Monday, July 13, 2009

Beatle People: Cynthia Lennon

Cynthia Lennon (née Powell) (born 10 September 1939 in Blackpool, Lancashire, England) was the first wife of musician John Lennon. She grew up in the middle-class section of Hoylake, on the Wirral UK, and gained a place at the Liverpool College of Art.

She met Lennon in a lettering class and started a relationship with him, marrying him in 1962, after the two discovered her pregnancy. They had one son, Julian Lennon, who also became a musician. She divorced Lennon in 1968, after he left her for the artist Yoko Ono. She was married three more times, and now lives in Majorca, Spain.

Early years

Cynthia was the last of three children born to Charles Powell and his wife Lillian (neé Roby) who had two older sons named Anthony (Tony) and Charles. Charles Powell worked for the GEC company, and sold electrical goods to shops in Liverpool. In 1939, Mrs Powell (who was carrying Cynthia) was sent to Blackpool after World War II had been declared, and lived in a small room in a bed-and-breakfast on the Blackpool seafront before giving birth. When Lillian came to term, she was in labor for a whole day and a night until a midwife arrived, who saw how bad the situation was. The nurse locked the door, swore Lillian to secrecy, and "dragged" the infant (Cynthia) into the world. After her birth, the Powell family moved to a two-bedroomed semi-detached house in Hoylake; across the river Mersey from Liverpool. Her eldest brother, Charles, was a talented pianist who left home at 16 to work for the GEC in Birmingham.

At age 12, she was accepted at the Junior Art School, which was only a short distance away from the Liverpool Art College, and it was there that she met Phyllis McKenzie, who became her lifetime friend. When she was 17, her father died after a long battle with lung cancer. Before he died, he told his daughter that she would have to get a job to support her mother, and would not be able to go to art school in Liverpool. However, her mother wanted to see her receive a better education, she squeezed four single beds into the master bedroom and rented it out to four apprentice electricians.

Art college

In September 1957, Cynthia gained a place at the Liverpool College of Art, and turned up everyday wearing glasses, twinsets and tweed skirts, because she wanted to be the model student, although many other students at the college dressed differently, and were called beatniks because of their Bohemian lifestyle. During her first year she dated the son of a window cleaner named Barry, whom she later described as the "Romeo of Hoylake." They talked about marriage one day, but their relationship faded after Barry was unfaithful and stopped altogether after she met Lennon.

She started to change her dress style, grow her hair, and often did not wear her glasses, which meant that she sometimes got off a bus at the wrong stop, and misread notices in college. She had to wear them in class, as she admitted that she would not have been able to see without them. Although she was studying graphics, she also took some classes in lettering, and during the first class a Teddy Boy came in late and sat down behind her. He tapped her on the back and said, "Hi, I'm John." Lennon never brought any equipment with him, so he constantly borrowed pens and pencils from her, who found out that he was only in the lettering class because other teachers refused to have him. Lennon sometimes brought a guitar with him into class, and once sang "Ain't She Sweet" directly to her, which made her blush and run out of the class. She once overheard Lennon make a comment about a girl with blonde hair in the college, whom Lennon thought looked like Brigitte Bardot. The next Saturday, she dyed her hair, and went into college with her hair several shades blonder. Lennon noticed straight away, exclaiming, "Get you, Miss Hoylake!" (Lennon's nickname for her—referring to the middle-class suburb where she lived). He also used to call Cynthia "Miss Powell," but after their relationship started, simply "Cyn."

Relationship with Lennon

Their relationship started after a college party before the summer holidays when Lennon asked her to go to the Ye Cracke pub with him and some friends later that evening. She replied that she was engaged (to Barry, in Hoylake) so Lennon stormed off, shouting, "I didn't ask you to fucking marry me, did I?" She later went to the pub, although Lennon ignored her all evening, but as she was ready to leave, he grabbed her hand and took her to a room Stuart Sutcliffe was renting, where they engaged in sexual intercourse. During the beginning of their relationship, the two often had sex in alleyways or shop doorways if Sutcliffe's room was not available but she didn't enjoy those "snatched encounters." Lennon's jealousy could manifest itself in violent behavior towards her, as when he slapped her across the face (hitting her head against the wall) the day after he saw her dancing with Stuart Sutcliffe. She broke up with Lennon for three months, but resumed their relationship after Lennon's profuse apology.

