Ringo Starr: ‘Life has been very kind to me’

As Ringo Starr celebrates his 81st birthday he reveals the gift that always makes his day, his love for his Beatle 'brothers', the joy of family and being a great-grandad.

Ringo Starr

by Gabrielle Donnelly |

What do you get a Beatle for his birthday?

If you’re Ringo Starr the answer is simple – at noon on July 7, every single person in the world, wherever they are, whatever they are doing, stop for just a moment to say, think, or post online Ringo’s favourite phrase – ‘peace and love’.

“I’ve been asking this on my birthday for years,” he says. “It started in 2008 in Chicago. I was being interviewed just before my birthday and someone said, ‘Your birthday’s coming up, what would you like as a present from people?’ I said, ‘I’d like them all at noon to say peace and love’. A week later it actually was my birthday and we had a celebration with 100 people. At noon I counted down, ‘Three ... two ... one ... Peace and Love!’ And that’s how it started. I’ve done it every year and it’s been great.”

It’s astonishing to realise that Ringo was only a part of The Beatles for eight years. Since the group disbanded in 1970 he has had a flourishing solo career, including heading his All Starr Band, which celebrated its 30th anniversary four years ago. Yet he will be forever known best as a Beatle – and that, he says, is just fine by him.

The Beatles

“Well, I was in the best band in the world,” he points out, cheerfully. “And I loved those guys; they were brothers to me. Being an only child, the only thing I ever wanted was a brother, and I had three brothers in the other guys. And The Beatles were the best band in the land then, and they’re still relevant today to the next generation – if they’re interested in music, they listen to our stuff.”

The strange thing is that he nearly didn’t become a Beatle at all. When he was 19 he and a friend decided to leave England altogether and emigrate to America.

“I love the blues and I wanted to go and live in Houston because I wanted to be where Lightnin’ Hopkins was, my all-time favourite blues player. We were just teenagers and went down to the American Embassy and filled in all these forms. We took them back to the Embassy and they gave us more paperwork, with even more questions – sheets and sheets of it... we turned back into teenagers then and just ripped them up! I often look back on my life now and think who knows where I’d be now if I’d emigrated.”

As it was, he found himself just four years later launched into the whirlwind of Beatlemania: an experience that had its highs – such as meeting his hero Elvis Presley – as well as its lows – such as the tour to the Philippines in 1966 where the group found themselves kicked out of the country after a misunderstanding about a visit to the Presidential home.

Ringo and wife
Ringo Starr and his wife Barbara Bach

“We didn’t know what was going on. We’d done the show the night before, I was sharing a hotel room with John and we put the TV on in the morning and there were all these pictures of the Marcos’ children being miserable because we hadn’t turned up at the palace for a concert. We’d come into town with 25 outriders getting us to the hotel and we left back to the airport with just one motorbike. But we were young lads, we got on the plane and were off to the next place. It didn’t mean we didn’t still love the people in the Philippines. There were just a couple of them we didn’t love!”

Other occasions provided simple bemusement – such as the day he first met Yoko Ono.

“I walked into the studio and there she was in bed!” he says, laughing, adding that his then-wife Maureen Cox rarely came to the studio because they were working. “But this day I walked in and saw a bed and that felt pretty freaky. So I said to John, ‘What’s going on here?’ He said, ‘You know when you go home and Maureen asks you what you’ve been doing and you say, ‘Oh, we made a few tracks’, or ‘We had a cup of tea’, it’s like that. What Yoko and I are planning is that she’ll know exactly what I’m doing and I’ll know exactly what she’s doing, so we’ll really know each other.’ I was fine after that.”

Nearly half a century on Ringo lives quietly in Beverly Hills, listens to music and spends time with his family. He had three children with Maureen – Zak, Jason and Lee – and has been happily married to American actress Barbara Bach since 1981. He is close to Barbara’s children and has seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

“I’m an only child and I look around the table and think, ‘What? All these people are related to me?’ I have many blessings. Life has been kind to me.”

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