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Leigh Sales: 'What happened when I met Paul McCartney after thirty years of massive Beatles fandom'

When I was in high school, I used to talk a lot about music with my friend Tim.

He told me that his favourite album was Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I went home and flicked through mum and dad’s vinyl collection and saw that they had Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver, none of which I’d ever listened to.

I took fifteen dollars out of my money box, went to the record store at Westfield Strathpine and bought Sergeant Pepper’s on cassette and then went home and dubbed the other three albums onto cassettes too. They hardly left my tape recorder for years.

Those four records were the start of close to thirty years of massive fandom of The Beatles, Wings and the solo careers of John, Paul and George (sorry Ringo).

Last week, I sent Tim an email. It said:

“This is a crazy invitation but I’m just going to make it. Next week, I am flying to Perth to interview Paul McCartney. Do you want to come with me? I don’t know anyone who will appreciate it as much as you. It will be amazing.”

Tim replied, “Are you JOKING????”

LISTEN: Leigh Sales speaks to Mia Freedman about doubt, Trump, and everything wrong with US Politics right now. Post continues after audio.

We spent the following week grinning like idiots for no reason and texting each other things like “This time next week, we will have met PAUL MCCARTNEY!”

We would never have been dreamed back then that we’d have a chance to see the former Beatle play live, let alone get to stand backstage, watch his sound check and then meet the man himself.

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“What should I wear?” Tim texted me, “Suit? Smart casual? Sergeant Pepper’s tunic?”

“Peppers’ tunic,” I replied, “Paul really likes that and it doesn’t creep him out at all.”

Finally, we met in Perth and went to the stadium and it was more than we could have hoped for.

Before the rehearsal, Sir Paul’s crew showed us around the stage, including his priceless collection of guitars (“This is the one he played on the Ed Sullivan show”; “This is the one he used when they recorded ‘Please Please Me’) and the replica Magical Mystery Tour piano, which I was allowed to play.

I nearly died.

When Sir Paul arrived for rehearsals, Tim was out in the stands and I was standing in the wings. When McCartney and the band started playing the opening riff of ‘Day Tripper’, I thought I would cry in sheer joy. It was absolutely exhilarating.

At the end of the rehearsal, Tim and I were standing with the ABC crew backstage and Sir Paul came out to shake everyone’s hand and say hello before the interview. He is used to being the one who has to put people at ease and he did it effortlessly with warmth and charm. He is the most influential musician of the past hundred years and he acted as if he were a bloke at the pub.

It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, made all the more special to be able to share it with a very old friend, the one I have to thank for introducing me to them in the first place.

Leigh Sales’ interview with Paul McCartney, including that incredible backstage access, airs tonight on 7.30 on the ABC.

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