31 Mar 2018

Pattie Boyd: muse to Harrison and Clapton

From Saturday Morning, 9:10 am on 31 March 2018

Pattie Boyd inspired George Harrison and Eric Clapton to write some of the greatest love songs of the 20th century: Harrison wrote 'Something' and 'I Need You' for her, while Clapton penned 'Layla' and 'Wonderful Tonight'. Boyd will be telling her life story in Auckland in May.

Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton

Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton Photo: Supplied

Boyd has had a colourful life. Her marriages to George Harrison, then later, Eric Clapton were tumultuous. Both wrote classic love songs about her and both treated her badly.

Boyd married Harrison in 1966, after meeting on the set of A Hard Day's Night in 1964.

Seven years later, Clapton – a close friend of Harrison's, declared his love for Boyd. He wrote his 1971 hit 'Layla' for her, then holed up in his mansion doing heroin with his girlfriend Alice Ormsby-Gore.

In 1974 Boyd eventually left Harrison (who had been a serial philanderer) and moved in with Clapton, who – by that stage, had switched from heroin addiction to alcohol.

Boyd told Kim Hill both men had become rich and famous very young, so never really grew up.

Harrison was troubled by his wealth and fame: “He was really confused about why he was famous, this boy from Liverpool, why was he chosen? … Sometimes he delighted in it and sometimes he wanted to get away from it.”

When Boyd left Harrison, he was using cocaine and drinking heavily. Clapton was in no better shape, putting away a bottle and a half of brandy a day, she says.

“It is quite amazing, I would have thought his liver should have packed up from it all. He would go to bed with a half full glass of brandy and lemonade and have it beside the bed - so the smell was wafting over to me, it was really unpleasant.

“I’d say, 'leave the drink downstairs,' he'd say ‘no I might wake up and feel thirsty.’”

“This doctor ... [who'd] managed to get him off heroin ... said ‘Pattie you’ve got to be careful that he doesn’t start drinking too much because quite often if somebody comes off one drug they’re going to go on to another.”

Clapton drank because unless he was playing, he didn’t know what to do with himself: “He played his guitar all the time, all day long but when he put the guitar down he would want a drink.”

Pattie Boyd and George Harrison

Pattie Boyd and George Harrison Photo: Supplied

Clapton sought treatment and then relapsed, not successfully overcoming his alcoholism until the late 1980s.

“When he came back [from treatment] he was so quiet and so inside himself … he thought that by being sober it had removed his creativity. I think this happens to a lot of people who are frightened of giving up drink.”

Boyd had been trying to get pregnant, undergoing IVF treatment with Clapton, when he announced his lover, Lory Del Santo, was pregnant with his child. That child –  Connor, would eventually die in tragic circumstances in New York.

Clapton suggested that they all live together, which Boyd says was like being "stabbed with a knife".

“It’s unbelievable that somebody could say that to someone they love.”

Such entitled behaviour came with the rock star territory, Boyd says.

“With Eric there was always someone to jump in and light his cigarette, they [Harrison and Clapton] never did anything for themselves and that’s very bad, and that’s very harmful.”

Her own childhood, she says, was marred by an absentee father.

“I grew up believing that men had a divine right to behave how they did and women were in a way second-class citizens, although it annoyed me and upset me watching my mother go through that bad behaviour – why didn’t she stand up for herself?”

Boyd was educated at boarding school where she says she learnt to be both independent and insecure.

“I was so unhappy, I had to harden myself to be independent of my emotions. And I was insecure because I never really knew where my mother was or whether I was going to go home at the holidays to my mother or father.”

She also never believed she was pretty, even at the height of her modelling career. Now she looks back at old photos and realises she was “pretty” and had a “good figure” and wishes she had the self-confidence she has now.

“I think I would have had a stronger personality and I would not have allowed George and Eric to kind of abuse me in the way that they did.”

After she and Clapton divorced she had to redefine herself in the 1980s.

“I went through about two years of agony, of not knowing who I was, because now I wasn’t 'Mrs Famous George' I certainly wasn’t 'Mrs Famous Eric'; who the hell was I?

“Through psychotherapy and lots of agonising, I came out at the other end and gradually built myself up again.”

Photography saved her, she says.

“I set up a little studio in my apartment because Eric had bought me an apartment overlooking the river so I started taking photos for people, then I got a few jobs with magazines and newspapers.”

Boyd told her life story in her memoir Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me in 2007.

Boyd will be telling her life story to audiences in Auckland in May in an event called George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me; An Evening with Pattie Boyd, details here.

Pattie Boyd with a photo she took of George Harrison

Pattie Boyd with a photo she took of George Harrison Photo: Supplied