Ono and half-brother Sean.
One of the rumours that has persisted over the past eight years is that
he's had to sell his expensive Hollywood mansion because he's not been able
to keep up with the payments. But the truth is that he's never owned a
Hollywood mansion. In fact he has always liked the simple life, and for the
past six years has lived very happily in a two-bedroom bungalow on top of
the hills in Hollywood. He lives here alone and is currently not in a
relationship, though past romances have included Olivia D'Abo and Brooke
Julian moved to America at the age of 20 because he felt he knew England
too well and was badly in need of a change. It was while on tour here that
his eyes were opened to this new and exciting country and so for the past 12
years he has lived between Los Angeles and New York. But now, following
frequent visits back home, he wants to return to Europe, which he finds a
much more "peaceful and spiritual" place than America. He intends
to keep his home in Los Angeles as somewhere to work from, but he now has a
home in Monaco, too, and has recently become involved in a restaurant
business out there. He is also planning a "revolutionary" new
business venture in San Francisco.
Music is still one of his greatest passions, and while he has released
himself from two recording contracts in the past year, he hopes that this,
like so many other things in his life, will soon fall into place.
Julian, were you unhappy about a recent article in the British press
which said that being John Lennon's son had destroyed you and that there was
a deepening rift between you and Yoko Ono over money?
"How that whole scenario came about was that I had been invited to
a fund-raising function in California by a group campaigning to save
dolphins, when all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of several
interviews. I was polite, honest and straightforward with them and barely
mentioned Dad or 'The Beatles Anthology' and yet they made out that I was
bitter about not having been invited to take part in the ten-part TV
series. It upset me a lot that they make up these things without any
concern for the person they're writing about."
And what about the song 'Free As A Bird,' which has just been released
by the three surviving Beatles and which John Lennon was working on
immediately before his death. Is it true you've always wanted to record it?
"No, I heard the song for the first time when I was last in New
York visiting Sean and Yoko. But it's a great song-I love it. Although I
must say I find it hard to hear Dad's vocals."
What do you think of 'The Beatles Anthology?'
"I saw the first and the third part and found it very enlightening.
It's nice to see something from the Beatles' point of view for once."
Do you have any kind of relationship with Paul, George or Ringo?
"If I'm ever in the same town as one of them then we'll see each
other-perhaps once a year. But it's a peculiar situation. Remember that I
never really knew them when I was growing up and it's quite difficult for
me. I imagine it may be quite difficult for them, too, because I look a lot
It has been said that you and Yoko have fallen out over your father's
estate. In 1964 he set up a trust fund of 100,000 pounds for his children,
which was much later split between you and Sean, but what about the rest of
his estate, which is in Yoko's control and rumoured to be about 220 million
"For a start that is not an accurate figure. A lot of people don't
recognize that there's a specific tax law called death tax in America which
takes away 50 percent of anything you ever had. People think there is a lot
more than there is, although obviously with 'The Beatles Anthology' the sum
is likely to grow. Yoko and I are talking and trying amicably to work
something out between us. I'm the last person who wants a fight."
The money is to be used at Yoko's discretion. Does this mean that she
hasn't felt you're mature enough to receive your inheritance yet?
"That may be the case and she'd have been right in the past. God
knows what would have happened if I'd got that money ten or 15 years ago. I
might not have pulled through. I'm thankful not to have been spoilt or
ruined by that money. But I guess now maturity has set in to a degree.
That's why we're talking."
Is it true that in the past your relationship wasn't so good?
"Well, of course. If you have a lot of people around you who have
their own opinion it's easy to be swayed one way and then the other. At
times I got myself into antagonistic situations but that was usually due to
the greed of others or friends who were looking out for my interests."
Do you receive any kind of allowance from your father's estate?
"No, I don't, and that's why I'm talking to Yoko. It's not the
money that's at issue here but the principle."
Sean is John and Yoko's only child and your half-brother, so obviously
he'll always be very well provided for, whereas as yet you've got nothing.
Surely you'd have to be some kind of saint not to feel just a little bit of
"In the past I'm sure I did feel jealous but that's gone now. I
don't think I've got time for it any longer. I've known how destructive
that emotion can be all my life, but it's difficult to beat. When you do
though, it certainly feels great."
Can you ever forget that you are the son of John Lennon?
"Yes, if I'm with a close friend or out in the countryside on my
own. Then I'm just me. But those moments are very few and far between. I'm
not necessarily uncomfortable with being John Lennon's son but it can
become difficult depending on people's views and their relationship with
Dad. It can be very taxing."
Some time ago there was a TV programme called Hollywood Children about
the children of film stars, many of whom had suffered greatly as a result of
being the child of a celebrity and some of whom had turned to drink and
drugs as consolation. Do you see yourself fitting into that pattern?
"You mean was I a victim? Yes, in a sense, in the past I suppose I
was. An awful lot of pressure comes from being the son of a celebrity
especially if, as with me, your work brings you into the limelight. But
every situation is different and one reason why I have my feet firmly on
the ground-especially these days-is because I didn't actually grow up with
my father. I was in Liverpool and then in Kensington with my mum, Cynthia,
and very much on the periphery of Dad's life. My situation was different
therefore from the kids who were in the limelight the whole time."
