How Does a Beatle Live? Part 2. By Maureen Cleave
Evening Standard, Friday, March 25, 1966
Ringo Starr: So who’s afraid of dogs and babies! (especially babies)
Note: For our episode on Ringo we referenced the US version of this article.
RINGO lives in Weybridge at the bottom of the hill of which John lives on top. His house, too, is large and Tudor-ish. It has an enormous garden with sloping lawns and trees and crocuses opening flat in the hot spring sun; a goldfish pond, a tree house, an old air-raid shelter, a kennel for Daisy and Donovan the Folk Dog, his two airedales; a washing line with an old tin can hanging from it. This is for Ringo and Maureen, his wife, to shoot at with their air guns. They do most things together.
Ringo likes to call all this the grounds. “Would you care to see the grounds?” he asked, offering a walking stick for the paths are rather steep. We set off. Ringo had his own walking stick, silver-topped, in one hand he pushed the baby Zak in his pram with the other.
Zak is a large, healthy, engaging, and strikingly precocious child of five months, with a nanny and two devoted parents. He wore a sensible woolly bonnet and, in his handsome pram, looked the picture of British babyhood. His father remained a somewhat surprising figure in the setting of a Surrey garden. He wore tight blue jeans, high black suede boots, a black suede waistcoat and the usual number of gold rings, gold bracelets and watches, old St. Christophers, and so forth. His hair is now very long, the luxuriant black sideburns giving his face a fierce aspect.
I always think of him as a cowboy. But what he would really like to see in his grounds is a spaceship. “That would get us all sorted out,” he said grimly, “fighting over atom bombs and doing nothing about famine and that.”
He is now twenty-five and half, the eldest of the Beatles. Though the smallest, the cutest, and the favorite of tiny children, he seems less complicated and more mature than the others. Indeed he gives the impression of being utterly contented.
This makes him a charming host and restful company. His only ambition - to end up sort of unforgettable - was rather vague and this he has achieved in a roundabout way. Things turn out right for Ringo.
Take the courtship of his wife. He met her at the Cavern - “God rest its soul,” he said piously - five days after he became a Beatle. She was 16. “Take you home, girl?” he said invitingly. “O.K.” she said, “but I have my girlfriend with me.” Ringo had a car - no license - but a car. He took them both home. He took them both home the next week and for the next six weeks. “The three of us were getting very friendly,” he said.
One day he said to her: “Could we go out one night? Could it be just you and me?”
“O.K.,” she said. And two years later they got married.
The record industry was shocked. No pop singer ever married after he became famous. Ringo saw no problem. “All this stuff about drink milk and not get married,” he said. “Well, I’ve always been the marrying type. Anyway,” he added reasonably, “I was rich already so it didn’t matter.”
Though subject to occasional flights of fancy you will see that he is basically a sound man.
His house is spacious and comfortable and much admired by the other Beatles. It has been furnished in soft dark colours with the help of a man called Ronnie Oke; the main bathroom, with sunken everything, is the envy of all who visit it. (Incidentally, Ringo says it’s hard to get into a sunken bath without breaking your leg.) The sitting room is vast. There is Ringo’s brass-bound desk with a wooden with sign saying Big Daddy, sent by a thoughtful American when Zak was born.
There are shelves full of trophies, neatly arranged: gold disks; a piece of fossilized wood from the Libyan Desert, millions of years old; books (one shelf for science fiction, another for the Asprey leather-bound); a miniature cannon. “A present off of my wife,” said Ringo grandly. “She’s always buying me presents.” There is a perfectly horrible small brown stuffed puppy dog standing on a piece of carpet in a glass case - a present from John. “I think it’s nice,“ Ringo said.
He has pikestaffs and guns and the holster Elvis gave him, knives in sheaths; one he tells me belonged to the last queen of Madagascar. The roof of the house is stuck all over with television aerials that enable him to get four channels. “Might as well get everything that’s going,” he said. “I get all my knowledge from TV.”
His household rises between 12 and four in the afternoon. He has a slightly better sense of time than the others in that he can tell you what day of the week he did things. “I bought this house on a Monday,” he will say, though he is less prepared to tell you the week, month, or year.
What he likes doing best is sitting in his bar on a high stool. “I’ve always wanted a pub, from movies I think. What I like would be for about 15 of my friends to pop in here without being asked, without me being here even.” His bar is an admirable place called the Flying Cow; there is a plaque of a specially designed cow with wings hanging on some antlers just inside the door. There is a till, a little sink, a selection of cigarettes in packets, and whiskey bottles upside down on the walls. It’s got everything really. But Ringo wishes it were a real pub. “I would love to have a real pub in my house,” he said. “My mother was a barmaid once.”
