Germaine Greer: Pop bitch

She was only in it for the money. She humiliated a great man. She let down fans everywhere... just like Linda, Yoko, Jane, Cynthia, Patti and Maureen. The curse of the Beatles' women

Sunday 21 May 2006 00:00

Ever since Paul McCartney announced that he and Heather Mills were an item the media have been out to get her. Linda McCartney, about whom they had been every bit as vicious, was canonised in retrospect. Nobody remembered the jibes - "What d'you call a cow with wings?" "Linda McCartney". Lady Heather Mills McCartney now has to face, probably for years, the same misogynistic cacophony, not just from the Neanderthal tabloids, but from the grandes dames of once-upon-a-broadsheet press, even the ones who call themselves feminist. You're not surprised to hear Jonathan Ross festooning Heather with corrosive one-liners, but it's a bit shocking to find Yasmin Alibhai-Brown commanding her to give her eventual divorce settlement to charity.

Being married to a Beatle has been rough for all the women who've tried it. Cynthia Lennon was hidden, ignored, beaten, betrayed and dumped. Yoko Ono was hated and reviled, and is still hated and reviled now after 26 years of widowhood. Her enormous wealth can be no consolation for the kneejerk assumption she encounters a hundred times a day that she destroyed Lennon's gift and broke up the best band there ever was. Patti Boyd was handed on by George Harrison to Eric Clapton, who, once Patti had become his wife, dumped her. Maureen Cox received death threats from the hysterical female fans who found out that she was pregnant by Ringo Starr. Jane Asher was all but married to McCartney when she realised that he had never been faithful to her. The sainted Linda McCartney's tuneless contributions to McCartney's albums were widely deplored. If she is universally loved now, it is because she has become a stick to beat the back of Heather Mills. Well might Lady Heather ask, if the fans adore her husband because he is sexy, funny, loving, caring and clever, why should not she? Why do they demean their idol by presuming that he has nothing to be loved for but his money?

There is no job open to women more demanding than being the wife of a billionaire. Women have never been afraid of hard work, and most of those who have had the chance to marry a billionaire have jumped at it, only to learn the hard way that a husband who has bought you never doubts that he owns you. The job is 24/7, no meal breaks, no time off for good behaviour. There's no job description either. You do what is required, as and when, but you're not allowed to wait until you're asked. You have to anticipate the wishes of your spouse and fulfil them as if they were identical with your own - as if they were your own, indeed. When your husband is 25 years older than you, this is a truly tall order. You've got to figure out whether he wants a quiet night in or inventive sexual stimulation or Viagra, and whichever it is, you have to make it your preference too. You can't do it at all, not for a single day, without love.

To demand that a poor girl marries a millionaire for love alone is to ask too much. Fame, money and power are a turn-on. The fisherman who finds the biggest of all marlins on his line is wild with excitement. The prospector who turns up a nugget as big as his head is almost dead with happiness. The girl who lands a Beatle is so beside herself with amazement and gratitude, she doesn't need to fake orgasm. It would surprise Stella McCartney to know that in the late Sixties, before her mother married Paul McCartney, she was known to the other female habituees of the Fillmore East and Max's Kansas City as Linda Starfucker.

For years Ms Eastman cast her line for rock millionaires with a lack of success so conspicuous that she was a standing joke. I remember very clearly the late, great Lillian Roxon trying to answer her hysterical questionings. "He [not Paul in this case] promised he'd call me! Why didn't he call me?" And Lillian answering fairly curtly, "Because he didn't want to. Geddit?" When Linda hooked Paul McCartney, the other supergroupies were astounded, but none of them, I think it fair to say, envied her.

Still less would they have envied Heather Mills. In 1968, Paul McCartney was, if less tasty than some of the other Beatles and all of the Rolling Stones, reasonably fanciable. When Heather Mills married him in 2002, he was a wizened gnome. Even as a corpse John Lennon was better-looking, and after George had lost his long battle with cancer, Paul looked more like a spectral survivor than a warm-blooded human being. Heather managed to heat his blood sufficiently to produce baby Bea, but it was probably downhill from there. Now we are being told that after the collapse of her marriage she is distraught, distressed, collapsed in her wheelchair. I reckon she's exhausted. She has given the marriage everything she had and she's running on empty. The job was too hard after all.

