A (abridged) conversation with Julia Baird (John's sister)

By Geoff Franklin

© 2000 The World Beatles Forum


This extract has been sent to us by World Beatles Forum editor Brad Howard (thanks, Brad!). Under no circumstances may it be reproduced or posted elsewhere for any other purpose. "I hope you and your readers enjoy it," Brad says. This is an Abbeyrd exclusive, a 2,000-word extract from the full 9,500-word interview now available in the November / December 2000 issue of The World Beatles Forum fanzine (now, celebrating its fifth anniversary). Subscription details are available at the end of the interview.

Julia Baird is a sensitive, soft-spoken woman, who is also one of three half-sisters of John Lennon. She lost her mother, father, and brother under separate, but equally tragic circumstances. We asked Julia if she would answer some questions about her early family life and her remembrances of John. A few questions are difficult. Juliaís responses are from the heart. Our interview was conducted by a trans-Atlantic telephone call on Sunday, October 15, 2000.

Q: Geoffrey FRANKLIN (GF): After all these years of peopleís fascination with The Beatles, are you still keen to talk about it? Is it a little wearisome?

A: Julia BAIRD (JB): Yes. It can be. But, I suppose after . . . 20 years, itís quite understandable. Itís a landmark, isnít it?

Q: GF: It really is. Itís been twenty years since the tragedy of December 1980. Had John lived, what do you think he would be doing now?

A: JB: . . . I think he probably would have been in England . . . writing and painting. But, thatís just what I think, because nobody knows what would have happened. Weíd have seen a lot more of him and heíd now be 60 and I canít imagine having a brother who would be 60.

Q: GF: What are your earliest memories of John?

A: JB: I remember John playing the [banjo] with my mother playing piano along with him, because she taught him how to play . . . We had a mother of pearl banjo which had been my grandfatherís and my mother played it a lot and she taught John how to play the banjo. An ironic thing is that . . . when he met Paul, Paul was a left-hander, as everybody must know. And he was playing the guitar upside down, and John was only playing banjo chords on his guitar. So, the beginnings of The Beatles were a banjo player and an upside down left-handed guitar player [laughing]. And Paul . . . saw somebody and realized that the strings were on the other way, and thatís when he realized that he could do that, too. He was always telling John, "Thatís a banjo chord youíre playing. Itís certainly not guitar." It was really funny.

Q: GF: Do you have memories of the early stages of the Quarry Men and all that?

A: JB: Yes. Now, with the Quarry Men, he was playing at school. They all used to come and practice in the house. Theyíd practice on Mimiís porch and theyíd practice in our bathroom, because it was tiled. And my mother used to play along with them.

Q: GF: They liked the sound, the acoustics of the bathroom in your house!

A: JB: It was tiled and small, so it echoed. Theyíd have to stand with . . . John and Paul facing each other with their feet on the side of the bath. I remember that . . . and Paul, in his book, has said, "Many a fine tune was written in that little room." He was actually talking about the loo. He used to go and sit on the loo and devise tunes.

Q: GF: Did John ever perform for you and the family, just on his own, as a young man or even later?

A: JB: He used to sit and play around with the banjo and play with the guitar and plunk around on the piano, but Iím not telling you that he sat and wrote Love Me Do, because I donít remember that. I just remember him coming with the record. We used to get the demo discs - you know where itís plain on one side and the actual grooves are on the other side [Julia may be describing an acetate record - ed.]. We used to get those before they [the regular records] would come out . . .

Q:GF: How many times did you see The Beatles perform?

A:JB: Oh. I donít know. We went to the Liverpool Empire [October 28, 1962 with Little Richard or March 24, 1963 with Tommy Roe and Chris Montez], when they did the tour . . . and we went to the Finsbury Park Astoria Cinema [December 24 to 31, 1963]. And I have visited that place since and itís now a Gospel Hall . . . that was in London. And, that was a big, exciting thing. We went along with Cynthia. I think that was the first time it hit me, personally, how big they were . . . We went backstage. My sister and I were like good girls just sitting there . . . watching it all. Mick Jagger walked in . . . But, afterwards, we went back with Cynthia on that particular night. We went back to the house in Weybridge with Cynthia, while John stayed out to party. It was a bit unsettling on Cynthia. She had a babysitter for Julian. He was in bed. We went back and had cocoa.

Q: GF: After he left England in the early Seventies, did John ever come home after that?

A:JB: No, because of the Green Card business . . . and John had said to me . . . in 1974, he started to get in touch with everybody, on his lost week-end, and he asked me to go around and see Julian and we spoke a lot on the phone. He said, "Why donít you come . . . here. I canít come to you, because of this Green Card business." And I was saying things like, . . . "The children are at school. Iíll have to wait until they finish their term." We never thought weíd lose him.

Q:GF: You were basically in contact with him, until the last five years of his life.

