Paul McCartney

The Life


By Philip Norman

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The definitive Paul McCartney biography, written with his approval by bestselling biographer Philip Norman.

Since the age of twenty-one, Paul McCartney has lived one of the ultimate rock-n-roll lives played out on the most public of stages. Now, Paul’s story is told by rock music’s foremost biographer, with McCartney’s consent and access to family members and close friends who have never spoken on the record before.

Paul McCartney reveals the complex character behind the favßade and sheds new light on his childhood — blighted by his mother’s death but redeemed by the father who introduced him to music. This is the first definitive account of Paul’s often troubled partnership with John Lennon, his personal trauma after the Beatles’ breakup, and his subsequent struggle to get back to the top with Wings — which nearly got him murdered in Africa and brought him nine days in a Tokyo jail. Readers will learn about his marriage to Linda, including their much-criticized musical collaboration, and a moving account of her death. Packed with new information and critical insights, Paul McCartney will be the definitive biography of a musical legend.


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Stairway to Paradise


'Hey, mister, gimme a quid and I'll show you Paul McCartney's house'

The pale blue minibus that starts out from Liverpool's Albert Dock promises 'the only tour to go inside the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney'. On its side are two cartoon faces, outlined in the vaguest black and white yet still as instantly recognisable all over the world as Mickey Mouse. By now, perhaps even more so.

For many years, Liverpool was strangely reluctant to capitalise on its most famous sons. But no longer. At Albert Dock, the Beatles Story museum recreates the whole saga so realistically, one could almost think one had shared in it. Mathew Street, renamed 'the Cavern Quarter', is a teeming boulevard of souvenir shops and themed bars, with a near-as-dammit replica of the Cavern a few metres from the site of the original. In North John Street, the luxurious Hard Day's Night Hotel has both a John Lennon and a Paul McCartney Suite, each costing around £800 per night and always reserved for months ahead.

In addition, there is a huge choice of Magical Mystery Tours around the city centre's main Beatle landmarks–the Pier Head, St George's Hall, Lime Street station, the Empire Theatre–then out to the suburbs, where the most sacred shrines are located.

This one by blue minibus is a cut above the rest, being operated by the National Trust, a body normally dedicated to preserving and restoring Britain's ancient stately homes. The two homes for which we're bound are neither ancient or stately, yet between them attract as many paying visitors, proportionate to their size, as any Tudor palace or eighteenth-century Palladian mansion in the Trust's care.

Here, for once, the two names' fixed order of precedence didn't apply. Paul's childhood abode, 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton, was the first to be acquired by the Trust and, in 1996, opened to public view as the place where Lennon and McCartney's songwriting partnership began. For some years afterwards, it was felt that 251 Menlove Avenue, Woolton, where John was brought up, did not qualify as a national monument because no specific Beatles track could be proved to have been composed there (even though Paul and he used to rehearse endlessly in its glassed-in front porch). Finally, in 2002, John's widow, Yoko Ono, bought the house and presented it to the Trust, together with an allowance for its restoration and upkeep.

This Sunday morning's blue minibus contingent are the mix of nationalities and ages one would expect. A group of four from French-Canadian Montreal is led by broadcasting executive Pierre Roy, a 'Paul' person to his manicured fingertips: 'I'm a Gemini like him, I'm left-handed, too, and my first girlfriend's name was Linda.'

A pair of young women in their mid-twenties hail respectively from Dublin and Teesside (the latter rather shamefacedly admitting she actually prefers George). Bernard and Margaret Sciambarella, a married couple in their forties, have merely crossed the Mersey from the Cheshire Wirral, bringing their 21-year-old student daughter. Despite both being hardcore Beatles fans they've taken this tour only once before. 'It's always the same if something's right on your doorstep, isn't it?' Margaret says.

We head off along Liverpool's revitalised waterfront, passing on one side the old dock basin, now ringed by espresso bars and boutiques; on the other, Victorian commercial buildings now transformed into desirable river-view apartments. At the corner of James Street is the former headquarters of the White Star shipping line where, one day in 1912, a company official stood on the balcony, reading the Titanic's casualty-list through a megaphone to the stunned crowds beneath.

