|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
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
"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
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
"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
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,
"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."
© 1995 HELLO! Magazine