There’s a saying ‘behind every great man is a great woman. And behind every great woman is a man who tried to stop her’.
It makes me laugh. But not really. I think a lot about women in the background, those women rarely acknowledged and valued who marry, encourage and help build great men.
Cynthia Lennon died earlier this year aged 75 and it only made the news because she was married to John. It was she who inspired some early songs and helped him grow from a boy to a man and become famous.
I interviewed Cynthia when she released her book John in 1995 and it struck me then and now just how strange it must be to have your entire life defined by the man you loved and who left you.
Cynthia was a middle class girl who was a brilliant artist and who won a scholarship to art school. She met John in calligraphy class. Cynthia was quiet, dedicated, focused and serious about her art and nurtured an ambition to be an artist and art teacher. Lennon was a loud, sarcastic, a rebel who used to tease her and steal her pens and pencils.
Cynthia said he was irresistible and brilliant. She nurtured his genius and forgave him for his ‘artistic temperament’ and flaws which she felt came from trauma, loss and a tough upbringing.
Cynthia Lennon’s book was an uncomfortable read. John Lennon was cruel and selfish with his young love. He was ‘a jealous guy’ who flirted with others but was possessive about his girlfriend. Lennon was also violent. He once slapped her causing her head to hit a wall after she danced with another man.
They were married when she was 22 and he 21, then he went to a gig. Cynthia later said they probably wouldn’t have done so if she hadn’t got pregnant. They were together in their flat when ‘Love me Do’ came on the radio and the Beatles exploded onto the planet. He went off on tour missing her child’s birth. She was hidden away so not to reduce his sex appeal and she stayed home with baby Julian while he travelled the world being screamed at and adored.
The affair John had with Yoko Ono was painful and humiliating for Cynthia. But even thirty years after they’d parted Cynthia still loved her first love. She felt he was a one off and was clearly proud of her role in loving, nurturing and caring for his genius.
Cynthia Lennon made me think about how much we give those brilliant souls amongst us and how much we forgive them if they hurt us. Women in the background are often pitied but I don’t pity Cynthia. She died in Spain with her son Julian by her bedside. She raised him without much help from John and he adored her. She may have lived a life in some shadow but to her son she was the light.