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Animal Agenda

Paul McCartney: The Extraordinary Activist, Part 2

By: Kim W. Stallwood and Jill Howard Church
Apr. 30, 1999

In part one of our extensive interview with extraordinary activist Paul McCartney, he spoke of his support of vegetarianism, his opposition to hunting, and his pledge to carry on Linda's humane work. Here, in part two, he talks about his children, his animal companions, and his thoughts on life and death.

Agenda: Was it difficult raising your children vegetarian?

Paul: We've brought them all up [vegetarian], except Heather, who's the eldest, who was part of our conversion. Then all the others almost from birth, I think. The only time it came into question really was when we were in a hotel and they'd say, "What's a barbecue?" We'd say, "Well, it's chickens, it's a cow, or it's this," and we'd explain what it is. And they'd say, "Can we try it?" And we'd say, "Yeah, OK." We're not that strict. "Yeah, try it, this has got to be your decision." So they'd try it and luckily for us they'd say, "Ooo, we don't like it. It is chicken, I'd rather have the [live] chicken." We had chickens at home. You struggle with all those things, trying to find your way. I think one of the good things is that we who perhaps are little bit more advanced just from doing it a bit longer can sympathize with people who are still struggling with all this shit they're having to put up with.

Did your kids do any other forms of activism?

Stella's done [an anti-]fur thing recently. They're just coming into it. You see, we all had the luxury of Linda; we could just say, "Yeah, way to go, Lin!" "Yeah, I'm coming to this one!", "I'll raise that donation." She was not only the spokesperson, [she was] the office it all went through. So the kids dealt with being veggies and are now very proud of it. James, being vegan, just did a sort of [anti-]milk thing, wrote a letter, and that was put about in a few places.

My most surprising thing about milk is this new campaign in America with the white over the top lip. I always used to be very supportive of milk because we've all been brought up [that way]. My mother was a nurse, so I had all the old traditional medical values. She died when I was a teenager, but I know she would have said when she heard I went veggie: "Where are you going to get your protein?" So I, like she, was a great advocate of milk. We've begun to reassess that. Someone pointed out that we're the only animals who feeds its young milk after the first year. And I actually think the people, the ones with the [white] upper lip, all think like I used to think.

Did they ever approach you?

I don't think so. But I sympathize with those people. I used to remind Linda that the Beatles were non-vegetarians, and I said, "And we were OK people." We still wanted the world to be a better place, we just didn't know. So that made us have more sympathy and compassion for people who didn't know yet. I quite like that. I'm sort of glad I wasn't a veggie all my life because it gives me a perspective that I can relate to people who are having trouble. I can say, "Oh, I know exactly that problem. You know what you do? You do this. Here's Linda's book." There's always an answer.

Tell us about some of the animals you've had over the years.

Oh, I'd love to tell you about the animals. I personally never had a pet growing up, because my mom and dad both worked. And even the day we saw free puppies going and my brother and I thought, "Definite, we'll get one," we couldn't have one. So my first pet was when I was living alone as one of the Beatles and I got an Old English sheepdog called Martha, and I loved her dearly, she was beautiful, she was really good for me; we were good for each other. I remember John Lennon coming 'round and saying, "God, I've never seen you with an animal before." I was being so affectionate it took him back, he'd not seen that side of my character. Because you don't do that with humans--not as obviously anyway.

And then I had two cats called Pyramus and Thisbe, which showed my literate bent, and then I had three—they all had to be cool names, of course—that were called Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And then as a family, Linda and I, after Martha died, we then got another Old English sheepdog and we eventually had a litter by the one after her. I have four dogs at home, three English sheepdogs and Stella's dog, the mutt. She'd hate me to say that!

Everyone will want to know, are the dogs fixed?

Yes, they are.

That was the correct answer.

Oh good.

Any cats?

We have Picasso, we have Motley, and Seal, a very beautiful Russian Blue. We have two terrapins...Linda was fantastic with animals. She didn't have many pets. She had a dog called Missy, [who] wasn't allowed on the bed, but she had her trained so that if her parents ever came [the dog] jumped down on the floor; the rest of the time she was on the bed. Plus horses, she was horse mad. She never owned her own horse, although she'd ridden at Madison Square Garden, so she was a fantastic rider. But her parents didn't understand how to buy her a horse, even though they had the money. And she used to look out of her window every Christmas morning half expecting to see a horse on the lawn. She used to tell me that, a very poignant story. The good payoff, then, was that I was able to be the one that bought her her first horse, called Cinnamon, a big chestnut mare of Irish extraction. She was being bred as a polo horse, so it was good she came to us because I think she wouldn't have had as good a time. Well, none of the animals would have had as good a time because we really spoil them and let them live out their lives.