Broadcasting technology a century ago turns out to have been rather more reliable than today's. 'Guys, I'm sorry…' is our driver's opening announcement. 'The bus only just came back from a service and the CD player isn't connected up yet. That means that unfortunately there won't be any music to go with the places you'll be seeing on the tour.'

So out of Beatle City in silence we go: through gangster-haunted Toxteth, past the magnificent iron gateway to Sefton Park, along Smithdown Road, where Paul's mother did her nurse's training. A turning left leads to Queen's Drive and the former family home of Brian Epstein which, disgracefully, no one has ever thought worth preserving for the nation.

'Right, guys,' our driver says, 'we're just coming up to a place you'll all recognise. I'm sorry there's no tape of Penny Lane to go with it.'

Who cares? The song rings out of collective memory louder and clearer than the purest stereo. Penny Lane is in our ears and in our eyes, even if its 'blue suburban skies' this morning tend more towards dish-mop grey.

It is arguably Paul's masterpiece, twinned with a John masterpiece, 'Strawberry Fields Forever', on the greatest-value pop single ever released. And Penny Lane the place competes with the site of the old Strawberry Field Salvation Army home as Liverpool's most-visited Beatle shrine. Over the decades, its street-sign has been stolen so many times that the local authority took to simply painting the name on buildings. Latterly, a supposedly thief-proof sign has proved little more successful than the old type.

It has always seemed the sweetest of song-titles, evoking an innocent 1950s world when Britain used big copper penny coins that often dated back to Queen Victoria's reign, confectioners sold penny chocolate bars or 'chews' and women did not pee but 'spent a penny', the cost of using a public toilet. In reality, the name commemorates James Penny, an eighteenth-century Liverpool slave-trader. Nor is the song really about Penny Lane, but Smithdown Place, where the lane (which, anyway, has more associations with John than Paul) widens into a shopping 'parade' and a terminus for several bus-routes.

Every topographical feature listed in the lyric is still here, for each of us instantly triggering a mental soundtrack of nostalgic piano, old-fashioned brass or the tripping notes of a piccolo trumpet solo. There's still a barber, 'showing photographs of every head he's had the pleasure to know', even if hairstyles have moved on from 'Tony Curtises' and 'ducks' arses' and the shop's name is no longer Bioletti, as during Paul's childhood, but Tony Slavin. There's a branch of Lloyds TSB, where the banker might well not own 'a mac' (raincoat, that is, not laptop) and nowadays is perhaps even more likely to be laughed at behind his back.

Here is the traffic island behind whose shelter 'a pretty nurse' could well be 'selling poppies from a tray' (and every one of us knows whom she represented). To the left, along Mather Avenue, there's still a fire-station where even now some dragoon-helmeted officer might be watching the time in an hourglass as he polishes his 'clean machine… in his pocket… a portrait of the Queen'.

Paul's and John's childhood homes lie less than a mile apart but in separate suburbs whose social differences remain very noticeable. Allerton, on this side at least, consists predominantly of working-class council estates whereas Woolton is a well-heeled enclave of industrialists, professionals and academics from Liverpool University. When John first met Paul in 1957, that distinction was multiplied a thousandfold.

On the blue minibus, after our McCartney prologue, we have reverted to the traditional pecking-order. First stop is 'Mendips', the semi-detached villa with faux Tudor flourishes where John, that supposed 'working-class hero', spent an irreproachably middle-class and rather pampered boyhood in the care of his forceful Aunt Mimi.

Not for almost two hours do we leave Woolton's leafy boulevards, drive down Mather Avenue and pull up outside 20 Forthlin Road. Another, identical, minibus is waiting to collect an earlier tour group who are just emerging through the minuscule front garden. The intoxicated buzz of their conversation includes French, Spanish and Russian, or perhaps Polish. 'Well, she was just seventeen…' sings a Dutch-accented male voice. 'You know what I mean…' an international chorus responds.

To modern British ears, the term 'council house' tends to signify society's lower rungs, but in the years just after the Second World War, these local authority-built and -subsidised dwellings represented a miraculous upward leap from overcrowded and insanitary back-to-back slums.

