Cynthia Lennon: The first wife of John Lennon whose steadfastness was rewarded by cruel treatment at the hands of the Beatle

Although she made continual attempts to move on with her life, it was a life almost inevitably dominated by her relationship with one of the most famous men in the world

Wednesday 01 April 2015 22:54 BST
Eye of the storm: Lennon, centre, with the Beatles (and Ringo's wife Maureen)  at the premiere of 'A Hard Day’s Night' in 1964
Eye of the storm: Lennon, centre, with the Beatles (and Ringo's wife Maureen) at the premiere of 'A Hard Day’s Night' in 1964

Cynthia Lennon knew her days as a Beatle wife were over when she walked into the house in Weybridge she shared with John Lennon after a holiday in Greece to find her husband in a bathrobe sitting on the floor with Yoko Ono. The guest room showed no signs of having been slept in; she turned around and walked out of the door. They had spent the night recording their experimental Two Virgins album and had then made love.

There was a brief reconciliation, but when Cynthia went away for a short break to Italy, Ono moved in and Cynthia and John were soon divorced. It was the end of a relationship in which, almost from the beginning, she was used by Lennon, getting almost nothing in return. Though he become the spokesman for the peace-and-love generation, he treated Cynthia and their son, Julian, cruelly.

Cynthia Powell was born in 1939 in a boarding house in Blackpool, to where her mother had been evacuated. Her parents were Liverpudlians; her father Charles was a travelling electrical goods salesman who died of lung cancer in 1956; he and Cynthia's mother, Lillian, lived in Hoylake on the Wirral. It was genteel compared to the city across the Mersey; when she and John met at Liverpool College of Art, she was the butt of his jokes: "Quiet, please," he would shout. "No dirty jokes, it's Cynthia."

They took one class together, Lettering, and one day, quite unexpectedly, when she saw another girl stroke his neck she felt a pang of jealousy. Eventually, at a party in July 1959, they danced a slow dance. As she recalls in her memoir, A Twist of Lennon, John asked her out, and when she said she was engaged to a chap in Hoylake – in fact she had been, to a window-cleaner called Barry, but it was over – he replied, "I didn't ask you to marry me, did I?"

As she was leaving the party she heard Lennon's voice: "Don't you know Cynthia's a nun?" Goaded, she went back into the party; later that night she and Lennon went to bed.

The relationship was rocky from the start. Like every parent he'd ever met, the domineering Lillian couldn't bear Lennon. And she had a point. Cynthia recalled his violent possessiveness and "unreasonable rages ... I was really quite terrified of him for 75 per cent of the time." But the bond grew stronger, despite John's serial infidelities, and when he went off to Hamburg with the Beatles she moved in with his guardian, Aunt Mimi.

Then, in April 1962, she found she was pregnant, and they married at Mount Pleasant registry office in Liverpool. The Beatles were on the brink of global stardom, and on the insistence of their new manager, Brian Epstein, the pregnancy and marriage were to remain secret for as long as possible.

Julian was born in April 1963, by which time Beatlemania was getting into its stride. After living at John's Aunt Mimi's for a while they moved to London, where their flat was permanently besieged by screaming fans (she was attacked by one fan as late as 1967).

Life in the Beatles vortex was never comfortable: the couple moved into their posh house in Surrey, where Cynthia raised Julian mostly on her own (Lennon's callous treatment of his son famously inspired Paul McCartney to write "Hey Jude"). Lennon began to consume huge amounts of LSD, which she said was the beginning of the end for their relationship. She was slipped the drug by John's dentist at a dinner party, and recalled, "It was if we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a horror film."

Innately conservative, she was left behind by the rock'n'roll lifestyle, and it was symbolic that when the band caught the train to Bangor in 1967 to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi she was left on the platform. She did travel with the band to the Maharishi's ashram in India, though the experience prompted John, on the flight home, to confess to all his infidelities. It was a long list.

At first John sued for divorce on the grounds of Cynthia's supposed adultery with a hotelier, Roberto Bassanini, who she had met during her short break to Italy, but when Yoko became pregnant (later miscarrying) Cynthia countersued. She agreed to a settlement of £100,000, with a further £100,000 put in trust for Julian.

She married Bassanini in 1970, divorcing him in 1973. A third marriage, to John Twist, an engineer from Lancashire, followed; after they parted in 1983 she changed her name back to "Lennon" by deed poll and met Jim Christie, her partner for 17 years. She published a memoir, A Twist of Lennon, in 1978, but in 1991 she auctioned off all her John-related memorabilia. In 2002 she married Noel Charles, a Bajan nightclub owner; he died in 2013.

For a time she had a restaurant, Lennon's, in the West End; she kept her artistic hand in all the while, and had several exhibitions of her paintings, while in 1984 she made the ceramics that adorn the doors of The Cavern. In 2005, she published a more intimate biography, John. Although she made continual attempts to move on with her life, it was a life almost inevitably dominated by her relationship with one of the most famous men in the world. She died after a short bout of cancer.


Cynthia Powell, artist and writer: born Blackpool 10 September 1939; married 1962 John Lennon (divorced 1968; one son), 1970 Roberto Bassanini (divorced 1973), 1976 John Twist (divorced 1983), 2002 Noel Charles (died 2013); died Spain 1 April 2013.

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