When Lennon returned home to Mendips after the first Hamburg trip, Mimi Smith (Lennon's Aunt and guardian) threw a cooked chicken (that Lennon had bought especially for Mimi) and a hand-mirror at Lennon for spending money on a suede coat for Powell, once referring to her as "a gangster's moll", and was unpleasant or cold towards her thereafter. The Beatles went to Hamburg in 1960, and Cynthia and Dot Rhone (McCartney's girlfriend) visited them there two weeks later, but had to stay up all night because of the long sets, with both having to take the same pills --Preludin- that the others took just to stay awake.

After the trip to Hamburg, her mother told her that her cousin and her cousin's husband were emigrating to Canada with their new-born baby and that she [Cynthia's mother] would also be going with them to look after the baby while they studied to become teachers. She waited until Lennon came back from Hamburg before she asked Mimi—who had taken in lodgers before at 251 Menlove Avenue—if she would rent a room to her. Mimi let her have the little box-room above the front door (which used to be Lennon's bedroom) and demanded that she do chores around the house. She remembered Mendips as cold and draughty (it had no central heating system) with only old electric fires in the downstairs rooms. To pay the rent, she took a job at a Woolworths store in the city after her student grant had run out.

In 1961, when Lennon was 21 years old, he received £100 from his aunt Mater (who lived in Edinburgh) and went to Paris with McCartney for a holiday. She could not accompany them as she was studying for her final exams, and had to partake in teacher-training practice at local schools. It was at one of these schools (a private girls' college) that she later made the mistake of teaching her class the wrong material for an exam, although the students were able to take the exam again.

The Beatles went to Hamburg again in April 1962, but she decided that she had had enough of living with Mimi, and moved into her aunt Tess's house for awhile, or slept at McKenzie's house. She looked for somewhere to rent, and found a bedsit in a terraced house in 93 Garmoyle Road, which was close to the two schools where she was teaching. It had a one-ring cooker, a one-bar electric fire, a single bed and an old armchair. She had to put a shilling into a meter for enough ankle-deep hot water to take a bath in the shared bathroom. When the old woman who was living in the larger room next door moved out—which pleased Cynthia as the woman filled her room with cats and bags of coal—she asked Rhone to share the rent of the two rooms together.

In July 1962, after having failed one of her exams, she found out that she was pregnant with Lennon's child. They had never used contraception, and she explained that they never talked about it, and didn't think about it at the time. When she told Lennon he said, "There's only one thing for it Cyn, we'll have to get married," but when he told Mimi she "screamed and raged" at him—threatening never to speak to him again—in order to stop him from going through with it. Her mother was back in England for a visit, and she told her about her upcoming marriage to Lennon the day before she was due to go back to Canada. She married Lennon the next day.


Lennon and Cynthia were married on 23 August 1962, at the Mount Pleasant Register office in Liverpool, but Lennon's aunt Mimi did not attend. Lennon had wanted his half-sisters, cousins, and aunts to be there, but Mimi made sure that did not happen. Cynthia's brother Tony and his wife did attend, along with George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Brian Epstein (the Beatles' manager) with Epstein serving as Best man. The wedding was a farce (with no photographs or flowers) because as soon as the ceremony began a workman in the backyard of the building opposite started using a pneumatic drill which drowned out anything the registrar, Lennon, or Cynthia said. When the registrar asked for the groom to step forward, Harrison stepped forward instead, which increased the confusion. They celebrated afterwards (at Epstein's expense) at Reece's restaurant in Clayton Square with a set menu of soup, chicken and trifle, but no alcohol, as Reece's did not have a beverage license. Reece's was the same restaurant where Alf Lennon and Julia Stanley (Lennon's parents) had celebrated their marriage twenty-four years earlier in 1938. The same night Lennon went to play in Chester.

During her pregnancy Epstein offered the Lennons the use of his flat at 36 Faulkner Street—and later paid for a private hospital room when she was coming to term. After Lennon and Cynthia had been living at Epstein's flat for a few months (and after hearing about a near-miscarriage) Mimi offered to rent the downstairs rooms of Mendips to them both. Although pregnant, Cynthia had to boil hake fish for Mimi's three Siamese cats every day, which made her nauseous. While Lennon was in Hamburg he would often telephone Mendips, but Mimi always got to the phone first and talked to Lennon until shortly before his money ran out—only then handing over the phone to Cynthia.