Twenty Forthlin Road is a classic example of the terraced variety: two-storeyed plain-fronted (which in the Fifties meant ultramodern) with a large downstairs window, two small upper ones and a glass-paned front door under a wedge-shaped porch. Although a national monument, it does not rate one of the blue plaques handed out by the National Trust's complementary body, English Heritage, to mark the homes of great figures in history. Blue plaques are conferred only where the great figure is dead or a centenarian.

Like 'Mendips', the house has a resident custodian who also acts as tour-guide. Most are devoted fans for whom living in John's or Paul's old home, restored to its 1950s character, is beyond Heaven. For some years, indeed, Forthlin Road had a custodian with an uncanny facial resemblance to Paul though his name, confusingly, was John.

Today, our guide is a motherly-looking woman with pale, curly hair who introduces herself as Sally, then tactfully relieves us of our bags and cameras, promising they'll be kept safe 'in the very same place where the McCartneys used to put their hats and coats'.

When the National Trust acquired the house, Paul's only stipulation was that it shouldn't be just a shrine to the Beatles but a memorial to a family. 'And at the beginning,' Sally reminds us, 'this was a very sad place for him.' In the little hallway above the front door hangs a simple wooden plaque:

In loving memory of

Mum and Dad

Mary and Jim

To the left is the sitting-room where Paul first began writing songs with John (though he'd tried writing them by himself even before that). It is a tiny space, almost every square inch filled by a chunky 'three-piece suite' of sofa and two matching armchairs, a fringed standard lamp and a wood-encased, tiny-screen TV set. On a side table stands the weighty black dial-telephone (Garston 6922) that, for some time, was the only one in the whole street. The yellow willow pattern wallpaper was chosen by the National Trust as typical of such a room in the early Fifties; then, as it was being decorated, some of the McCartneys' original silver-blue chinoiserie paper came to light. A section of this is mounted on card under plastic, which a privileged member of each tour group gets to hold up for the others to see.

Against the inside wall is an upright piano, the kind that once stood in so many British front parlours. 'It was in this room that 16-year-old Paul sat at the piano and wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four",' Sally says. 'And, as you probably know [probably?], the piano came from the North End Road Music Stores, or NEMS, which was owned by Brian Epstein's family. No, this isn't the same piano,' she adds before anyone can ask. 'Paul has got that.'

Above the TV set hangs his brother Michael's photograph of him and John in their facing armchairs, poring over their right- and left-handed guitar fretboards, it's said, during the composition of 'I Saw Her Standing There' (hence that singing Dutchman outside). 'The two of them had a rule that if they couldn't remember a new song the next day, then it wasn't worth keeping,' Sally continues. 'If it was, Paul would write it down in his school exercise book. And he's still got that school exercise book.'

Folding wooden doors lead to a tiny dining-room and, beyond, a kitchen stocked with 1950s products like Rinso detergent, Robin starch and Lux soap. After the McCartneys moved out in 1964, a family named Smith occupied the house for 30 years and installed modern kitchen fitments including a stainless steel sink unit. When the National Trust took over, the original wooden draining-boards were discovered in the roof-cavity. Then the porcelain sink that went with them turned up in the back garden, being used as a plant-holder.

The garden is a modest grass rectangle, its view still the police training-college in Mather Avenue. 'Of course, there were police horses kept there when Paul was a boy,' Sally says. 'So lots of nice manure for his dad's roses.' The wooden shed used to hold a scullery–where clothes were scrubbed by hand, then fed through the rollers of an iron-framed 'mangle'–and an outside toilet. Now it holds a visitors' 'rest room' ('This is a long tour after all,' Sally says) and a guide's cubbyhole, where she's parked her lunch of a focaccia and sun-dried tomato sandwich.

She shows us the drainpipe which, late at night, Paul would shin up to climb through the inside toilet window and let John in at the front door without waking his father. This must be the only National Trust property where the drainpipe is pointed out as being of historical interest.

We go upstairs to the large back bedroom Paul ceded to his younger brother, Michael, though both kept their clothes there. Slung over the bed-head is a set of black Bakelite radio-headphones like those which first piped in the heavenly contagion of rock 'n' roll. Paul's old room, overlooking the street, isn't much wider than its narrow single bed. On the coverlet lie a scatter of significant artefacts including a paperback of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (i.e. good English student) and a replica of his very first guitar, the reddish sunburst f-hole Zenith. 'Paul still has the original one,' Sally hardly needs to tell us.

