The Beatle's son reveals the woman who inspired the famous song has
an incurable illness
June 7, 2009
Richard Brooks, Arts Editor
MORE than 40 years after John Lennon wrote Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds, his son has gone to the help of the real Lucy, who is now
suffering from an incurable disease.
Lucy O'Donnell, who was at nursery school in Surrey with Julian
Lennon, became "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes" as the subject of
one of the Beatles' most famous songs, written at the height of their
flirtation with psychedelia.
Julian had drawn a picture with starlike shapes before telling his
father that it was "Lucy in the sky with diamonds".
His father used it as a title for a song he penned for the Sgt
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which was released in 1967.
Lucy, now 46, is suffering from lupus, an auto-immune disease where
the body attacks its own cells, causing immense pain and organ breakdown.
Two months ago Julian, who lives in France, heard through his
personal assistant, who knows Lucy's sister, that she was chronically
ill. "I've been able to help out a bit," he said. "I was so upset to
hear what had happened."
Julian revealed the plight of his father's unwitting muse now Lucy
Vodden after marrying 13 years ago in an interview with The Sunday
Times ahead of a new exhibition of John Lennon memorabilia.
It marks a "reconnection" with his father's memory. Lennon divorced
his mother, Cynthia, when Julian was five, to free him to marry Yoko
Ono, and then rarely saw him for years after.
They were later partly reconciled and Julian, who has had his own
successful musical career, made his musical debut at the age of 11 on
his father's Walls and Bridges album, playing drums on Ya Ya.
Julian enjoyed immediate success with his debut album Valotte in
1984. It reached the top 20 album chart and spawned the No 6 single,
Too Late For Goodbyes. His last hit was in 1991 with the single
Saltwater, which also reached No 6.
He has also had interests in film-making, sailing, sculpting and an
internet business. WhaleDreamers, a documentary he produced and
narrated about an an aboriginal tribe and its relationship to whales,
was shown at the Cannes film festival two years ago.
Julian says he has finally forgiven his father for the appalling way
he treated both him and his mother. "There is nothing but love now,"
he said. "If he was able to come into the room now, we'd hug and cry."
After Lennon was murdered in New York in 1980, Julian had few
keepsakes from his father. During the past two decades he has spent
£1m buying up a collection of Lennon's possessions. "It is in a way
horrendous that this is what I needed to do to get my father's
possessions," said Julian. "Yet I'm lucky too that I now have the money."
He says the hostility between him and Ono, as well as his
half-brother Sean, is in the past.
He and his mother Cynthia will appear together at a ceremony on June
16 when he will lend his collection to the Beatles museum in Liverpool.
It includes hand-written recording notes by Paul McCartney of Hey
Jude, a song originally written as Hey Jules to console the then
five-year-old Julian during his parents' divorce. The collection also
includes Lennon's Afghan coat and his cape from the film Help!.
The whereabouts of Julian's painting of Lucy Vodden is uncertain,
although at one stage it was in Cynthia's possession. Vodden says she
never saw him drawing her but believes the painting must be worth at
When Julian initially heard of her illness he sent a huge bunch of
flowers to her home in Surbiton, Surrey, with a personally written
card. He followed up with garden centre gift vouchers because he had
learnt that she took solace in looking at her plants.
"It was lovely of Julian," said Lucy, who has only seen him once 23
years ago at one of his concerts since they were both four. Julian
did, however, send a greeting when Lucy married Ross Vodden in 1996.
"We were two very energetic school kids," she said. "He would say,
'Come on, Lucy,' to get me to do things. He was the bravest boy in
school whom I recall jumping into a freezing swimming pool." She
remembers Cynthia as being "lovely" but Lennon being "loud and frightening".
For many years there was speculation that Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds referred to the drug LSD. "Not so," said Vodden.
Some have suggested that "Lucy" was Lucy Richardson, who was several
years older than Julian and attended the same school. She later
worked as an art editor in the film industry on such movies as
Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, and Chocolat, starring Juliette
Binoche and Johnny Depp. "Wrong again," said Vodden.
Julian suffered his own drink and drug problems. A new album, the
aptly titled Everything Changes, is due out within the next year.
Over the years he has often criticised his late father. "But that is
now all in the past," he said. "Yes, Mum and I were treated with
disrespect. Yes, there was a lot of anger from Dad towards the two of
us, but I can now understand why. Maybe it's the passing of time and
me being older.
"I was actually very like Dad as we were both angry young men. He had
locked all his emotions away about his own mother. It then came out as anger."
Lennon's mother Julia left when he was five and they were only
reunited in his teens. She died in a car accident when Lennon was 17
while on the way to visit him at his aunt Mimi's home, where he lived.
"I too became extremely short-tempered and snide," said Julian. "But
I've moved on. I'm a relatively happy camper now."
This weekend Cynthia, who lives in Spain, is staying with Julian in
France. The two will travel to Liverpool next week to open the
exhibition at The Beatles Story, which also includes a letter from
Lennon to Cynthia after the divorce where he admits "being a
bastard". The exhibition will include recordings from both Julian and
Cynthia reliving their life with Lennon.
Julian says he never went to auctions himself to buy. "I would look
at the catalogues, work out what I'd like and could afford, and send
someone to bid. Some items I could not afford."
Julian now gets on very well with Sean, the son of Lennon and Ono,
who is also a musician. "It's a fabulous relationship," he said.
Julian tells how he was in Croatia two years ago where Sean was
playing. "I surprised him after the show by coming backstage. I then
went with him in the van on the tour. We met up again last month when
he was at the Cannes film festival with his girlfriend. There is not
an ounce of anger between us." Describing himself as "the polar
opposite" of his former self with a diet these days of salads,
exercise and just the occasional drink, Julian always had a very good
relationship with McCartney and George Harrison. "George and I were
very close. He was one of the nicest and most generous people.
"Paul and I have always exchanged birthday and Christmas cards, and I
last saw him in Las Vegas a couple of years ago."
Julian was excluded from his father's will after his murder, but
eventually reached an agreement with Ono under which she gave him a
large but undisclosed sum.
He now describes their relationship as cordial. "I unleashed hell on
her, but we've made our peace. We're okay." The two had dinner
together last year in New York. "There was no point in continuing the
anger. It's a waste of time and energy," he said.