So, as a child you didn't spend very much time with your father?
"No, a very limited time-perhaps three or four times after he
disappeared, which isn't enough to sustain a meaningful relationship. I
have a few pleasing images of him from before I was five, for instance, of
him playing with me in the swimming pool and riding on the motorcycle down
to Ringo's, but they are very distant memories.
"As I got older it got increasingly difficult each time I saw him.
I tried to have an understanding of his situation but Dad was uncomfortable
with that because I wasn't really part of his life. There seemed to be no
chance to get close, and when Sean came along I felt even further out of
Does it make you angry that he abandoned you like that, and sad that
you were robbed of the chance to forge a meaningful relationship with him
later in life?
"There are two sides to my feelings about Dad which I've only come
to realize in the past five years. Yes, I think he was a great musician and
undoubtedly the Beatles were an incredible influence in my life musically,
and yet as a father he was not so great. But at the same time I loved him
and I still do love him and I try to put away all that negativity about
having him as a father and instead come to some kind of understanding about
where he was coming from. But, I must say I still harbour a lot of
you ever plan to go and live with him in New York?
"When I was in my early teens we'd spoken on the phone about the
possibility of me going to college over there. I think it was wishful
thinking on both our parts because I felt uncomfortable about the situation
and I believe he did, too."
Where were you when you heard the news that your father had been shot?
"I was living at the time in the attic of my mum's house in North
Wales and in the middle of the night the chimney fell through. I learnt
afterwards that, apparently, at that precise time my dad was shot. Mum was
away in London and I didn't do anything about the chimney but just went
back to sleep. The next morning I went downstairs and my step-dad was there
with all the curtains drawn. When I pushed them back I saw that there were
hundreds of people and press outside. My mum had told my step-dad not to
say anything until she got back, but it was very hard for him because I
kept asking what was going on. In the end he told me. I couldn't believe it
and burst into tears."
How did it feel at the age of 17 not only learning that your father
had died but that he had been murdered?
"I'm more than likely still in shock. It was my first experience of
having someone taken away so that you could never see them again. Then I
had to deal with the aftermath of his death on a public level which was
very hard. My first thought was really to take care of Mum who was the
closest to him-after all I knew him much less well. My heartfelt thought
was to make sure she was all right. I think there were still a great deal
of things she loved about him. He was, after all, the first major love of
her life and now he'd been taken away from us both a second time.
"My next move after that was to go to New York and see Sean and
Yoko. So the very next day I found myself on the plane surrounded by people
all reading about Dad. They had no idea who I was. I honestly think that
being surrounded by all these people and feeling so unbelievably alone was
the most numbing feeling I've ever had in my life. I wanted to go to New
York just to make sure it was all a reality and not a dream. But witnessing
the whole situation was quite scary for a 17-year-old kid who was very
young for his age. There was a lot of panic, and a phenomenal amount of
people and energy outside Dad's building, where he'd been shot."
Sometimes hostilities within families are overcome in the aftermath of
someone's death. Were you and Yoko able to form a bond whilst sharing your
grief over a man you both loved?
"Yoko was in a state of tremendous shock and grief for many years
after that and it was hard to communicate with her at that time. But I felt
duty-bound to go, it's just something that I can't explain. Whether she
wanted me there or not is another thing. I tried to feel a bond but I don't
know how deep it was. The relationship I've had with Yoko and with Sean has
always been relatively distant. There's the odd phone call once or twice a
year and if I'm in New York I'll pop in for a while but the feeling is kind
of mutual-we live busy, separate lives."
Is there a brotherly bond between you and Sean?
"There is, definitely. I love him and I believe he loves me. The
distance has a lot to do with age. He's now 20 years old, thinking about
having fun, going out and putting his own band together. I try to have
enough contact to make it a worthwhile relationship but if you're his age,
I guess, you're not thinking of brothers you love."
Your first album, Valotte was a great success, but subsequently things
didn't go quite so well. Was that when you turned to drugs?
"Drugs are a day-to-day occurrence for a lot of people-there aren't
many people who haven't touched alcohol or drugs, but if you're the son of
a celebrity or trying to make a celebrity out of yourself, then you get
torn to shreds for doing it. My taking drugs was just something that
happened, a combination of many reasons but not due to a single thing like
dwindling success. Maybe I did it as a way of dealing with all the pressure
in my life, but it certainly wasn't a conscious effort to go out and
destroy myself. Most of those reports were greatly exaggerated, and the
experience is part of my past."
Did you feel that you had failed when your subsequent albums didn't
sell anything like the number of copies that Valotte had?
"I never felt I was a failure. I just tried to do my best. In order
to move forward and grow you have to be proud of what you've done. I didn't
sell as many records with the next three albums but it was a learning
process, onwards and upwards."