Here each group is allowed a few minutes for what in church would be called 'silent reflection'. And it usually is silent or, anyway, wordless. 'Some people laugh, some people cry,' Sally says. 'Mostly they're just very, very moved.'

In all the years 20 Forthlin Road has been open to the public, Paul has never seen its restored interior, though he's paid several incognito visits to look at it from outside. Once, when he brought his son James, he was accosted by a small boy from a neighbouring house. Not realising who it was, the boy tried a hustle with all the Liverpudlian cheek of the Beatles in their prime:

'Hey, mister, gimme a quid and I'll show you Paul McCartney's house.'


'Apple sandwiches with sugar'

Although surnames with the prefix Mac or Mc, meaning 'child of', usually denote Scots, Paul's origins on both his father's and mother's side are Irish. Throughout history there has been a close relationship between the two races, forged mainly by common resentment of the English. They overlap in numerous ways, from their shared Gaelic language to their fondness for whisky and the passion and sentimentality of their native music, which both make with the aid of bagpipes. Scottish-descended families can be found all over Ireland and vice versa.

One of the most controversial songs Paul ever wrote was 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish'–yet in truth his forebears were deprived of their homeland willingly enough.

His paternal great-grandfather, James McCartney, was part of the mass emigration of the late nineteenth century when Ireland's horrific poverty drove thousands abroad in hopes of finding a better life. James was one of many who crossed the Irish Sea to Liverpool, whose teeming port and factories upheld its claim to be 'the second city of the British Empire'. He arrived in the early 1880s, settling in the humble Everton district and working as a house-painter. James's son, Joseph, grew up to become a leaf-cutter at Cope's tobacco factory and, in 1896, to marry a local fishmonger's daughter, Florence Clegg. She bore nine children of whom two, Ann and Joseph junior, died in infancy (their names being re-assigned to another boy and girl who came later). Joseph and Florrie's second surviving son and fifth child, born in 1902, was Paul's father, James, ever afterwards known as Jim.

Home for Jim and his six siblings, Jack, Joe junior, Edith, Ann, Millie and Jane–nicknamed 'Gin'–was a tiny terrace house in Solva Street, in the poorest part of Everton. Later in life, he would recall how the McCartney children possessed two pairs of shoes between them, one for the boys, one for the girls. As their school forbade its pupils to go unshod, they took turns to attend in the precious footwear, then came home at night and repeated the day's lessons aloud to the others.

Despite the family's extreme poverty, and the many dubious influences of the neighbourhood, Jim grew up to be honest, modest and punctiliously courteous, earning the nickname 'Gentleman Jim' even from his own brothers and sisters. When he left school aged 14, his headmaster's report '[couldn't] find a word to say against him'. His one childhood misadventure was falling off a wall at the age of ten and damaging his right eardrum, which left him permanently deaf on that side.

Since the eighteenth century, Liverpool's prosperity had been largely founded on cotton, brought by ship from the Americas and Asia and sold on to textile mills and clothes manufacturers all over northern Britain. Jim joined one of the city's oldest-established cotton brokers, A. Hannay & Son, as a 'sample boy', taking samples of newly-arrived cargoes around to prospective buyers. To supplement his six shilling (30p) per week wage, he sold programmes at Everton's Theatre Royal and occasionally operated the limelight, the piercing beam reserved for top artistes at extra special moments.

For the son he was to have one day the world would pour out almost its whole stock of limelight. But a little fell on Jim, too. His father, Joseph, had been a keen amateur musician, playing the E-flat tuba in the Cope's factory's own brass band and organising concerts and sing-songs for neighbours. Despite Jim's partial deafness, he proved to have a natural musical ear which allowed him to teach himself both the trumpet and the piano. Just after the Great War, in which he'd been too young to serve, he formed a semi-professional dance band that included his older brother, Jack, on trombone.