After she had been in labor for 24 hours, John Charles Julian Lennon was born on 8 April 1963, at 6:50 a.m. in the Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. Lennon was on tour at the time, so was not present (Mimi was the first to see Julian) although Lennon did see his son three days later during a short stop-over trip to Liverpool.

After Julian's birth, she often found one of Mimi's cats (along with cat hairs) in Julian's cot, and vacuumed outside her door every morning to let Cynthia know it was time to get up. Mimi constantly complained that Julian's constant crying during the night was keeping her [Mimi] awake. In November of 1963, she left Mendips and moved into a bedsit with Julian and her mother Lillian, who had returned to Liverpool. They had to live in the bedsit for a month, as they had to wait for the lodgers in the Powell house in Hoylake to move out.

The press heard rumors about Lennon having a wife and child at the end of 1963—after Beatlemania had already swept the whole of Europe—and descended on Hoylake in November and December. Friends and neighbors protected her anonymity, but she was often approached by journalists. In late December she had Julian christened at the Hoylake parish church, but didn't tell Lennon because she feared a media circus and knew Lennon wouldn't approve. She told him two days after the event, and Epstein asked to be Julian's godfather. Not long after the christening the newspapers printed the full story about Lennon's "secret wife and child."

The Lennons both moved to London and found a three-bedroomed flat in Emperor's Gate, which was just off Cromwell Road. The flat was the third flat of three, which were built over two floors, which meant climbing six flights of stairs. She first had to carry Julian up to the flat, and then go back down to collect shopping bags, but fans found the address, and would camp out in the hallway, so she would have to push through them when leaving or arriving.

She went with Lennon to America on The Beatles' first trip there, and Lennon agreed when the press asked for a photo of them together. She was once left behind in New York while Lennon and the other Beatles were quickly ushered into a car, and in Miami she had to ask the help of fans to convince a security guard who she was. Lennon's response was, "Don't be so bloody slow next time—they could have killed you."

Back at Emperor's Gate the situation grew worse, with fans sticking chewing gum in the lock of the flat and tearing at any article of clothing when she or Lennon were leaving or arriving. The Beatles' accountant advised Epstein that the individual Beatles should move to houses near his in Esher, so she and Lennon bought a house called Kenwood, which was a mock-Tudor-style house on 3 acres (12,000 m2) in Weybridge, where Tom Jones and Cliff Richard already lived.


Lennon spent twice the original £20,000 purchase price on renovations for Kenwood — reducing its 22 rooms to 17. The new kitchen was so modern and complicated that someone had to be sent to Kenwood to show her how it all worked. During the extensive renovations the couple lived in the attic bedroom, and had to stay there for nine months. Although she enjoyed entertaining in the larger rooms, Lennon could usually be found in a small sunroom at the back of the house overlooking the swimming pool, which was similar to Mimi's conservatory in Liverpool. She often found Lennon there in a daydream, and said that in that state he was "present but absent."

When Lennon was working, or just non-communicative, her £50 a week allowance allowed her to go shopping. Assistants in expensive shoe shops in Weybridge would happily welcome her when she walked in, knowing they were sure of a sale. She enjoyed the closeness of Maureen Starkey (Ringo's wife) and Pattie Harrison (Harrison's wife) as they lived nearby, and they often went on holiday together or shopping.

Kenwood became a place for the other Beatles to visit, various American musicians, and total strangers that Lennon had met the night before in a London nightclub. Both Lennons enjoyed London nightlife in 1965, and went to many expensive restaurants and clubs which Epstein recommended. At home they enjoyed simple food (as she admitted that cooking was not one of her strong points) like bacon or steak sandwiches, meat pies, cheese on toast, and tea.

She was often photographed at Beatles' movie premieres and special occasions, and sometimes with Lennon and Julian at home, which meant she had the role of a Beatle wife, as well as being a mother. She would often go to a nightclub with Lennon until nearly dawn, but in the morning would take Julian to school. When she passed her driving test Lennon bought her a white Mini, and then a gold Porsche. She found a red Ferrari in its place one day, as Lennon had traded the Mini in for the Ferrari (which was for himself as he had recently passed his driving test) without telling her. Lennon later bought her a green Volkswagen Beetle.