Richard Starkey is an only child and his mother still thinks the light shines out of his eyes. They lived with his stepfather in Liverpool in a house in Admiral Grove: “Two up, two down, a bog in the yard and no bathroom,” he said. “We had great times there, great parties. It was rough but I never regretted living there.
"I couldn’t park my cars outside so I bought them a bungalow with a garage.” (Ringo’s cars, the Rolls Royce, the Facel Vega, the two minis, are all maroon.) He goes to stay about twice a year and has just been up to have the baby christened. "They have a nice bit of garden,” he said.
He missed five of his 10 years of schooling through illness. He regrets this. “I’m not thick,” he said, “it’s just that I’m not educated. People can use words and I won’t know what they mean. I say ME instead of MY - the sun shines out of MY eyes. Odd things like that I would like to correct. I can read anything but I can’t spell - anyway, I never write anything these days.”
Work poor, poor, very poor, read his old school reports from St. Silas’s junior school; but the boy himself, they wrote, was honest, cheerful, and willing.
He keeps the documents from his early life in a plastic folder: the photographs of himself as a Teddy Boy in his drape and blue crepe-soled shoes with chains on them; himself as a beatnik with a beard; his dole card dated 1962. He almost emigrated to America to meet Lightnin’ Hopkin who, he read on the back of an LP, lived in Houston, Texas.
Eventually, he became a Beatle. He says that not until 18 months ago did he feel a real Beatle. "It took about two years,” he said, “to get each other sorted out. But from then on I had the feeling there were four of us in it. I suppose we get on together because there are only four people like us; we’re the only ones who really know what it’s like. When there was all that Beatlemania we were pushed into a corner, just the four of us. A sort of trap really. We were like Siamese quads eating out of the same bowl.”
dinner . .
Mrs. George Harrison came through on the telephone in the pub. John arrived with his son Julian, both dressed in black. Maureen pointed out that it was the Addams Family on television. We ate an excellent dinner cooked by one of the workmen finishing off the house. As I said, things turn up for Ringo.
The baby arrived. “I used to be terrified of dogs and babies. Babies cried and dogs bit me. But what knocks me out about this baby is him shouting his head off in his own senseless way - laughing at bits of wood. That’s what I like about babies. Is his head knitting up right?” he will ask anxiously. Maureen said that took years. She is 19, pretty and level-headed. She calls Ringo Richie. They get on well together. Ringo gave in to her over the christening, and she gave in to him about having the Nannie.
“I own her, of course,“ he said comfortably. "When I married her, her parents signed her over to me. That just knocked me out; she’s still a minor you see.
"When you’re married it’s not like when you’re courting as they say. You both become different people because you get to know each other so well. She can shout at me without opening her mouth - that’s being married.”
He feels strongly about a number of things but is hard put to remember what they are. he would still like to meet Paul Newman. If the bomb is to be dropped he wants to know where so that he can go and stand there. He doesn’t mind being small. "If I were taller,” He said darkly, “I might go round hitting people.” He thinks the upper classes are much improved.
“Don’t you think so? he said. "Much less piggy and interbred. I’ve seen their old portraits and they look just like pigs. Now they’re spreading out a bit - to Australia and that.”
He is angry when the British don’t think Britain is the best. “Dragging it down,” he said, “drives me mad.” He deplores the lack of encouragement given to British athletes. “I can’t think why anybody does anything for Britain now,” he said. He was enraged by a recent television program that showed what British things we had failed to exploit, for instance, penicillin. “Next we’ll be giving away Ollie and Fred,” he said with feeling.
He used to have a four-minute plan for when he was Prime Minister but all he can remember now is that he wanted everybody’s house joined to the houses of friends by underground tubes. He even started digging his own in Admiral Grove.
He takes lots of pictures of Zak. “All the important events in his life,” he said, showing me a picture of him eating a chocolate biscuit. “It’s a drag wondering how he’ll grow up - a killer or queer or something. Of course, he’ll be used to having nannies and that and people doing things for him which we’re not, but I would love him to be just normal.” A terrible thought struck him. “Suppose he grows up to be a fat schoolboy!” he said.
When it was midnight they decided to go to London to a nightclub. Maureen went to get ready. Ringo loves clubs; to him, they are a pub substitute. “I wish I had a club in my house,” he said enthusiastically. “Of course, that’s the great thing about being married - you have a house to sit in and company all the time. And you can still go to clubs, a bonus for being married.
“I love being a family man - as it were,” he said.