Valotte sold two million copies in the US, so it must have made you a
"It made me rich but after paying all the managers and everyone
else involved there wasn't much left. I was young then and not as watchful
over my business partners as I should have been."
So why didn't the subsequent records do so well?
"Just the other day I was listening to my second album, 'The Secret
Value of Daydreaming,' for the first time in years and I thought 'who is
that?' I didn't particularly like it. The first album was a really
worthwhile venture and felt right for me, but the next one was influenced
by record companies and managers. After the whirlwind experience of my
first tour I had to go straight into the studio and produce a whole lot
more material, writing as quickly as I could. The pressure was ridiculous
and the album sounds like an album of bad demos to me now. After that it
was a question of getting my self-respect back."
What about your relationship with the record companies and managers?
"It went way downhill. My last album, 'Help Yourself,' was only
mildly promoted. I've got a lot of fans who have stood by me since
'Valotte' and sometimes they ask me what I've been doing since my first
album. They have no idea that there have been three more since then. It's
only in the past year that I've got out of both my contracts and I'm not in
any rush to get into another one. But I'm still writing and I'm very happy
with the work and the progress I've made during the past two years.
"Actually I've just finished writing the end title track with
Michael Kamen for a film starring Richard Dreyfuss called 'Mr. Holland's
Opus.' I've also started a music production company called 'Angel Moon
Music' based in Los Angeles with a very close friend and working companion,
Walter Turbitt. We set it up to do film and television scoring, title
tracks and theme songs; something I've always been interested in. And
recently I took a stab at acting opposite Nicolas Cage in the
newly-released film 'Leaving Las Vegas.' I see this time in my life as just
If you don't get an allowance from your father's estate and you no
longer have a recording deal then how do you make a living?
"I manage to survive on what I've done in the past. And also in the
past year there's been quite a turnaround for me and I'm beginning to look
at other ventures. I've always been a closet chef and enjoyed socializing,
so a group of us have become involved in a small bar and restaurant on the
harbour front in Monaco, called La Rascasse."
"I was initially introduced to the place when I was invited to the
Grand Prix there after seeing the premier of the film 'Backbeat' in London.
I ended up staying there for three or four months and fell in love with the
whole idea of culture again. I feel in need of a change from America and
it's a perfect place to write music. But I have to keep moving. I stagnate
if I stay in one place for too long."
And what about this new venture, 'The Revolution,' which you hope to
open in San Francisco?
"This is something I've dreamt about for six years with my old
songwriting partner Todd Meagher. He now lives in San Francisco and it
seems as if he may have found some people to support our ideas. People will
tie the name in with the Beatles but there is no connection. It's similar
in concept to 'Planet Hollywood' or the 'Hard Rock Cafe,' but instead of
displaying memorabilia from the film or music industries it will be tied in
with men, women and companies who have made a change for the positive in
this world. For instance some of the pieces may come from Martin Luther
King or Mother Teresa. For the rest of the displays we hope to hang work
from artists and photographers in San Francisco and part of the money
raised from the sale of these works will go back into local charities. It
will be a socially-conscious, awareness-raising venture. The idea is for
people to come and enjoy themselves, and leave with more than just a full
You said recently that you wanted to help with projects that
enlightened the world rather than made you a celebrity. Is this a recent
"I've always felt passionate about these things but in the past I
thought you could only achieve one goal at a time. It's only over the past
five years that I've realized that you don't have to stay on one avenue for
the rest of your life. So, having realized this, I thought: let's see what
I can achieve outside of music."
And what about relationships? Do you have a girlfriend at the moment
and do you plan eventually to settle down and have a family?
"At the moment there's nobody, as I feel there's no way I'm
responsible enough to be in a relationship. I don't mean that in a bad way,
but right now there's just too much going on in my head which is concerned
with my own movement forward and my own well being. I'm not being selfish
when I say this but there's a lot to do. And yet I'm a great believer in
fate and destiny and I definitely feel that when the time is right things
will just fall into place. Eventually I definitely want to have a
What is your relationship with your mother like?
"I speak to her once a week and we're very close. We're always
advising each other, it's an ongoing growth. I couldn't be happier in that
respect. I go and see her about twice a year and usually get a good
telling-off. You know what mothers are like at keeping a watchful eye on
their sons! It's nothing specific and nothing serious-just a look."
Do you have any regrets?
"I try not to. There are times when I feel guilty about having
reacted in a certain way, but these days I try to think of that as just
another of life's lessons. I try to turn things around and see them in a
Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
"I have a feeling that I'm going to venture into that just a little
bit further down the road. I have beliefs, not specifically tied to
religion, such as the belief that there are powers beyond our nature. I
believe that things happen for a reason and it's how you react to these
reactions that make you either a better or worse person. I've always made a
conscious effort to better myself, but putting that in motion is very
It seems that you're a lot happier now in your thirties than you were
in your twenties?
"Without a doubt. As every second, minute and day passes I get
happier. For some reason, even when I was as young as 20, I had this vision
of contentment at the age of 40."
© 1995 HELLO! Magazine