In 1965, she opened the front door of Kenwood to see a man who "looked like a tramp", but with Lennon's face. It was Alf Lennon (Lennon's father) whom Lennon had not seen for years. She invited Alf in, and gave him tea and cheese on toast until Lennon came home. While waiting, she offered to cut Alf's "long, stringy locks" of hair. After waiting for a couple of hours, Alf left. Lennon was annoyed when he came home, and told her(for the first time) about his father's visit to the NEMS office a few weeks before. Three years after meeting Lennon in the NEMS office, Alf (who was then 56-years-old) turned up at Kenwood again, with nineteen-year-old student Pauline Jones, who was Freddie's fiancée. Alf asked her (to ask Lennon) if he could give Pauline a job, so Pauline was hired to help with Julian and the piles of Beatles' fan mail. Pauline and Alf spent a few months living at Kenwood in the attic bedroom, but Cynthia remembered Pauline, "crying all the time and arguing with her mother on the phone."


She knew that Lennon took drugs like cannabis (which made her feel sick and sleepy) and previously Preludin, but saw them as not being very dangerous. At a dinner party in central London one night, Cynthia, Lennon, Harrison and Pattie Boyd were given LSD without their knowledge. They went to the Ad Lib club, where they thought the lift up to the club was on fire, and were then driven back home by Harrison (which took hours because Harrison was still tripping). They sat up all night at Kenwood and experienced the full effects of their first LSD trip. She thought it was "horrific", and hated the feeling of not being in control of herself and not knowing what would happen next. Lennon thought differently, however, and started taking LSD on a regular basis. After much encouragement from Lennon, she agreed to try LSD one more time, but this second trip (at Kenwood) was even worse than the first. She said that she saw her own skeleton in a mirror, watched the friends that Lennon had invited turn into snakes, and saw their cat's fur bounce in time to the music. The next day she told Lennon that she would never take it again, although she relented and took it (for the last time) a few weeks later on the way to a party at Epstein's house in the Sussex. The results were the same, and she realized that a gulf was opening between her and Lennon.

The Beatles publicly renounced drugs (although never completely) after their initial meetings with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London, and took a train to Bangor, in Wales, to meet him again in the summer of 1967. A policeman stopped Cynthia from boarding the train as it was pulling out (not knowing who she was) with Lennon calling out of a window after her, "Tell them to let you on!" She broke down in tears, and later said that it symbolized where she felt their marriage was heading, with Lennon speeding into the future and herself being left behind. Epstein had previously agreed to travel to Bangor to join them after the August Bank Holiday, but died of a drug overdose on 27 August 1967, which was a massive shock to both her and Lennon.


The Beatles were scheduled to fly to India to visit the Maharishi for two or three months, but before that she found letters from Yoko Ono that made it clear that Lennon had had contact with her over a period of time. She had previously met Ono when Ono asked for a lift in Lennon's car after a meeting with the Maharishi in a London suburb. Lennon denied that he was involved with Ono, and said that she was just some "crazy artist" who wanted to be sponsored, although Ono kept up a stream of calls and visits to Kenwood.

In February 1968, she flew to India with Lennon and the other Beatles and their partners. She had taken pens and paper with her, so was able to draw, meditate with Lennon every day, and for the first time in her life she started to write poetry. "Magic Alex" (Greek-born Alex Mardas who was part of Apple Electronics) was also with them, and smuggled in alcohol from the nearest village as it was not allowed in the ashram. After two weeks Lennon wanted to sleep in a separate room from her, saying that he could only meditate when he was alone. She found out much later that Lennon walked down to the local post office every morning to see if he had received a telegram from Ono, who sent one almost daily.


She had suspicions of Lennon's infidelity over the years, and people had told her that he had had numerous affairs as far back as their time together at the art college in Liverpool, but she decided to ignore it, unless there was definite proof.

After returning to Kenwood from India, Lennon got very drunk on scotch and coke and confessed that there had been other women during his time with her. He detailed every groupie, friends of hers (such as Joan Baez, and Maureen Cleave) and told her about "thousands" of women around the globe. She was totally taken aback at the time and simply replied, "That's OK." Two weeks later, in May 1968, Lennon suggested that she take a holiday in Greece with Mardas, Donovan and two friends. Lennon said that he would be very busy recording The White Album and that it would do her some good to take a break.

The beginning of the end for the Lennon's marriage came when she arrived back at Kenwood one day early from Greece on 22 May 1968, to discover Lennon and Ono sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring into each others eyes, and then found Ono's slippers outside their bedroom door. She gathered a few things and asked Jenny Boyd and Mardas if she could spend the night at their apartment. At the apartment Boyd went straight to bed, but Mardas got Cynthia drunk and tried to convince her that they should both run away together. After she had been sick in the bathroom she collapsed on a bed in the spare bedroom, but Mardas joined her and tried to kiss her until she pushed him away.