A:JB: Absolutely true. My aunt, one of the sisters - the third, the middle of the five sisters, called Anne - John called her Nanny. . . Heíd phoned Nanny in November [1980]. Now, Nannyís birthday is in November, so whether it was her birthday or not, I donít know. But, he phoned her . . . and said, "Iím coming home, Nanny and youíll have get everybody together. It will have to be at [your place], because itís the only place big enough for all of us." And, we were all waiting. And Nanny, when she got very old and ill at the end, and very repetitive as people can get, she repeated that endlessly.

Q:GF: And a short month later after that phone call, there was the horrible news . . .

A:JB: I donít know what you want me to say about this. I was just horrified. There are no words for something like this. Our mother had died, knocked down by a drunken driver, our father had died when I was 19 and Jacqui was 16 and a half. He crashed his car into a tree. He died several hours later. And then, hereís John dying. Itís just beyond belief. Absolutely, beyond belief.

Q:GF: Did you have any desire to follow the recent MDC parole hearing?

A:JB: Oh, God. Well, actually, weíve had a nightmare over it; a total nightmare, because I donít about the system in Canada, but in America they seem to seek out views of the victimís family, which doesnít happen here. One likes to think that the law of the land is there to take that stress away from you; to act with justice and fairness and not to involve you. And it distressed Jacqui and I enormously to have to do this. But, my oldest cousin, Stanley, had already written a letter, as had David, my other cousin . . . Jacqui and I . . . didnít want to, but we did what we had to do . . .

Q:GF: Victim Impact Statements . . .

A:JB: Right. The impact of Johnís death, I canít tell you what it is, because it is without limit. But, we wrote these letters saying that we believed in the system of justice that had brought him to justice and that please, with Godís grace, whatever you do, act in good conscience. Thatís what I wrote, "Please act in good conscience, i.e., If you do let him out, know what you are doing."

Q:GF: Do you have any keepsakes?

A:JB: Yes. Thereís another photograph that I found, and thatís a tiny one. Iíve had it blown up, because photographs used to be very small, black and white, then. And itís John, when heís about nine in his school shorts and blazer, and heís written on the back, "This is me . . . the year I lost my [swimming] trunks." Heís written it in pen, and it mustíve got wet as he was writing it. And Iíve had the writing from the back put on the front, so that youíve got the whole thing in front of you . . . itís a lovely picture of John.

Q:GF: Have you ever talked to your nephew, Sean?

A:JB: No. No. I wouldnít be allowed.

Q:GF: But, at some point, people want to have discovery of their family. Would you be receptive to meeting with him at some point?

A:JB: Well, we would . . . Sean had John for five years and had his own relationship with his own father. The fact is that his father is my brother and had a family in England beforehand. Sean is an American . . . living his own life. Itís just more surprising to us, because we are a close family. Thereís nothing that we can do about it. Heís obviously happy in his own way. If he ever wanted to know more about his fatherís family, he should have that letter of Leilaís where she wrote everything down, and he could find us. It wouldnít take him two minutes, if he really wanted to find us. I have a feeling itís not going to happen. I donít think Yoko would like it. I think that Sean would be aware of that. And, maybe he doesnít want to know. Maybe the stories that he has are good enough for him.

Q:GF: Are you in contact with Julian, at all?

A:JB: Iím close to Cynthia, but Julian we donít see. He lives in the south of France. I think that Julian has had a very raw deal all around - yes, from John, certainly from Yoko. I donít know about from Sean. I know that Julian felt very protective of Sean, at one time. I donít know what their relationship is now. Julian, I do know, has a girlfriend that heís had for a few years, Lucy. And, heís very happy with her. Iím just happy that heís happy.

Q:GF: Youíve mentioned your sister, Jacqui. Now, thereís also a long, lost sister that youíve managed to track down. Ingrid [Victoria] was adopted out of the country, wasnít she?

A:JB: No. We thought so. We thought she was adopted and lived in Norway, and I did actually try to get in touch in the 1980s. But, it came to nothing, at all. Sheíd been in Liverpool, and then near Southampton. We didnít know. So, my mother was not allowed to keep John and she was not allowed to keep Ingrid, and it was a matriarchal family of which Mimi was the . . . head who made all the decisions. I think I may just write about her to put things straight . . .

Q:GF: So, it sounds like youíve got some good ideas for a new book.

A:JB: . . . The only bit I know about John is his childhood, when my mother was alive, after my mother died, when John was 17, when John was 22, 23, 24 . . . we started losing track in London, because he was living life with Cynthia and the baby. Although, Cynthia has always been fantastic with us . . . she is one lovely lady. It was in America, where we really lost track. But, I lost track, personally, a bit before that, because I went to live in Ireland. I married an Irishman . . . in 1968, just after I got my degree . . .It was Yokoís coming on the scene, really, that took John away. But, he fell in love. And he was living another life . . .

Interested readers can visit Julia Baird at her web-site: http://welcome.to/juliabaird

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