Julia Baird: My brother John Lennon’s love for Scotland was blatant
Few people will ever know what it’s like to have a sibling forever remembered and discussed the world over, but that is the reality for Julia Baird, who has now lived the greater portion of her life deprived of John’s physical presence, yet surrounded by his imperishable legacy.
At the end of the 1970s, the inimitable icon John Winston Ono Lennon, who would have turned 80 last month, was longing for his family and reflecting on boyhood summers spent in Scotland.
Had his life not been cut tragically short in New York City 40 years ago this December, the former Beatle would have returned. An audio recording, made shortly before his death, confirms his intention to take second son Sean to Edinburgh in 1981.
For John’s eldest sister, Julia, the knowledge that her big brother, who she hadn’t seen in over a decade, had been planning to come home was excruciating.
"It’s sad beyond words,” Julia told Scotland on Sunday, “it’s almost a parody; you could not make it up.
“When he left for the United States in 1971, nobody, including John, knew he’d be gone forever.”
Lennon’s love for Scotland is legion. As a youngster, he made the journey up from Liverpool often and struck up a brother-like bond with his cousin, Stan Parkes – “Stan was lovely; absolutely adorable,” says Julia - and had great affection for his maternal aunt, Elizabeth, known to her family as Mater, and dentist uncle, Bert Sutherland, who owned a neat terraced property in the affluent Murrayfield area of Edinburgh.
In the summer, the family would drive up to their croft in remote Durness, Sutherland, where John fell in love with the rugged scenery and boundless freedom offered to him.
Six-and-a-half years his junior and brought up in a separate household, Julia never joined her brother on any of his trips, but, along with younger sister Jacqui Dykins, she too regularly visited Mater [who John and his sisters “adored”], Bert and Stan and had the same experiences as John.
The sisters’ first visit, however, came immediately after their beloved mother, who they shared with John and was also named Julia, was killed in a car accident in 1958. Their father Bobby stricken with grief, the pair were sent more than 200 miles away to stay with Mater and Bert.
The heartbreaking news of their mother’s passing was hidden from the young girls – Julia was aged 11 and Jacqui, just 8 – until their return home to Liverpool around three months later.
Now a devout Scoto-phile – she gratefully receives a consignment of Aberdeen butteries and an Oor Wullie annual from one of her many Scottish friends every year – Julia says the country no longer reminds her of those dark days.
"That was our first big introduction – not the best way to meet a country,” says Julia, who is now 73, “but I have disassociated the pain of the first visit from the beauty of Scotland.
"We’d always stay in Edinburgh and then all head north to Durness. It is beyond stunning up there.”
Quizzed on whether she is fed up being asked what it’s like to have John Lennon as her brother, Julia nods.
She says: "He was our brother, but the implication is that John was a superstar from the moment he was born, and that we were living in the gilded cage with John Lennon, ‘Beatle’.
"We learned to separate John the icon from John the brother. It’s instinctive.”
In spite of their age gap, John and Julia were close, but contact would become increasingly rare as The Beatles’ unprecedented ascension to the ‘toppermost of the poppermost’ breached escape velocity.
Julia last laid eyes on John in the spring of 1969, shortly before the infamous Highlands prang in a borrowed Austin Maxi that resulted in John, new wife Yoko Ono, John's first son Julian and Yoko’s daughter Kyoko, being rushed to the Lawson Memorial Hospital near Inverness.
Following John’s post-Beatles move to New York and the titanic struggle with Nixon and the FBI to remain in the US, there was radio silence. Julia and John lost contact.
John’s 18-month fling, his ‘Lost Weekend’, with personal assistant May Pang in Los Angeles in 1973 would turn the tide.
Julia explains: “One thing we have to thank May Pang for was that she told him, ‘get in touch with your family’. Julian was the first, of course, and it wasn’t long before he was out there with John.
"It was Mater who rang me and said ‘Hi Ju, a nice bit of news: John’s looking for you’, and she passed me his number.”
From then on, until his death, Julia’s communication with her brother was restored.
At one point, Julia almost asked John to purchase, not just the family croft in Durness, but the entire region, when the land was up for sale in the mid-1970s.
John Lennon’s lairdship, however, would remain a dream.
Julia says: "Our cousin David rang me and said we should get John to buy it, to which I replied, ‘we can’t ask him to buy a county!’.
"Later on, John found out about it and said, ‘I wish I’d known – I would’ve bought it’.
"John’s love for Scotland is blatant there. He obviously had really fond memories, tied in with the fact that we all loved Mater. We truly did”.
An author and retired teacher, Julia Baird is a director at The Cavern Club in Liverpool, where The Beatles cut their teeth in the early 1960s.
In 2018, The Salvation Army designated Julia the role of Honorary President of the Strawberry Field project, which was set up to bring the iconic suburban garden in Liverpool back to life.
Immortalised in the famous Beatles song written by Julia’s brother John Lennon, Strawberry Field reopened as a tourist attraction and youth centre in September 2019.
In agreeing to this article being published, Julia wishes to acknowledge the following friends in Scotland: Lynne and Liam (Bridge of Don); Craig, Naomi and James (Glasgow); Denise, Jim and family (Moffat); and John Corrigan.
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