Lennon seemed absolutely normal when she returned to Kenwood the next day, and maintained his love for her and Julian. Lennon went to New York with McCartney shortly after and told her she could not go with them, so she went on a trip to Italy with her mother. Mardas appeared during the holiday in Italy and broke the news that Lennon was planning to sue her for divorce on grounds of adultery, seek sole custody of Julian, and send Cynthia "back to Hoylake". She said in 2005: "The mere fact that ‘Magic Alex’ [Mardas] arrived in Italy in the middle of the night without any prior knowledge of where I was staying made me extremely suspicious. I was being coerced into making it easy for Lennon and Yoko to accuse me of doing something that would make them not look so bad."

She was allowed to return to Kenwood, while Lennon and Ono took up residence at Starr's flat at 34 Montagu Square. Lennon and his wife had one last short meeting at Kenwood (with Ono alongside Lennon) but Lennon accused her of an affair in India—saying that she was no "innocent little flower." McCartney visited Cynthia and Julian that year, even though it was frowned upon by Lennon. On the way to Kenwood he composed a song in his head that would later be "Hey Jude". Having just broken up with fiancée Jane Asher, he took Cynthia a single red rose, and asked jokingly "How about it, Cyn? How about you and me getting married now?"

During their divorce, Lennon refused to give his wife any more than £75,000, telling her on the phone, "That's like winning the pools, so what are you moaning about? You're not worth any more." She did not want to take half of Lennon's millions (as she would have been entitled to) because she did not want a lengthy court battle, so she accepted £100,000, plus £2,400 a year, custody of Julian and Kenwood. Their decree nisi was granted on 8 November 1968.

She learned of Lennon's death while she was staying with friends in London. She received a call from Starr two hours after Lennon had been shot in New York on 8 December 1980. "I don't remember getting out of bed and going down the stairs to the phone. But Ringo's words, the sound of his tearful voice crackling over the transatlantic line, is crystal clear: 'Cynthia, I'm so sorry, John's dead.' In my stunned state I had only one clear thought. My son - our son - [Julian] was at home in bed, I had to get back to Ruthin so that I could tell him about his father's death."

Later life

On 31 July 1970, she married Italian hotelier Roberto Bassanini, whom she'd first met in Italy, in 1966, and started dating after parting with Lennon. She divorced Bassanini in 1973. During Lennon's separation from Yoko in 1973 and 1974, his girlfriend, May Pang, actively tried to get Lennon to spend more time with Julian, forming a friendship with Cynthia in the process, which continued even after Lennon and Yoko had reconciled. Cynthia said in an interview in 2005: "I met her [Pang] the first time I took Julian to see his father after he had split with Yoko. She was a very young girl and she was so kind and so lovely to Julian.... She embraced him and she talked to Lennon about his responsibilities. I’ve never forgotten that. I have a really soft spot for May and you can communicate with her – I’ve never ever been able to communicate with Yoko on any level."

In May 1976, she married John Twist, an engineer from Lancashire, but they divorced in 1983. She then settled in Ruthin, north Wales, and opened the Manor House Restaurant, Well Street. Her son Julian Lennon attended Ruthin School. She met Jim Christie, who was her partner for 17 years until they broke up in 1999. She said at the time: "Jim [Christie] has never felt he's living in John Lennon's shadow. He's four years younger than me and wasn't really part of that whole Beatles scene, though his parents were in show business. He knew Julian before he knew me and, in fact taught him to ride motorbikes - and we became friends as a result."

After her divorce from John Twist, she changed her name back to Lennon by deed poll. She kept mementos of Lennon for years, including never-published photographs, letters, and personal items, auctioning off many of them after his death. She published a memoir, A Twist of Lennon, in 1978, telling about her life before and with Lennon, containing her own illustrations and poetry. In 2002 she married Noel Charles, a night club owner. In September 2005, she published a new biography, simply titled John, that re-examined her life with Lennon and the years afterwards, including events following his death. In 2006, she and Julian attended the Las Vegas premiere of the Cirque du Soleil production of the Beatles Love, which marked her only joint public appearance with Ono. Cynthia currently lives on the island of Majorca, Spain.


No comments: