SEAN'S LIVERPOOL ADVENTURE!

(Instant Karma! Issue #14 - February/March 1984)

Hot on the heels of their trip to Japan, during which Yoko gave a radio interview to Andy Peebles of the BBC, Yoko and Sean visited France, followed by a spur-of-the-moment trip to Liverpool. It all began on Monday, January 23, 1984 with a phone call from France (where Yoko was visiting friends) to Polydor promotions executive, Joe Beddington. Yoko said, "I want to come to Liverpool.." The stunned Beddington said, "That started the busiest 24 hours I have ever had." Beddington coordinated the visit, arranged the limos and the aircraft and accompanied Yoko and Sean throughout the trip. "She just felt the time was right for Sean to see the place, and that was it." Beddington said, "There was no fixed plan, really. She knew some of the things she wanted to see, and we took it from there."

Beddington hired three sleek limos from a Manchester company experienced in escorting pop stars for Y&S's day-long trip. According to the Liverpool Echo, Beddington spent the day "looking over his shoulder at the Keystone Cops capers of the media trying to keep up with Yoko." The trip began as their plane touched down at Manchester Airport at 9:20 AM January 24th, and, possibly inspired by the Paul and Linda dope bust just a short time earlier, Yoko's luggage was gone through by customs agents for over half-an-hour. In a recent "People" magazine article, the search was described as upsetting to Yoko, with the customs officers even digging into cold cream bottles. In the English press, Sean was described as puzzled by the search, and didn't seem to know what the customs people were looking for.

With the search finally over, Yoko's entourage of seven people, including what were described as "two muscular minders" (bodyguards are called minders in England) headed for the waiting limousines. The Liverpool Echo described the ensuing mayhem this way: "With just a flex of muscles, the two men they call 'The Mean Machine' announced that Yoko Ono and her son, Sean, had arrived at Manchester's International Airport. Yoko had emerged after a 30-minute customs search described as 'thorough' by a smiling customs officer, only to be swallowed up immediately by a rugby scrum of reporters, photographers and camera crews. It was then that the persuasive shoulders of her bodyguards - two former New York policemen who eat steak for breakfast and are karate black belts - moved into action. As they surrounded Yoko, Sean, looking startled and afraid, clung to her expensive coat. The media were bounced out of the way and other departing passengers knocked on the ground.

'Hey buddy, butt out,' said one of the bodyguards, sending a photographer spinning and his lens cap sprawling across the foyer. Since John's death, Yoko never travels without the two bodyguards who rely on actions rather than words. Yoko had not asked for special VIP treatment at the airport, which meant she had to run the gauntlet of waiting press to the fleet of cars waiting to whisk her away to Liverpool.

As the scrum moved steadily towards the door, powered by the Mean Machine, Yoko briefly said she was glad to be here in John's home before repeatedly asking would people 'please stop pushing.' The Mean Machine grinded on regardless towards the cars and after Yoko and Sean had bundled in, the cars roared off leaving a trail of frustrated reporters in their wake. The two bodyguards turned and waved through the back window as the cars sped away."

Yoko said at Manchester Airport that "(Sean) has never seen Liverpool and as this is John's birthplace, it is obvious that he has always wanted to come here. It will be an emotional visit, how emotional we can't tell until we have been there. Sean is very excited at seeing his father's birthplace."

"STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER"

First stop in Liverpool: Strawberry Field, the Salvation Army home for underprivileged children. When Yoko and Sean arrived, the 25 children and staff were working normally. According to the Daily Mirror, Sean "literally leapt for joy" when he saw Strawberry Field in Allerton. Yoko had told him all about it. Sean presented the staff with a color picture of his Mom and Dad signed, "with love" and then Yoko and Sean joined the staff in a prayer for John. Brigadier Branwell Derbyshire, a spokesman at Strawberry Field said, "We prayed that Sean would grow up to see the world through the eyes of a child." (A later report sent in by IK correspondent John O. Meade, said that Yoko and Sean went back to Strawberry Field for a second visit, quietly and inconspicuously, after the press had left the scene. Capt. David Bottig of the Field said, "It was really loving and very touching. They will always have a special place in our hearts.")

The English press fell in love with Sean as he charmed them with his disarming frankness. Sean described his feelings about finally making it to Liverpool: "I've been asing my Mom since I was about 3 if I could come here. She always said we could go in a couple of months. This is the first time I have been here and it feels great."

As Yoko and Sean toured the city, groups of people gathered on street corners, sharing their excitement with the Lennons. Next stop was Menlove Avenue where John lived and was raised by the legendary Aunt Mimi Smith. At Menlove, Sean was given a Cavern Club badge bearing the Cavern logo and Yoko ruffled Sean's hair and said it was his day, not hers. The Echo said, "He knew it was his day, too. His bright eyes darted to and fro at every stop along the long and winding roads of Liverpool. Looking every bit like an impish John Lennon, Sean proudly fixed the badge to his lapel."

