Julia Baird: My brother the Beatle

JULIA Baird, John Lennon's half-sister, turned 13 in 1960, before anyone had heard of her brother's band. But that was all about to change ...

"I remember turning 13, my father congratulating me and saying 'Now you're a teenager'. But in actual fact, nothing changed. My generation didn't become teenagers until we were 15 or 16.

"When Top of the Pops started in January 1964, everybody watched it. In our house, it was a bit of a fight at first. My aunt (who brought us up) said 'you're not watching that rubbish'. But we did. I remember watching Tom Jones singing It's Not Unusual; that was huge. Until then, we were still dancing the Twist. We used to practise at lunchtimes in school. But the dancers on Top of the Pops, Pan's People, were doing modern dance routines - very innovative, very sexy. We started learning those instead, and taking them along to the youth club.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"When my friends and I started to go into Liverpool by ourselves, when we were about 14, we would go to the Kardomah Coffee House to have cappuccino - they called it frothy coffee. It was modern and wonderful. I harassed to death to get a pair of jeans and eventually I got them. My father said they were ridiculous, too tight, and I thought they were wonderful.

"By the time I was 16, our style icon was Cathy McGowan, from the TV show Ready Steady Go. She had long, straight, black hair, so we all ironed our hair, on the ironing board under a damp towel. We all copied her eye make-up and spider lashes - black eyelashes painted down your cheeks. I wasn't allowed to [do that], so I had to put mine on under a bush down the road.

"When we were 16, my friend and I started hitchhiking to London. We never told my aunt; she would have gone crazy. Cathy McGowan wore black jeans, so we got black dye and my friend's mum dyed our jeans and cream polo necks, and we put dark rinses in our hair. When we got to London, our bodies were black - everything had run!

"Hitching was easy then. It was a way of life. Everything was becoming more free. We'd start chatting to people in the Tube station and get invited to parties. People always gave us a place to stay - we were never harmed.

"By the sixth form, we were all in love with Bob Dylan. We'd play truant and listen to him on the Dansette record player. I know drugs were around in Liverpool, although I have never had an interest in them. I went to a party where a boy who had taken something, probably LSD, jumped out the window and died. He was only 22. It was a big warning to us.

"All over the country, people were in groups. Liverpool was awash; everybody's brother was in a group. But a lot were forced by their parents to give up, to get on with their studies or get apprenticeships. Paul McCartney's father insisted he stayed on at school and did A-levels. Then [The Beatles] went to Hamburg, and when they came back, they played the Cavern and set Liverpool on fire.

'My sister and I went to stay with John and Cynthia in London in 1964. Cynthia took us to Harrods and I came away with a proper black ribbed polo neck, with dye that didn't run.

"The Beatles were playing Finsbury Park Astoria in north London and we pleaded to be allowed to watch from the front. John said we'd get crushed, but we insisted. In the end, they had to haul us across the stage to get us out of the crush. There was a party that night, but John sent us back to the house with Cynthia. He wasn't going to allow his women to party!

"If we wanted to do wild things, we did them away from home. At home, you had to be respectful. You couldn't get drunk, or have your boyfriend staying overnight in your room. If you did have a boyfriend round, he came to tea and then caught the bus home. We accepted that, but we knew the way out was to leave home and we couldn't wait. All my friends left home at 18.

"At university, I spent a year in France and marched in Paris against the war in Vietnam, alongside Simone de Beauvoir. My friends and I hitched around Europe and came back with flowers in our hair - our hair, our shoes, everywhere. We might have missed the boat initially, but we made up for it later!"

• Imagine this: Growing up with John Lennon, by Julia Baird, is out now, published by Hodder & Stoughton.