… about babies, the Beatles and saving the world
Interview by Juliet Gellatley
One thing you can be sure of about life – it’s utterly unpredictable. Few of us would want to anticipate the misery of losing our partner of 30 plus years while still comparatively young. And probably even fewer of us imagine we will launch on a new and magical adventure by having a child at 60. But it happens and it happened to Paul McCartney.
If you think the demands of fatherhood might be exhausting at this age, you’ve obviously never seen Paul in concert. Two-and-a-half hours on stage non-stop, no break of any kind, belting the numbers out or melodically strolling with his audience down memory lane, you wonder how his voice – or any other part of him for that matter – can sustain it.
“You know what, I really don’t know. Maybe it’s my veggie diet, maybe it’s having kids, but I come off stage as fresh as when I went on. I enjoy myself and I eat well and I don’t know which bit is doing it but I feel great”.
Of course, Paul is no stranger to parenthood, having brought up four children with his first wife, Linda – Heather, Stella, Mary and James. And he was a very hands-on dad as neither cook nor nanny set foot in the McCartney household.
It’s a different world now and unsurprisingly, Paul is fiercely protective of his and wife Heather’s new baby, Beatrice.
“Being a dad again feels wonderful but I don’t talk about it too much because I want to give our baby a private life. For me it’s all very lovely - and she’s a beautiful baby”.
And, like his other children, Beatrice is being brought up a vegetarian. All the McCartney children were vegetarian from birth with the exception of eldest daughter Heather, who made the change with her mum and dad at the age of six. Why they gave up meat is now old news but it worth repeating because it’s such a common reason. They made the association between lambs playing in the field and the roast lamb on their plate and didn’t like it. They were motivated by compassion and it’s that same emotion that keeps Paul and new wife Heather (Mills) veggie. With all this experience, rearing veggie babies is clearly not a problem.
“The time it gets a little difficult is when they’ve passed the baby stage. It’s then they start interacting with friends who aren’t veggie and become aware that there are two different kinds of sausages – meat and veggie. The way to go is to have their friends around and give them veggie sausages, have a veggie barbecue and show them it’s all quite normal and tastes good”.
I have more than academic interest in Paul’s replies because I have twin boys just a few months older than Beatrice but I don’t have the advantage of past experience. For instance, just how do you tell your little innocents about the horrors of the world or where meat comes and what happens when they eat at a friend’s house?
“My children were lucky in that we had a farm so they were in close contact with lots of animals. ‘See that chicken’, I’d say, ‘that’s what some people like to eat!’ They’d go ‘ugh’. They naturally felt a great compassion and would say to their friends, ‘Look, I don’t want to kill any animals, not a cat or a dog, not a chicken or a lamb’”. Paul gives a wry smile which makes me guess it wasn’t always that easy.
“We were on holiday and a chicken barbecue was being held at the hotel. They asked if they could try some. I said they were the same as the chickens at home and we’d never cook them. They said, ‘Yeah, sure, but we’d still like to try it’. And they did but they never ate it again. My kids were full of compassion for animals from the start and I’m sure that most kids are. If you show them a bunny rabbit, they’d much sooner play with it than eat it. You’d be a bit worried if they tore its head off but that’s what a natural carnivore would do!
“There’s nothing natural about what happens today. Whether it’s mammals or fish they just intensify, intensify, intensify - as if the rules of nature will allow them to keep stretching forever and ever and ever. I don't think they do and it’s why we're seeing deadly disease like salmonella and BSE.
“People expect you to know everything – all the facts and figures like how long it takes a cow to die or how many are killed. I don’t know but there are strong feelings in me that this total lack of respect for animals can’t go on and on because the people and the planet won’t accept it. We need to listen to this compassion in our nature or we are going to destroy the planet.”
When I founded Viva!, one of my aims was to try and open the eyes of young people to precisely these issues and the fact that simply by changing their diet they can immediately tackle some of the great problems facing the globe. Paul McCartney obviously thinks similarly.