Viewed through the distorting glass of British misogyny, Heather Mills's virtues, her energy, her drive, her optimism and her resilience, are made to seem diabolical; her husband is seen to be bewitched as if by satanic power. A bizarre history is invented in which she is shown to have always been a "user of men"; her marriage at 21 to a dishwasher salesman called Alfie Karmal, and her cancellation of not one wedding but two, are brought in evidence against her. Whole television documentaries have been devoted to mangling her reputation; whole websites are given over to refuting libellous allegations made against her. Now, hacks who would betray their best friends for 50p a word are demanding that she pass up the fee for her four years' service as the wife of an elderly pop billionaire. They have decided that she will get something like £200m to £250m, and they just can't stand it. She probably will give her ill-gotten gains to charity, but in her own way, in her own time. Her most pressing need right now is to get her self back.

Lady McCartney's publicist tells us that in the last fiscal year she earned nothing, zero. "Her last tax statement was 0.00 because she hadn't earned a bean the previous year." She might as well be a medieval "feme coverte" with no fiscal identity. A man with a fortune of £1.5bn who does not settle an independent income on his wife is a tyrant, whether he knows it or not. His wife may be luxuriously clad, and waited on hand and foot but, if she hasn't been allowed an income of her own, everything she wears, eats, uses belongs to him. He may let her keep what he gives her, but that is his munificence, not her entitlement. Heather is supposed to have been prepared to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, so that if the relationship failed, she could walk away with a good conscience, but Paul decided that would not have been romantic and that was the end of that.

Heather actually needed that pre-nup and Paul should have let her have it, but he preferred to make it plain that a few hundred million was well within his gift. Now Heather has no option but to let the courts set the fee for her four years of extremely comfortable unfreedom. However much she is awarded, it is still a consolation prize. When my (male heterosexual) driver said last week, "For two hundred million I'd marry him and have his baby", he was voicing a sentiment that millions of people share. Such would-be gold-diggers are the same people who will decide that Heather Mills married her Beatle for his money. They are, after all, judging her by themselves. The righteous indignation that is being unleashed against her is actually fuelled by envy.

Heather Mills was and is a big sister. Big sisters are often not good at attending to their own needs, or at understanding their own feelings, especially when they grew up protecting and providing for younger siblings whom they perceived to be in greater need than themselves. Fiona Mills has verified her elder sister's account of their childhood. Their mother left her violent and unpredictable partner, leaving her three children with him. The father could not support them, and forced the children to provide for themselves, so they learned to steal what they needed. Heather, who needed mothering as much as any child, had to play the role of parent.

When their father went to prison the children were taken to London to live with their mother whose new partner pressured her to turn Heather out on to the streets. Alone and living by her wits the teenager could cope, but a childhood of sequential abandonment and inappropriate responsibility must have left its mark. Heather's way of dealing with her own pain is to concentrate on relieving the pain of others. It's as good a strategy as any, but it militates against serenity and trustfulness in relationships. A young woman unafraid to sleep under Tower Bridge might find it difficult to relax completely in the marital feather-bed. She would find it easier to be brave than to accept protection.

The ill-fortune that dogged Heather in relationships with patently unsuitable men was as nothing compared to the disasters that overtook her body, from life-threatening ectopic pregnancy (twice), to uterine cancer, to the accident that not only destroyed her leg, but smashed her pelvis, crushed her ribs and punctured her lung. There may well be an element of fantasy in her projection of her heroic struggle against illness and injury, but if this a somatic continuation and externalisation of the psychic battles of her childhood, it is only to be expected. Heather Mills probably needs expert help, but instead she is nominated for Nobel prizes and given awards for charity work which may well be, at least in part, displacement activity.

The people who accuse Heather Mills of using men have failed to notice that before she could get her claws fairly into her victims, she upped and ran away. Ultimately, this is a woman damaged in body and soul. Paul McCartney was not the man to find the hurt and heal it, even supposing she would ever have let him get that close. She told Vanity Fair, referring to Sir Paul: "I feel like I'm a grown woman and he's my little boy." This has been interpreted as evidence that she has been controlling him, but that's not what the words signify. What they really tell us is that she is continuing in the distorted emotional pattern of her childhood.

Sir Paul may now have to confront the demands of his children in their determination to pauperise the hated stepmother. Lady Heather can expect more character assassination in the media and in court. Perhaps it's Sir Paul who should give his grotesque wealth away, to a small republic somewhere maybe, to invest in social justice, education and health care, before it corrupts all the people he loves.

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