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Heather McCartney Interview!

Date: 06 Feb 1999
Time: 16:59:18
Remote Name: 171-82-84.ipt.aol.com


From the Daily Mirror: This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph.

MUM WAS ALWAYS THERE FOR ME THROUGH THE INSANITY OF LIFE. NOW THERE ARE DAYS WHEN I CAN'T GO OUT Heather McCartney's resemblance to her mother is striking - the same stringy yellow hair, hawkish nose and square-edged forehead. Even her clothes could be Linda's - black jeans, desert boots and a sensible fleece.

But whereas Linda McCartney always had about her an air of confidence and defiance, Heather is hunched and nervy. A half-smoked roll-up - the first of many cigarettes over the next hour - smoulders in the ashtray at her elbow.

Her eyes, rimmed with shaky liner, are watery with barely contained tears.

"You'll have to be patient with me. You'll have to help me here," she says, "because, each day, I don't know what I am going to be capable of.

"It sounds pathetic, but there are times when I can't pick up the phone, days when I can't get food in the house. I do what I can, but it is new ground for all of us."

It is ten months since Linda's death and, although the McCartneys are tight-knit and supportive of one another, Heather still feels an aching void.

The others, while no less bereft, have immersed themselves in projects of new beginnings - Paul, for example, has absorbed himself in the animal rights issues that Linda promoted so vociferously, and Stella has hurled herself back into the world of high-profile couture.

Meanwhile, Mary the photographer daughter, has married and James is pursuing his music career.

Heather, the least public of the McCartney children, has always been the most emotionally closed.

"I have not talked to the people who are close to me, because they have known that I can't really deal with it," she says.

"My friends are very tolerant. They've said, 'We won't call you, but we're here if you need us, and you can knock on our door 24 hours a day'."

This year, she has decided, will be different.

In January, she finally emerged from a kind of self-imposed social purdah and flew to a trade fair in Atlanta, Georgia, to promote a designer collection of cushions, candles and other household goods that she has been working on for the past four years. Her father accompanied her for moral support.

I haven't known whether I can take my dog out each day, let alone stand there in front of all those people. But it had to be done," she says.

"And having my father there helped. I knew that if I felt overwhelmed, he would say, 'We've got to go now. Bye,' and he would get me out. He has always guided me like that. Protected me."

At 36, Heather has never quite broken away form the security cordon of her family - her home is a small cottage, only a couple of miles from the McCartney farm near Rye, East Sussex.

For our meeting, she chose an unassuming cafe off a Covent Garden side street in central London - it later transpires that it serves food from the Linda McCartney cookbook. She has also brought along daddy's PR, who places a tape recorder on the table and helpfully shares his Marlboros with her when the roll-up tobacco runs out.

Heather may be the eldest of the McCartney offspring, but she is also clearly the most sensitive and fragile. Her voice wobbles occasionally and she fidgets constantly with her turquoise and silver bangles.

Though Paul and Linda put great store by the "normal" life they provided for their children - raising them in the country, sending them to state schools and letting them mix with ordinary people - Heather had a more complicated upbringing.

Her natural father is the American geologist Melville See - Linda's first husband - and her early years were spent in America.

That marriage lasted barely 18 months and, for almost four years, Linda raised Heather alone.

"She was a brilliant single mother - completely together," Heather recalls.

"She would get me to school, go and do a full day's work, get me back home, make sure I had eaten. I was very lucky that I got to be there at that part of her life."

Linda met Paul when her daughter was five. Their subsequent marriage meant that Heather not only had a new "father" - he adopted her soon afterwards - but that she also had to adjust to a new life in Britain.

It was undoubtedly an unsettling time. Within a couple of years, her half-sister Mary had been born; meanwhile Paul was going through the break-up of the Beatles and Linda was being vilified for not being Jane Asher.

Heather adapted quickly to her new father, and remembers accompanying his new group, Wings, on tour wherever they went.

She never felt less than loved and cherished she says, but admits she had difficulties forming friendships with other children.

"I never actually fitted in. When I was at school, I was always the one who was standing back. I remember thinking: 'Those people over there are doing that, and I am over here - and I don't know quite why.' We were moving round so much that I never settled in any school.

