Heather Mills McCartney: Secrets and lies

Where lies the truth? As with all marital disputes, it may never fully emerge
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The Independent Online

It's certainly hard to take seriously all the things her critics say about her. Not since Yoko Ono - with the possible exception of Victoria Beckham - has a woman been held in such opprobrium for being the wrong woman to marry the right man. No one, it seems, is good enough for those of our national heroes to be ensconced in the highest level of the pantheon of British public esteem. Paul McCartney is not just a man, nor even just a musical genius. He is the embodiment of some fantasy deep in the collective psyche, a substitutionary figure for the hopes and dreams of the entire baby-boomer generation. The Sun, that dubious barometer of the national mood, summed up the ferocious animus against Lady McCartney with a cartoon that showed the unhappy woman's artificial leg hopping out of her dressing room saying: "Yarghh! I can't take her any more ... I'm off too!"

What everyone seems conveniently to have forgotten is that nobody much liked her predecessor, Linda McCartney, in the early days either. I have to declare an interest here. She once put her hands around my throat and tried to throttle me when, as a student journalist in the Seventies, I concluded an interview with the Great Man by asking why his wife had taken my notebook from me before we began and crossed out all the questions about John Lennon. She was prised off me by her husband who gave me a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and answered all the questions by way of compensation. Even in those days, to maintain his niceness Paul needed a Mrs Nasty as his gatekeeper.

Only with Heather McCartney he got a woman whose name can be anagramatised as Hatchet Mercenary. And people have done so. There's a well-worn Geordie joke about the 38-year-old Lady McC, who was born in Tyne and Wear. "There's a terrible accident in a mine. One of the survivors has his leg crushed and passes out. When he comes to in hospital, the nurse says: 'You're all right. You lost a leg but you're alive. And the miner says: "That's all very well but who wants a one-legged gold digger? And Paul McCartney shouts out: 'I do'."

Gold-digger has been the defining image of the second McCartney marriage. It's been at the centre of both the anti- and pro-Heather arguments. The anti-view goes like this: "Young blonde marries rich, older family man ... gold-digger, publicity-seeker, children from first marriage horrified, wicked stepmother ... etc etc."

The pro-view tackles that head-on by presenting a story which is no less replete with totemic rags-to-riches stereotypes and high romance. "Father, a former paratrooper, abuses wife and children ... wife flees, child (our heroine) cares for siblings ... father imprisoned, callous stepfather, heroine Heather runs away ... joins a funfair ... lives on the street ... sleeps in a cardboard box under Waterloo station and wakes one morning to find a tramp urinating over her ... gets job, is arrested for stealing jewellery from store where she works ... but eventually ... My God, under that filthy combat jacket you're beautiful . ... lands modelling job. Only to be hit by police motorbike as she crosses street ... left leg severed below knee ... but bravely becomes campaigner for disabled, ships prosthetic limbs to war zone ... meets sadly bereaved most famous musician in the world at awards ceremony ... he proposes on bended knee. All live happily ever ..."

Sadly, then real life intervenes. But in truth the pro-story is almost as unsatisfactory as the anti-one. For a start, there are the accusations that Heather Mills McCartney's biography is just a little too good to be true. Those who have delved into her life suggest a considerable number of inconsistencies. Her old school friend Margaret Amble has described as wildly exaggerated Heather's account of what happened when the pair were "kidnapped" by a local swimming teacher at the age of seven. Official records suggest she was still enrolled at school at the time that her autobiography, Out on a Limb, maintains she had run away from home.

There are discrepancies between her account and that of her de facto stepfather Charles Stapley who has described her as a "damaged personality" living in a "confused fantasy world". Her first husband's recollection of their marriage differs somewhat from Heather's own.

Journalists have cast doubt on other aspects of her fairytale story. In some cases, they were wrong. One newspaper which criticised the effectiveness of her charitable work in the Balkans had to accept that its claim was untrue and pay damages after the threat of legal action. But she has not challenged reporters who discovered that she had claimed to have been awarded The Outstanding Young Person of the Year Award by the British Chambers of Commerce, which has no such award. And she was embarrassed when - to counter tabloid stories that the children of Paul McCartney's first marriage disliked and resented her - she told New York magazine that Paul's daughter Stella had issued a press release proclaiming how much she liked her new stepmother. Stella McCartney's publicist then said no such statement had been issued.

