AFTER four decades as one of the most famous faces in the world, Sir Paul McCartney has learned to be pretty relaxed about press attention.
Despite drug convictions and lawsuits, the musician has maintained his reputation as the Nice Beatle, and has enjoyed 40 years of good relations with Fleet Street.
So could this really be the same Sir Paul who reportedly flew into a rage, pushed a photographer and unleashed a torrent of four-letter words on a night out in London.
The incident, on Thursday, led to a public spat between Sir Paul and his long-serving press secretary Geoff Baker, who announced yesterday morning he had been sacked, but by the afternoon claimed the whole incident had been "a joke".
Police are investigating claims the musician’s aides assaulted Evening Standard photographer Kevin Wheal and broke his camera, while Sir Paul’s entourage have claimed they were attacked by Mr Wheal.
Sir Paul and a group of friends were on a "boy’s night out" and had eaten out in Soho when they went to see American illusionist David Blaine, who is attempting to survive for 44 days without food in a Perspex box suspended next to the Thames in Central London.
Sir Paul’s wife Heather, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child, was at home in St John’s Wood.
Mr Wheal, 42, said: "I approached Paul McCartney with my camera ready to take a photo. Then his friends, who seemed more like minders to me, grabbed hold of me and pushed my camera towards the ground. They told me that under no circumstances can I take a picture. One of them said: ‘There’s no f***ing way you’re going to take a picture mate’.
"I said I only wanted to take a photo and I am doing my job. With that, Paul McCartney came up. He pushed me with his open palm on my chest and said ‘F*** off. It’s a private visit. I’ve come to see this stupid c***’.
"He left, but the others stayed there with me, and then one of them grabbed my arm and the other punched me several times in the face. I feel outraged. I had more respect for Paul, he’s a man of such legendary status. I considered him to be a family character."
The star then allegedly turned his anger on Evening Standard reporter Abul Taher, who asked if he had come to see Blaine. "F*** off, I’m not saying anything and you can quote me on that."
Sir Paul then allegedly abused a fan who asked to shake his hand. Recruitment consultant Vaseem Adnan said the star told him: "F*** off. I am not shaking your hand. I am a pedestrian on a private visit."
Mr Adnan, a father-of-two, said: "I feel insulted and belittled. That was out of order."
The trouble started when Mr Baker, a former journalist who has been with Sir Paul for 14 years, decided to tell Mr Wheal he could take some discreet shots of the star.
Mr Baker said: "I, very stupidly, told a photographer that Macca was around. I tipped the guy off and said to him to be very subtle about photographing him. Unfortunately, the guy started rattling off a load of photographs.
"Paul was quite rightly upset. There was shouting and at one point, Paul and his mates were standing up against the photographers."
Sir Paul then turned his anger on Mr Baker, telling him: "You are bang out of order. You are fired now." Mr Baker said later his boss was "incandescent."
A police officer on duty at the scene claimed Sir Paul had been drinking but Mr Baker denied that, although he admitted he himself had "had a few".
Yesterday morning Mr Baker told the press he was out of work, saying: "I have been working for Paul for 14 years. I have no idea what I am going to do now."
Mr Baker counselled the star through the long illness and death of his wife Linda and has also helped him deal with hostile press reports about his new wife Heather. He has also been instrumental as a go between in Sir Paul’s rows with Yoko Ono over the songs he wrote with John Lennon.
Mr Baker hinted he was looking for a new source of income, saying: "I’m available for parties and poledancing." But by the afternoon, he claimed the sacking had been ‘a joke’ and reports of a fight had been exaggerated."Reports that this was a fracas, or anything other than friends on a night out, are highly exaggerated," he said.
However, a Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed inquiries were ongoing. "Officers became aware of a dispute between a group of friends, a photographer and other members of the public. We have received two counter-allegations of common assault."