Linda bought a stallion from America when we were on tour, this lovely stallion called Lucky Spot, and he was an Appaloosa Foundation stallion. We brought him back to England and bred off him with this other American Foundation mare who'd come across the Mojave Desert while she was in foal to come to England. We used racehorse facilities, so it was as if she was a million-dollar stud, she got good treatment. And there came a crisis at one point about five or six years ago when she was lying in the field with something obviously wrong with her stomach. They said it might be colic, and the vet said, "There is an operation that requires six vets." It's a huge procedure, cost a lot. I said, "I'm not worried about the cost." I walked the horse around and I said, "Look, you're going to go with them and let them do what they're going to do because you need this, and this is something you should do." And the vet said she might not even survive the anesthetic, but she was such a great old brood mare. We rang that evening, "How did it go?" He said, "She's had the operation, it was totally successful, she's standing up and she's eating." We said, "Yo, that's our baby!" So she was fantastic. She was called Malaspina Maid, and she lived three more years after that. She was over 30, which is pretty old for a horse.

Were there specific animals that helped Linda while she was going through her tough times?

The dogs were very good, and her horse. Her Appaloosa stallion, son of Lucky Spot, is called Blankit. And he's beautiful. He's tough. But she talked to him like he was a big puppy dog. He's a couple of tons of horse, and a full stallion, so she's not messing around here. He's not gelded, which quiets them down, [jokingly] as it would you or I.

On Flaming Pie you wrote the song "Little Willow" for the family of Maureen Starkey [Ringo Starr's former wife], after her death. Have those words come back to help you?

I wrote "Little Willow" before we knew anything about Linda's diagnosis, and there was a terrible moment when we were listening to it. It always used to make us cry anyway, but once Linda was diagnosed it was terrible, because we looked at each other and she said, "Oh God, it's about me now." And it was horrible; it was a very sad moment. But you know, none of us get out of this alive, and you have got to look at it philosophically. As I said at the New York memorial service, we shouldn't judge a life by its length. You could have people who live forever and be complete idiots. You can have people who live just a few special years and it's quite often the case that people get what they have to say said, and then they find that they don't live that long. And I certainly think in many ways that was Linda's thing. Except you know, it's horrible for me 'cause she was my best friend. And for the kids, because they were her best friends, too. So it's tragic from that point of view.

But you've got to go on, we've all got to go on. We're all involved in a struggle, we're all involved in trying to change the world. The last thing she would want is that any of us would be not encouraged by her death. She would want us to go the other way, and I think it's had that effect. That was why I made the point when I made a statement about how I felt, to say, "And if you want to tribute Linda, do the one she would have liked best [go vegetarian]." Which got me in a lot of trouble; a lot of people said, "Oh, typical grandstanding, showboating, even when his wife's died." Well, I knew that she would have wanted that. It came to me, I knew she would nudge me—"Use it, use it for all it's worth." And I told Carla and people like that, "This is so difficult, but we've gotta play this out. We've got to use all this media attention for what it's worth, for everything we can get out of it, because even in the most horrible of circumstances she would want us, and I would want us, to use the moment."

Did you and she believe in heaven?

That's such a big question. I wouldn't say we had a conception of heaven. It's like, "Do you believe in God?" Linda and I pretty much shared the kind of view where I would say, "God is the word 'good' with an 'o' taken out." And I have a feeling, sort of historically, that it was personified by the priests and other people who wrote the literature. Because it's easier for people to understand if you say it's a big guy with a white beard. But when you ask people, "OK, how do you see God, then?", even the most committed of Christians have a little trouble with that. You say, "Well, I'm not sure it is a guy with a white beard." For instance, somebody a few years back said that God might be a woman. Well I must say, since Linda's died, I've thought, "Have I got a contender!" [laughs] That would be my most devout wish, 'cause I could handle that. She's a real good candidate; she'd be very merciful, yet tough as nails.

We were very spiritual, and still are, believing goodness, believing all of that. But as to whether there actually is a place called heaven and a man in a white beard called God, I just don't know. I don't know whether [her spirit] is lodged in a place called heaven, but I think it's in a good place because of who she is. Linda and I were amazed for years to hear Stephen Hawking, the scientist, say that they've discovered now that we are made of the same things that stars are made of, sort of a molecular base. And Linda and I loved that, we said, "OK, we're stardust."

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