Ringo Starr on The Beatles, photography and life in Cranleigh
PUBLISHED: 10:48 08 April 2014 | UPDATED: 13:22 27 April 2018
As a one-time member of arguably the greatest band ever, it's reassuring to know that former Beatle Ringo Starr has chosen Surrey as his home. Here, in an exclusive interview, he chats to us about his music, photography and life in leafy Cranleigh...
He may be one of Britain’s best- known drummers, but if things had turned out differently, Ringo Starr could just as easily have ended up cutting hair in Surrey. Even at the height of Beatlemania, he was convinced it wouldn’t last and famously wired a large amount of cash to an aunt – enough to open a barbershop, his life-long dream – for when the whole thing came crashing down.
Five decades on and the Surrey-based sticks-man is an MBE, worth an estimated £150m, and a one-time member of arguably the greatest band of all time. But Ringo remains admirably grounded in coping with fame. He recognises how lucky he was to replace Pete Best and join The Beatles, fitting in almost seamlessly. The band’s phenomenal success allowed him to escape poverty, to see the world and ultimately to settle here in Surrey.
“When you’ve grown up around the dusty backstreets of Liverpool, you don’t ever expect to end up comfortable and settled in the leafy surrounds of Surrey,” he tells us. “It’s a world away from everything I knew, but a fantastic world, and a beautiful place.”
He first moved here in 1965. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, wanted all of the Fab Four to live close together, and chose the Surrey countryside to help escape the glare of the world’s press. Ringo bought Sunny Heights in Weybridge, while the others moved in nearby. He married Maureen in 1965, but by 1971, they had moved into Lennon’s old place, Tittenhurst Park at Sunninghill, with their son, the drummer Zak Starkey.
The couple divorced in 1975, but Ringo returned to Surrey with Barbara Bach, his second wife, settling in Cranleigh in a 17th century mansion with over 200 acres of land. Nowadays, they divide their time between here and LA, but Ringo is firm on the fact that “home is England.” His house, he says, rather underplaying the magnificence of the country pad, is “great”.
Today, when he’s not relaxing at home in leafy Cranleigh, he remains as busy as ever. As well as touring the world with his own group, The All Starr Band, he was recently reunited with Beatles bandmate Sir Paul McCartney at the Grammy Awards for their first public performance together for several years. After months of speculation, the pair shared the stage for a rendition of McCartney’s single Queenie Eye to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the band’s first appearance on US television. They were also announced as the winners of the Recording Academy’s lifetime achievement award.
“Wow, what a night that was, celebrating the anniversary of The Beatles landing in America,” says Ringo, whose performance with Sir Paul received a rapturous reception. “Fifty years ago, on the seventh of February, The Beatles landed in New York. Peace and love to everybody who participated.”
While it wasn’t a U-turn as such, it does paper over the pair’s often tremulous relationship. It wasn’t that long ago Ringo said: “We are as close as we want to be.” However, they appeared to be the best of friends on stage – indeed, he tells us he’d even join McCartney’s band – if Macca changed the name. “Well, yeah, that would be good, but he’d have to call it Ringo’s,” he jokes.
In all honesty, he doesn’t need to join his old friend’s group. His own music collective, The All Starr Band – featuring musicians from Toto, Mr Mister and Santana – recently toured Latin America to great acclaim and he still thoroughly enjoys drumming. So what is it that keeps him going?
“It’s a dream for me,” he says simply. “From 13, I wanted to play the drums. I wanted to play with good people and I’m still doing it. I still love it today so that’s why I do it.
“We jam together a lot. Todd [Rundgren, famed producer, guitarist and band member] put it in a nutshell: this band musically is all great players and all great musicians, but the spirit of the band is very close too. That’s how it is; this is just a really good band.”
Meanwhile, with his other hat on as a keen photographer, Ringo is also in the throes of promoting Photograph, a sort of visual autobiography published by Guildford-based book specialists Genesis. He’s always been an enthusiastic snapper, but admits he doesn’t take as many photos as he used to: “I realised that I was so busy taking photos or videoing what was going on that I wasn’t actually at the party. So now I’m more at the party and I take pictures anyway.”
The book contains many pictures from the glory days, with vivid black and white shots from back in the 1960s. Does he ever look at them and wish he could go back, to relive those moments?
“I’d like to go back, yes,” he says, pointing at an old picture of himself looking pensive. “I wonder, what the hell was I thinking?”
He hesitates. “But those moments are gone. I’m just lucky I captured them, because I got a lot of stuff over the years. So, you see a photo and instantly it brings you back, and that’s the same with a lot of the Beatles shots. In fact, what’s more interesting to me are the shots outside the car, because we were always in the car, all four of us, going wherever we went. It was a very exciting time.”
With each of the limited edition books signed by the star, who is also donating the royalties to the charity he founded, the Lotus Foundation, the first edition sold out almost immediately – but he tells us the second installment is on its way, adding “you’re gonna love it.”
It’s been a few years now since Ringo’s infamous video statement in which he pledged to stop giving autographs and he requested that people refrain from sending him fan mail, ending the short message with his trademark “peace and love” complete with hand sign. However, these days, he’s happy to make an exception for his books.
“It’s because it’s for a good cause,” he explains. “It’s for the charity, so that’s why I sign. I just don’t sign on the street anymore. Mainly, I sign for the good cause so that we can contribute whatever we get back. In all honesty, and even The Simpsons have noted this, I’ve signed enough.”
A passionate supporter of several charities, that spirit was recognised just recently when he was honoured at film-maker David Lynch’s Foundation with the Lifetime of Peace and Love award: “Everybody loves Ringo,” said Lynch, of Twin Peaks fame. “Not just because he’s a Beatle, not just because he’s one of the tastiest drummers ever, but because he radiates that peace and love.”
At 74, he certainly shows no sign of resting on his laurels. But, when all’s considered, Ringo has some great stories to tell (and show in Photograph), and history to embrace if he wants – reuniting with Sir Paul McCartney is something we can all enjoy – and a hot-shot band and millionaire’s lifestyle for the now.
And if that doesn’t work out? Well, he could always open that barbershop in Cranleigh...
My favourite Surrey...
Shop: I think you’d best ask my wife about that one!
View: I grew up in Liverpool and, as well as spending time in LA also have a place in Monaco. They’re very dense places, so Surrey offers great freedom and space, and there’s no nicer view than an uninterrupted vista over the immaculate Surrey countryside. It’s a world away from the views I had as a kid, and a great escapism.
Place to visit: We have some wonderful villages here in Surrey. You can just tour around – they are all charming.