To begin with, they wore Zorro-style black masks and called themselves the Masked Music Makers, but the heat of performing made the dye in the masks trickle down their faces, so they hurriedly relaunched as the Jim Mac Jazz Band. They would perform at local dances and occasionally for silent movie shows, improvising tunes to fit the action on the screen. Jim's father and brother Jack had good singing voices but he attempted no vocals, preferring to stick to his 'horn'. A family photograph shows the Jim Mac Jazz Band sometime in the 1920s, wearing tuxedos and wing collars, with a group of their female followers around a bass drum very like the future Sgt. Pepper's. The bandleader's fragile face and wide-open eyes are a further portent of astonishing things to come.

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Jim was 37 and, despite the matchmaking efforts of his mother and five sisters, seemed happy to remain what used to be called, without any ulterior meaning, a 'confirmed bachelor'. At Hannay's, he had risen to the rank of cotton salesman, dividing his time between Liverpool's Cotton Exchange in Old Street and the docks where consignments were unloaded, with interludes of visiting clients at mills in Manchester, 35 miles to the east. One of his jobs was checking the length of the cotton staple, or fibre, a longer staple being more suitable for spinning. Despite his hearing impairment, he became able to do this aurally. 'He could fluff a bit of cotton against his good ear and instantly be able to grade it,' his adopted daughter, Ruth McCartney, remembers.

As Britain's principal port for Atlantic food convoys and a major armaments-manufacturing centre, Liverpool was a prime target for Hitler's Luftwaffe, enduring a Blitz almost as ferocious as that visited on London. Jim was over the age for military service and further exempted by his partial deafness. When Hannay's shut down for the duration, he operated a lathe in a munitions factory and did night shifts as a volunteer fireman.

One day, while visiting his widowed mother in Norris Green, he met a hospital nurse of similarly Irish origins named Mary Patricia Mohin, who was boarding with his sister Gin. Though the worst of Liverpool's Blitz had passed by now, raids still continued intermittently. While Jim and Mary were getting acquainted, the sirens began to wail, forcing them to continue their conversation in the Anderson shelter in the garden. As they huddled together inside the Anderson's flimsy corrugated-iron walls, 'Gentleman Jim' finally fell.

Mary's father Owen, a coal deliveryman, had come over from County Monaghan at the turn of the century, changing his name from Mohan to Mohin to make it sound less Irish. In what was to prove an unhappy precedent, Mary's mother died when she was ten, leaving her and two brothers, Wilfred and Bill (two sisters having not survived). Her father remarried and started a second family, but her stepmother cared little for Mary, finally freezing her out of home altogether.

After this, it was perhaps no surprise she should have felt a vocation to care for others. At the age of 14, she became a nursing trainee at Smithdown Road Hospital. She went on to a three-year course at Walton General Hospital in Rice Lane, qualifying as a state registered nurse and becoming a ward sister aged only 24.

When Mary met Jim McCartney, she was 31, an age when most women in those days resigned themselves to what used to be called spinsterhood. But to Jim, on the cusp of 40, she was a catch with her very Irish good looks–the kind suggesting forebears from Spain or Italy–and shy, gentle manner. Nonetheless, it was Mary who took the initiative in their courtship. 'My dad said he had really fancied my mum and he took her out for a long time,' Paul would remember. 'Then he suddenly twigged that she'd been getting him to take her around to dances… She was going to joints and she wasn't that kind of girl. It turned out to be where my father was playing. She was following him round as a fan. [Later] it made me think "God, that's where I get it all from!"'

The romance might have ended as soon as it began, for Mary had been brought up as a Catholic while the McCartneys were Protestant. Among Liverpool's Irish population, the sectarian divide was as fiery as back in the Old Country; Catholics and 'Orangemen' each held triumphalist parades and marches that usually ended in violence, and intermarriage was deplored by both communities. However, Mary had no close family on hand to make difficulties and Jim anyway declared himself agnostic: they were married at St Swithin's Roman Catholic chapel in April 1941.

Their first child, a boy, was born on 18 June the following year at Walton General Hospital. Mary had once been sister in charge of the maternity unit there, so was given the luxury of a bed in a private ward. When the baby arrived, he was in a state of white asphyxia, caused by oxygen-deficiency in the brain, and appeared not to be breathing. The obstetrician was ready to pronounce him dead but the midwife, who knew Mary well and was also a Catholic, prayed fervently to God and after a few moments he revived.