“It’s a pity that schools don’t take it on but they don’t so it’s a great idea that you at Viva! are taking this approach. People are so badly informed and the perception of veggies as cranks isn’t anywhere near as bad as it used to be but there is still this feeling that it’s better to be a meat eater even though veggies are healthier”.
How times have changed. This is the same man who reckons that when the Beatles were gigging in Hamburg, they practically lived on egg and chips because they were so broke.
“The Germans always served up egg and chips with a couple of pickled gherkins and the way you could tell when the Beatles had eaten in a cafe was the sight of four very clean plates with two little gherkins left on the side of each one. We didn’t know what they were! ‘What are they?’, we’d say. ‘Why would anyone put those on the plate?’ We had no idea”.
Of course, meeting Linda changed all that.
“Coming from quite a well-to-do American family, Linda totally opened me up to all sorts of wonderful food. She’d say: ‘Oh, sundried tomatoes, get those for the salad they’re great.’ I’d never heard of sundried tomatoes! I didn’t know anything more exotic than tomato soup and tomato ketchup. Salad was something you only ever had at the height of summer and it was lettuce, chopped tomato and cucumber with salad cream. I wouldn’t have thought of using mayonnaise because it was French and I wasn’t. I remember going into a posh London restaurant during all that Beatlemania time and ordering avocado pear as a dessert. That’s how much I knew.
“To a kid today, that’s probably laughable. But things change. It’s easy to say to kids now: ‘Look, if you don’t want to eat meat you don’t have to, it’s really simple. There’s people like me who’ve been at it for 30 years or so and we’re all healthy. It’s not hard, there’s thousands of products that really taste great’.
Because there is still so much that needs to be done, it’s easy to feel a sense of fatalism about the state of the world and what humans have done to it – kind of pay back time. But with children, you want to bequeath a planet that offers them some kind of hope, where people are prepared to tackle the big problems rather than just talk about them - many of them directly caused by meat eating. But Paul is hopeful for Beatrice’s future.
SIX THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT PAUL MCCARTNEY
“We have to open people’s eyes to the things that can save the planet. One of the biggest worries is the vast amounts of land and water used for meat production. Getting that across is a good idea – a very futuristic idea.
“But it is easy to worry because there’s so many worrying things around, but because I find that so depressing, I naturally tend to go: ‘Ok, it’s there, it’s depressing, but there are reasons for optimism’. I’m an optimistic person. For instance, people know more about vegetarianism and are more in tune with that whole philosophy now. Civil rights and human rights have moved forward. Freedoms for minorities are more precious now than when I was a kid. But at the same time, I’m crossing my fingers and touching wood because there are no guarantees. Some people will still do stupid things.
“I often imagine the world's craziest meeting and someone says: 'What shall we feed the cattle'. Somebody else stands up and says: 'I know, why don't we feed them diseased dead sheep and cows!’ That's what happened and it gave us BSE and vCJD. Feeding herbivores meat - even a child couldn’t come up with a more stupid idea than that. And they’re the people who like to think we're the idiots!
“I hope for a future where parents’ natural feelings of protection for their kids will be matched by government action. They’re starting to tackle obesity and they’re realising that the whole health thing is important to them. They don’t need a million colon cancer patients that they’ve got to pay for on the NHS, so they’re starting to do something.
“But for me, it's always been and always will be compassion for animals. That's it. It's not the health thing, although that’s obviously important, it is respect for our fellow species. We’re just another species of animals but we think we can do anything we like to all the others – eat them, kill them, experiment of them. I think that's sad and belittling for us and I see the future of the planet as a clear choice between doing that and not doing it”.
And this is the person who the media liked to whisper about as not being committed - 'Paul McCartney had to go vegetarian but he really wants to sneak off and have a pork sausage’, they used to say. Interestingly, no one has been silly enough to repeat that for a few years now.
“I’ve discovered this ray of light, which to me is vegetarianism, and I believe the world may become a better place because organisations like Viva! and like-minded people are setting out the right direction for us all”.
You can’t get more committed than that!