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Magazine #386  16 December 1995

The Photos

  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.

Julian 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 Shields.

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 like Dad."

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 pounds?

"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 jealousy?

"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 the picture."

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 regret."

Did 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 fortune.

"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 the beginning."

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."

Why Monaco?

"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 stomach."

You said recently that you wanted to help with projects that enlightened the world rather than made you a celebrity. Is this a recent change, Julian?

"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 family."

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 better light."

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 difficult."

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."