"There are a lot of gaps in my education. But I didn't feel isolated - I actually felt lucky. I was never told to behave in a certain way; I was just encouraged to be who I am."

She was 13 when the family finally settled in their Sussex homestead - perhaps too late for her to adjust to a conventional academic routine.

She did not do well at school ("I can't even spell," she says, shrugging), and unlike her high-achieving parents and more confident sisters and brother, she had no idea what to do with her life.

She had various jobs - washing up in pubs, serving behind a night-club bar, working in a wildlife park - but she seemed to be drifting.

Finally, encouraged by her mother, she took up printing at the Photographers' Workshop in Covent Garden, and was talented enough to win the Young Black and White Printer of the Year award. Her success encouraged her to go on to art college, where she discovered a talent for pottery and design.

"It also gave me a time with normal people," she says, a touch wistfully.

In her early twenties, she had what was then described as a "personal identity crisis".

The facts are that she was admitted to a Sussex clinic, suffering from depression, but she refuses to elucidate any further.

Therapy helped, but the real turning point came a couple of years later when she travelled to Mexico on a whim, and spent several months living among natives of the Huichol and Tarahumara tribes.

"The first time I went down there, I had $200 in my pocket. My mum and dad didn't say, 'You're being taken care of here'. They allowed me to experience it for myself, and that was very important to me.

"I spent time with people who weren't interested in money. They didn't want the latest washing machine or television. They had nothing, but they were happy. They just wanted to be left alone and allowed me to be - and I could relate to that."

The experience was a kind of liberation. She returned inspired, and began work on new designs, beginning with a collection of pottery that quickly had Wedgwood hailing her as "one of Britain's most exciting new talents".

Her latest work is a bold and brightly coloured range - called the Heather McCartney Housewares Collection - which she hopes to sell through major stores.

Even so, she lacks confidence: she barely talks about her new work and seems much more concerned about the environment, animal welfare, vegetarianism - all the things about which her mother cared so passionately. But above all, she just talks about Linda and her "true essence."

"We just want to keep it with us - none of us wants to dilute it."

Each of the McCartney children received a posthumous present from their mother to open on their first Christmas without her. Heather's was an exquisite pot of Dame Lucie Rie, one of her favourite ceramicists.

"I think the biggest thing, the thing that is very hard, is that Mum was always there for me through the insanity of life," she says, fighting to control her tears.

"She would call, and suddenly I would think: 'Yes, everything is all right. Mum was very much like that - she kept everyone together.

"When people started missing the point and didn't know quite where they were, she could join the pieces back together. "It wasn't until she died that I knew I would never again in my whole life meet another woman with the strengths that she had."

She sees her father frequently. Paul, she says, is showing a "huge amount of courage".

"He's doing everything that Mum did: he's doing it all. He gets up, he does his meditation, he cleans his vegetables for his evening meal and then he goes to work.

"When he comes home, he cooks, washes his own dishes, takes the dogs out."

As she talks, one has the strong impression that she remains somewhat in awe of her parents' relationship.

"I think relationships are very hard. My Mum and Dad were married 29 years, and I know it wasn't always easy. You have to work at it.

"I don't think anyone would share their life with me because I give people too much of a hard time. Maybe because I was originally a single child, I am very independent and stubborn.

"I stick with what I know because that gives me confidence, but it also means that anyone who comes into my life has to be very tolerant and very giving and generous. I'm very insecure, really, so I do all the wrong things.

"I get jealous at the wrong time. I don't normally wake up and put on my make-up. I don't really do the 'girl thing' and I think that's very hard for men."

For all her advantages - adoring her parents, financial security, her evident creative talent - Heather remains very vulnerable.

Even her mother could not imbue her with the self-esteem that would appear to be her birthright.

I ask her why she is still so insecure, and there is a long pause.

"I think it's because there have been times when I've shown people what I am really like, and they've not been able to deal with it," she says eventually.

"And when that happens, it makes me question what it is about me that people can't cope with.

"But I'm through that now. I'm comfortable on my own.

"I don't need to be with other people - unless they actually feel they want to be with me."

MGN, Ltd, 1997,

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