He and his daughter Mary fire up the barbecue and explain why family and food go hand in hand
“Oh most wonderful father,” intones Sir Paul McCartney, his hands clasped in front of him like a Victorian patriarch delivering grace.
“Almost wonderful father,” his daughter Mary sings back.
“Who we really revere…”
“Who we really fear…”
“Who really makes us tick…”
“Who really makes us sick…”
Thirty years on, it’s a rare glimpse into the private world of Paul McCartney, a playful two-hander that he and his late wife Linda shared with the children before meals at their Peasmarsh estate in Sussex, or on the family farm in Scotland.
“Can you believe it, Dad,” says Mary, “I’ve got my kids saying this now.”
So a family ritual passes down from one generation to another. But it also shows how Paul’s legendary insistence on shielding his young family from his fame was a two-way street. He had capped his success with the Beatles and was performing with Wings, but he got no favours at home. “It was just our way of making Dad not feel too special,” Mary remembers. “You can always rely on kids to bring you back down to reality.”
At 38, professional photographer Mary is still doing a good job of keeping her father in check, setting him to work prepping vegetables for the first barbecue of the summer, and telling him where to stand as she clicks away with her camera. “I’m used to the kids directing me,” smiles Sir Paul, as the most famous left hand in rock’n’roll picks up a paring knife, “and hopefully I do it with good grace.”
They like to get together as much as they can. “It’s not as often as it used to be, when all the kids were living together,” says Paul, who at 66 looks a decade younger, “but Mary will cook for me if I’m in London.” “At weekends we kind of hang out,” adds Mary, who is expecting her third child at the end of July. “Like a lot of families we are kitchen-orientated. It’s the room we hang out in a lot. And we try to get together for Christmas.”
“This year, we were 17 around the table. I counted,” says Paul, who by now has sliced his courgettes and chopped the ends off his asparagus, and turned his attention to the barbecue.
He’s a charcoal man, through and through. “I married an American, you see. In England at that time we didn’t barbecue – it was an American or Aussie thing. And I thought I should try it.
I said to Linda, ‘Would you like that?’ So I got quite good.”
He says fire-making is in his blood. “I was a Boy Scout. I was kind of not inner city, but Liverpool council estate, so it was nice to get away, experience nature. I’ve got a deep love for it. I do a lot of work in the woods, so over the years I’ve learnt to make a good fire. My dad was a fireman and sometimes I do music underground and use the pseudonym of The Fireman, so there’s a lot of fire in my history.
“After I’d burnt a few things and realised how long it didn’t take – things don’t take as long as you think – yeah, I got to be quite a dab hand at it all. You’ve got to just keep turning and turning.”
Being the first family of vegetarianism, today’s feast is of course a meat-free affair. Mary has brought some veggie burgers and sausages from the Linda McCartney range of frozen foods, which she has marinated in her mother’s home-made BBQ sauce. There’s also cornbread and fresh salsa, chargrilled mushrooms with rosemary and garlic, and salads, all from Linda’s Home Cooking, published in 1989 and still the fastest selling vegetarian cookbook of all time.
At the barbecue, Paul beats out a tune with the tongs and sings snatches from the Monkees theme tune as he turns burger flipper. “People say ‘Why have substitutes, why not just eat vegetables or just eat meat?’ Well, it’s so you can take part in the social traditions of a barbecue. You can have your mates round and by the time you’ve got the bun toasted, bit of mayo, lettuce, onion, tomatoes, pickles and burger, hardly anyone will even remotely know the difference.
“One pivotal moment was when had we Steve Martin, the American comedian, round, and I opened up the barbecue, which I’d closed to smoke the burgers a bit, and he said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t have any of that. I’m a vegetarian.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got good news for you, mate. Everything on here is veggie.’ He had about three.”
Paul can’t remember who first suggested they give up meat in the early Seventies. “I always assumed it was Linda, and she thought it was me. We were sitting down eating a leg of lamb on a Sunday in Scotland and newborn lambs were gambolling outside the window, and we went, ‘Whoah, we’re eating one of their legs.’”
It is ten years since Linda died of cancer, and Paul and Mary agree it was an unwritten promise they would keep her food brand going. “It’s really personal to us because it is carrying on Mum’s message,” says Mary. “We know what she would and wouldn’t have wanted.” They go to all the tastings, just as they did when Linda was alive. “Nothing goes through without the McCartney say-so,” explains Paul. “It has to, because it’s our name on the packet.”
Necessity has made Paul more interested in food these days. “When I first met Linda, I was living in St John’s Wood, a real bachelor existence – a musician, even worse – and she used to joke she’d looked in my fridge and there was just a half bottle of sour milk and some crusty stale Cheddar, and she said, ‘Not very encouraging. Right, we’ll be changing that.’
“But when I was with Linda I didn’t cook much, because she was so good. She and the kids would do all the meals. So I took a secondary role. But more recently I’ve been having to cook for myself and I love it. Just the other day I made a lasagne for the first time in my life and used Linda’s book. The only panic was when my lasagne sheets got stuck together. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a housewife moment.’ It said to put them in boiling water and I should have done it one by one, but I put them in all at once. I must say it came out brilliant, though. I was very proud of myself.”