Jim was on fire-watching duty and didn't reach the hospital until some hours later, by which time the baby was definitely breathing and no longer deathly white. 'He had one eye open and he squawked all the time,' his father was to recall with true Liverpudlian candour. 'They held him up and he looked like a horrible piece of red meat.'

Learning of the miracle that had occurred, Jim raised no objection when Mary wanted him baptised into the Catholic church. He was given his father's and great-grandfather's first name of James and the saintly middle name Paul, by which he would always be better known.

His first home was a set of furnished rooms at 10 Sunbury Road, Anfield, close to the cemetery where hundreds of Liverpool's air-raid victims had been buried. Soon afterwards, Jim left the munitions factory and became an inspector with the Corporation's Cleansing Department, checking that refuse-collectors did not skimp their rounds. In a city where 20,000 homes had been destroyed by bombs, accommodation was a continual problem. The McCartneys had four further temporary addresses on both sides of the River Mersey, never staying longer than a few months. The pressure increased in January 1944, when Mary returned to Walton General to have a second son, Peter Michael, always to be called Mike.

After the war, A. Hannay & Son reopened and Jim returned to his old job of cotton salesman. But five years of global conflict had left the cotton market severely depressed and he was lucky to bring home £6 per week. To augment his pay packet, Mary used her nursing experience to become a health visitor with the local authority, treating people for minor ailments in their own homes.

In 1947, when Paul wasn't quite five, she became a domiciliary (i.e. resident) midwife on the new housing estate at Speke, some eight miles south-east of Liverpool's city centre. The chief attraction of the job was that a rent-free council house went with it. When the McCartneys moved into their new home at 72 Western Avenue, the estate was still only half-constructed, a wilderness of muddy roads and roofless brick shells. His imagination already vivid, Paul felt they were 'like a pioneer family in a covered wagon'.

One of his earliest memories was being cold–the icy winter winds off the Mersey, the burn of chapped lips, ears and knees exposed by the short trousers to which all small boys in those days were condemned.

Nineteen forty-seven was the hardest of Britain's post-war austerity years, when a battle-exhausted, bankrupted nation seemed to have no warmth, no food, no fun, no colour but the bleary black and white of cinema newsreels. Liverpool felt like the austerity capital of the UK with its acres of shattered buildings and gaping craters. In common with most urban children, Paul and Mike's main outdoor playgrounds were bomb sites, known in Scouse slang–which refuses to take anything too seriously–as 'bombies'.

Inside 72 Western Avenue it was never cold, for Mary McCartney gave her two sons the loving, secure home she herself never had. Paul was to remember 'lots of hugs and kisses' from his mother, combined with a nurse's brisk practicality that always knew just what to do if he or his brother fell and hurt themselves or developed a temperature. More comforting even than a hug was the brisk professional way she applied bandages or sticking-plaster, and shook the thermometer vigorously before popping it under his tongue.


