George

He mostly hated being a Beatle. He deeply resented the other two pushing his songs aside. He said that reunion talk was just Paul looking for publicity. What changed? Trusting people is one of Harrison's more endearing traits. 'His real gift, and he has many, is for friendship,' says his close friend Derek Taylor

George Harrison used to be so rude about the Beatles that his friends rarely brought up the subject. "As far as I'm concerned, there won't be a Beatles reunion as long as John Lennon remains dead," he said in 1989, his blunt response to Paul McCartney's suggestion that they collaborate again. His anger became personal when McCartney mentioned it again two years later. "It just happens", he said, "that every time Paul needs some publicity, he announces to the press we're getting back together again. I wouldn't pay much attention to that."

That he has now willingly contributed to the Anthology makes these same friends sigh sympathetically. The reason, they suggest, is financial. After the collapse of Handmade Films in 1991, and his current legal action against his old business partner, Denis O'Brien, he needs the money. That's one theory as to why the Anthology has finally been completed.

It's certainly not because Harrison likes the limelight. His old friend Joe Brown, the musician and comedian, says that when the two of them go shopping in a local supermarket, it is Brown who is asked for an autograph. Wrinkly, greying, often dressed in old corduroys, Harrison is seldom recognised these days - which is exactly how he likes it. In the past ten years, there has been little music and no more than three or four interviews, all invariably linked to the charity work for Romanian babies that his second wife and former secretary, Olivia Arias, undertakes.

Derek Taylor, press secretary for the Beatles, remembers that in the group's early days Harrison was punctilious and easy-going with the press; later, he just withdrew. "I gave up on him. John liked it, Paul could always perform if he felt like it, and Ringo was Ringo." But George wasn't interested.

No surprise, then, that Apple has been telling journalists that George is "going away" for the launch of the project, and that he faxed his answers to Newsweek when they asked about it. He still hates the way the Beatles continue to monopolise his life. "For every pound, shilling and penny that the Beatles had earned, there was an equal amount of grief," he wearily told one biographer at the end of the Eighties. McCartney, often difficult and bossy in his musical relationships, must have been uppermost in his mind. When Paul told a journalist in 1989 that he wanted to write again with Harrison, George's sniffy response was that "he has left it a bit late, then, is all I can say".

Anyone looking to explain his change of heart could start by examining the papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on 20 January this year. His accusations focus on Denis O'Brien, an American financier who masterminded Harrison's short reign at the top of the British film industry with Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), Mona Lisa (1986) and Time Bandits (1981). The former Beatle claims that O'Brien cheated him out of pounds 16 million over a 12-year period. If, as some suggest, Harrison is down to his last pounds 10 million, that certainly makes a Beatles' reunion more attractive.

Without a film company, or a deal for his Dark Horse Records - or, indeed, a hit album of his own since 1987 - Harrison needs the security of future Beatles income. In Friar Park, his Victorian Gothic mansion in Henley, he has found the perfect rock star folly to soak up his fortune. Millions of pounds have been spent on renovating the innumerable splendours of this former nunnery, where Harrison has installed a first-floor recording studio and restored its magnificent gardens, gargoyles, statues, lakes, waterfalls and caverns. He has a large estate in Hawaii, and an expensive hobby following the Formula One circuit (his collection of racing memorabilia includes a Formula One tyre which he uses as a doorstop). It is no coincidence that the Anthology project only really got going in January 1992, just after the disaster at Handmade became fully apparent.

Although he is the Beatle who wrote "Taxman", Harrison has a justified reputation for unworldliness. His all-star Concert for Bangladesh, which took place in New York in 1971, led to an 11-year lawsuit over costs because he had not registered the event as a charity benefit with the Internal Revenue Service. Another legal battle is still going on after 20 years over his biggest hit, "My Sweet Lord", and the exact damages he should pay for copying the Chiffons's "He's So Fine".

Harrison became involved in the film world in the late Seventies through his fanatical admiration for Monty Python and, in particular, his friendship with Eric Idle. He mortgaged Friar Park to finance Life of Brian, a script that no one else would touch. By 1981, the film had grossed pounds 40 million worldwide.

He and O'Brien established Handmade in 1978. O'Brien had been his manager since 1973 - the two had been introduced by Peter Sellers - and O'Brien had won his trust by sorting out the mess of his tax affairs after the Beatles ended. In quick succession, Handmade produced a string of modest but well-received hits, including Withnail and I (1986) with Richard E Grant, A Private Function (1984, Maggie Smith and Michael Palin) and The Long Good Friday (1979, Bob Hoskins). Harrison took a back seat, but his Beatle name undoubtedly attracted key talent, and before long he was being welcomed as yet another saviour of the British film industry.

Then, suddenly, it went wrong. A series of expensive flops - Water (1985, with Billy Connolly), Shanghai Surprise (1986, Madonna and Sean Penn), The Raggedy Rawney (1987, Hoskins again), and Checking Out (1988, Jeff Daniels) - had registered losses of pounds 10 million by 1991. Last year, the company was sold at a knock down price of pounds 5 million to a Canadian company, Paragon. No one has yet adequately explained why one of the most successful British film companies in decades should have fallen apart so fast, except that its determination to make ever bigger films made it more vulnerable. Harrison, who underwrote the company with O'Brien, still has to pick up some of the debts, perhaps amounting to as much as pounds 10 million - hence the court action in Los Angeles, and another in Guernsey, where Harrison's lawyers are foraging through O'Brien's offshore interests.

If the case comes to court, it will be a story of friendship and betrayal - and trusting people is one of Harrison's more endearing traits. "His real gift, and he has many, is for friendship," says Derek Taylor, who has remained close to him.

Indeed, Harrison's friends are an eclectic mix of musical and motoring types: they include Ravi Shankar (still his musical mentor, with whom he went on holiday this year), Alvin Lee (the guitarist in Ten Years After), the impresario Michael White, and Paul Stewart (the son of racing driver Jackie Stewart). His up-and-down friendship with Eric Clapton, who in 1974 married Patti Boyd, Harrison's first wife, took another knock, apparently, when the two fell out over money on a tour of Japan in 1991. As for McCartney, they have started to bump along again. Their reconciliation began in December 1992, when they met in California. The next day, 11 December, McCartney told a press conference for his own world tour that the Beatles were intending a musical reunion. If Harrison felt Paul had jumped the gun, he seems now to have got over it - a far cry from the days when, asked if he had a message for Paul, he simply raised his finger. "Yeah," he replied, "give him this!"

Away from music, he does yoga and meditation, potters in his greenhouses, and practises the ukelele. He is a fervent member of the George Formby Appreciation Society, and last year appeared with his son, Dhani, now 16, at a Formby convention in Blackpool. When Bob Dylan, a fellow member of The Travelling Wilburys, comes to visit, the two of them sometimes sit and watch old Formby movies; he and Dylan, one of his oldest friends, have the same deadpan sense of humour.

In 1973, Harrison donated a large house in the tiny village of Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire, to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Bakhtivedanta Manor, formerly Piggots' Manor and now a Hindu shrine, is visited each year by robed and painted pilgrims in their tens of thousands. Harrison, of course, will always be remembered as the Beatle who followed the Maharishi, and he's still drawn to Eastern mysticism, fond of delivering gnomic remarks in his adenoidal Scouse. Ghandi's "Create and preserve the image of your choice" is a favourite nostrum.

Yet his attitude to religion seems distinctly pragmatic. He has been reported as saying that he could never fully embrace Hare Krishna because he cannot agree that sex is only for procreation. There speaks a true son of Liverpool, which is how, despite everything, he remains

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own