There were more doubts cast on whether Heather had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after the Heather Mills Health Trust gave away thousands of spare limbs to landmine and war victims worldwide. The nomination cannot be proved either way since the identities of all nominees are kept secret for 50 years.

Doubts were fuelled about Heather McCartney Mills's grip on reality when she gave an interview to The Sunday Times in which she claimed she had been offered a peerage, asked by the three main political parties to stand for parliament, and said she'd backed out of a meeting with President Bill Clinton because she didn't think she could be seen publicly endorsing the Democrats. Small wonder Private Eye published a spoof diary entry adumbrating her many fictional achievements.

Heather has responded to all this with a section on her personal website entitled "Fact and Fiction" which addresses more recent media accusations as well as the hoary old ones. There's a section from Paul saying that it's not true that Heather made him dye his hair, sack his loyal publicist and that she clung to him possessively (she did it because she only has one leg and floors can be slippy). Heather's sister Fiona backs her up over the terrible childhood that Heather has supposedly made up and asks: "Does it matter whether she was on the streets at 14 or 15?".

There is, in all this, a sense of both sides manufacturing myth. Many of the accusations made about the woman are clearly themselves exaggerated or embellished. On the other hand, Heather's engagement with the truth can clearly be a little shaky. Rumours of a marriage crisis began to be published after Paul McCartney - who famously spent only one night (and a nine-day spell in jail) apart from his first wife Linda - was pictured alone on holiday near Monaco. Heather promptly publicly insisted they were "total rubbish". She was apart from him to avoid the paparazzi as she recuperated from an operation on her leg. "It's hilarious. Paul and I are very much together," she said. "I will see him soon - I see him all the time. I can't wait to sue because I will make a fortune for my charity."

Where lies the truth? As with all marital disputes, it may never fully emerge, even if Paul McCartney doth perhaps protest too much when he says, as he did on his website this week, "in reading the media reports that are coming out, I would urge people not to believe them. Almost everything I'm reading is 100 per cent untrue. I urge people not to read this stuff and support Heather and myself at this difficult time".

Those who know him are less circumspect. "It's sad," said one friend. "When Linda died, he was very lonely, spending hours completely by himself. But when Heather came along, everyone freaked out. It felt too soon. The kids weren't horrible to her in my presence but there was a polite froideur."

But where Linda was strong, Heather was headstrong. "He put up with a certain amount of wifey stuff. She made him stop smoking dope which pissed him off because he was really into it. But he was very taken with her one leg and her "fuck you" to the world. He encouraged all that."

Heather took on many of Linda's causes, including animal rights, launching a campaign against China's practice of skinning alive two million cats and dogs a year for their fur. Last month, she lost her false leg during a violent confrontation with security guards in the New York office of Jennifer Lopez who uses fur in her fashion range.

Yet it wasn't the causes but Heather's hectoring manner which finally ground her husband down. That was evident in the interview that the couple gave recently to CNN on the killing of harp seals. Heather did all the talking. Whenever the interviewer asked Sir Paul a question, and he attempted to answer, she interrupted. It was obvious to anyone who knew McCartney's personality that there was trouble ahead.

"In the end, he got sick and tired of her trying to control him," said one friend. "After all, he is the ruddy star. People who know him are sad for him. And for her too - she has her own demons to lay. But in the end, we can't help but feel it's for the best." The tragedy for Heather Mills McCartney is that the nation seems to agree.

A Life in Brief

BORN Heather Mills on 12 January 1968 in Washington new town, Tyne and Wear, the middle child of Mark and Beatrice Mills.

EDUCATION Usworth School, Washington.

FAMILY Married Alfie Karmal, 1989. (divorced 1991); Sir Paul McCartney, 2002 (separated 2006), daughter Beatrice Milly born in 2003.

CAREER Waitress, ski instructor, model until 1993 when she was hit by a police motorcycle and lost her lower left leg. Anti-land mines campaigner. All proceeds from her autobiography, 'Out on a Limb' (published as 'A Single Step' in the US) go to the charity of which she is patron, Adopt-A-Minefield, which has helped raise £7m to clear minefields in 126 villages in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, Laos, Mozambique and Vietnam. UN goodwill ambassador.

SHE SAYS "Every guy I've been out with has asked me to marry them within a week."

THEY SAY "The one thing Heather has never been able to achieve is popularity. I think that rankles an awful lot with her." - Max Clifford, publicist.