  • One of Amazon's Best Books of the Month

    A San Francisco Chronicle Holiday Gift Guide Pick

    "An enormous and sympathetic book.... It's rich with detail about Mr. McCartney's philanthropy, his knighthood, his taste in country homes, his dabbling as a painter, a poet and a composer of classical music.... The story of its subject's life from his childhood in Liverpool through the breakup of the Beatles in 1970 has lost none of its ability to charm ... One of the best stories the past century has to tell."—Dwight Garner, New York Times
  • "Norman offers a fully-fleshed out biography . . . What Norman gets so very right are the feelings: the intense relationship between John and Paul with its curves and angles; the normality being a husband and father brought him; the improbability of being one of the most famous men in the world. The shelves are full of books about the Beatles, but fans will want to make room for this one."—Ilene Cooper, Booklist (starred)
  • "The most thorough and insightful biography of Paul McCartney to date.... Paul McCartney: The Life is loaded with wonderful passages, fascinating stories and cracking humor... A masterful account, the kind of biography fitting McCartney's continued prowess and genius. Or, as McCartney said at the end of one Beatles take, 'Keep that one. Mark it 'FAB.''"—Jeremy Mikula, Chicago Tribune
  • "Norman's portrait of McCartney is fascinating and exhaustive.... Norman lifts the curtain to show us the real guy."—William McKeen, Boston Globe
  • "A thorough, objective telling of McCartney's story--in and out of the most famous band ever. But it's also a breezy read, considering the tremendous ground it covers."—Jeff Slate, Esquire
  • "Norman is an enviably skilled pen-portraitist, with a consummate ability to conjure the presence of [McCartney].... A powerful sense of McCartney the man comes across in this book's evocative high points.... A capably executed biography, brimming with detail."—John Harris, The Guardian
  • "A compelling narrative about a working-class Liverpudlian whose extraordinary musical gifts made him the most successful songwriter in history... McCartney emerges from [the book] as a textured but decent man."—Graham Boynton, Newsweek
  • "Norman is thorough... and his book gives us a fuller McCartney than you'll find anywhere else."—Colin Fleming, Washington Post
  • "Norman shows McCartney in all his colors: artist, songwriter, genius, family man, and businessman... Even those of us with bookshelves full of Beatles books and libraries of bootleg recordings will be surprised by what they read in The Life."—Laurie Ulster, bio.
  • "The once-for-all-time record of the lad from Liverpool whose song lyrics and boyish good looks broke hearts and whose career after the Beatles was almost as successful as his time with them."—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage
  • "Norman's 2008 book John Lennon: The Life became the best single-volume work on its subject. Now, with this book, Norman has done the same for McCartney..."—Bob Ruggiero, Houston Press
  • "Where [the] book succeeds the most is bringing the reader into Mr. McCartney's private life... The most up-to-date account of Paul's life to yet appear."—The Economist
  • "Philip Norman's considered biography portrays the 'cute' Beatle in all his creative complexity and breadth."—Neil Spencer, The Guardian
  • "Norman sheds new light on well-known Beatles stories and then goes further, forging a thoroughly absorbing account of McCartney's life after the group's breakup.... The result is a tantalizing trip down the legend's own long and winding road."—Oprah Magazine
  • "Where Norman's depth of knowledge comes in handy is in his descriptions of the Beatles, and McCartney in particular, at work... His book conveys a strong enough sense of McCartney's temperament and life priorities to give readers a new understanding of how utterly they're reflected in his art."—Tom Carson, The Barnes & Noble Review
  • "Norman offers a surprising portrayal of a driven and even haunted artist--his biography reminds us why, more than 50 years after he achieved fame, the world is still singing along with McCartney's story."—Clarke Crutchfield, Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • "The musician's definitive and authoritative biography."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Vivid storytelling....In his seventies, Sir Paul is still outpacing those trying to tell his story. Nevertheless, Norman gets as close as anyone has."—Will Hermes, Rolling Stone
  • "The biography is full of interesting bits of information.... Mr. Norman reminds us that we should be truly grateful that the Magical Mystery Tour guided by Paul McCartney remains a gift that keeps on giving."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • "Norman is a good interviewer, and the book is charming when he lets his Liverpool sources speak about the days before The Beatles were inevitable."—Josh Tyrangiel, New York Times Book Review
  • "The agenda of Paul McCartney: The Life is clear: to give the enduringly popular, almost inconceivably successful former Beatle his due...[and] the book succeeds at that."—David Hajdu, The Nation
  • "Norman sheds new light on well-known Beatles stories and then goes further, forging a thoroughly absorbing account of McCartney's life after the group's breakup...The result is a tantalizing trip down the legend's own long and winding road."—The Huffington Post
  • "Mr. Norman has done his research... he has uncovered yet more material, and tells his story with flair."—Christopher Walsh, The East Hampton Star
  • "Well-researched... The more than 800-page biography covers others areas of McCartney's life including his time with the Beatles and Wings along with his children and wife Linda - and much more. Fans of the Beatles or Paul McCartney will enjoy this book."—Glenn Perrett

On Sale
May 9, 2017
Page Count
864 pages
Back Bay Books

Philip Norman

About the Author

Philip Norman is the bestselling biographer of Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Elton John, and Mick Jagger, and the author of the classic Beatles biography Shout! He is also a novelist and playwright. He lives in London.

Learn more about this author