"Give up your guitar"

Next they went past Penny Lane and Quarry Bank Comprehensive to the college where John studied art. After,a tour of the classrooms where Yoko persuaded Sean to try fish and chips for the first time. College staff sent out for them. The traditional British meal was served up in a newspaper, Cordon Bleu style. Charles Metcalfe, head of the fashion and textile department at the college said, "He thought they were just great." Yoko was given a copy of John's college report for 1958-1960 which showed he failed both his intermediate examinations. On it, his teacher remarked, "Give up your guitar, otherwise you will never pass your exams."

Another stop on the whirlwind tour was the Mersey River and when Sean pleaded for a ferry trip across it, Yoko reportedly put her foot down saying, "No, it's far too cold." At the Pier Head, Yoko smiled and looked up at the Liver Birds, pointing them out to Sean. The Echo reports: "(Sean's) chocolate button-brown eyes widened in amazement. 'Are they birds?' he asked and took a photograph of them." They also visited the Atlantic Tower Hotel near the ferry terminal where Sean gasped at an 8-foot statue of his father holding a guitar, that was on display in the foyer.

An Irish newspaper reported that Yoko and Sean also visited an Irish pub in Liverpool. Off Lime Street, tucked away among the high rise buildings, it was there that Yoko stopped off for a drop of sherry. It was a pub reportedly frequented by John and Stu Sutcliffe. Yoko was very pleased with the tour at this point and said, "Liverpool is really beautiful. I said I would bring Sean here one day, and I have always vowed to keep that promise."

But the main stop on the tour was a visit with Aunt Mimi. The Liverpool Echo reported that Mimi's sister, Anne, with whom Mimi is now living due to a serious heart condition, was as surprised as anyone by Yoko and Sean's visit, and was not even sure if they would visit Mimi.

AUNT MIMI AND AUNT ANNE

The Echo said: "One of the likely ports of call on Yoko's whistle-stop trip to Liverpool was the little semi-detached house in Wirral where her adoptive mother-in-law is now living. Mimi Smith, the woman who brought up John Lennon as her own son, has been staying at her sister's house for more than a year. Illness forced Aunt Mimi to move back up to Liverpool from her home in Poole, Dorset. She had an operation which left her with a heart condition and she hasn't been well enough yet to return to living on her own. Aunt Mimi was unable to comment early today, but her sister, Anne, another of John's aunts said, 'We would love to see Yoko, but we know nothing about this visit. She hasn't been in touch. She doesn't write to us and the last we heard from her and Sean was when we got our Christmas presents and they were very nice. We were very pleased.'

Anne went on: 'I last saw Yoko more than twelve years ago, but I have never seen Sean. Mimi has seen them both, but the last time she spoke to them on the phone was more than a year ago. Yoko is a jolly and friendly person. She didn't visit us when they were in London last year. It would be strange if she came to Liverpool without coming here, but we have heard nothing. We would like to see John's little boy. Mimi is still full of beans, but she is not strong enough to walk around. The doctor says she can have a look at her home again in Poole in the spring if she wants to. I was very close to John before he went to America and we were all very hurt when he died. It was just like when his mother died. America is a disgrace."

Later reports, though, dispelled any doubts about a visit from Yoko and Sean. The trip to Aunt Anne's Rock Ferry home was described this way by the Liverpool Echo: "After pleading with the press not to follow the fumes (of the limos) to Aunt Mimi's house in the Wirral, (Beddington's) drivers decided that actions and hand brake turns speak louder than words and with some deft handling, lost everyone except the Echo."

Yoko had been determined to keep the visit with Aunt Mimi private. Aunt Anne later described it this way: "It was just like seeing John walk through that door again. He is just like John, with the same mannerisms and everything - it's amazing." Yoko and Sean spent the afternoon with the two aunts who were so important in John's life. Aunt Anne said the visit went very well and that Mimi was thrilled. She went on: "Yoko also brought a copy of the latest record and autographed it for my son, Michael. Mimi is so much more cheerful now. I think the visit has done her good. She will remember today for a long time."

Another paper, from Ireland, said that Mimi was quoted as saying, "Sean is like John in every way - looks and manner, and he has got John's sense of humor. As long as he keeps away from music, he will be all right." (A familiar-sounding piece of advice from Aunt Mimi!) Yoko said of the visit: "(Sean) got on so well with Mimi, it was great. It was beautiful to meet her again. I had a lovely day - it was really beautiful. I'm glad that I came back here, and I'm glad I showed Liverpool to Sean."

On the way back from the visit with Mimi, their car broke down, but it didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the two visitors from America. From Ireland: "Asked about his favorite part of the visit, (Sean) had no doubts. Bubbling with enthusiasm, he declared: 'I liked Aunt Mimi's house best.' " As the day wound down, Yoko said, "We came to Liverool for Sean - it's his heritage. We've had a wonderful day." Sean added, reportedly looking longingly at his Mom, "It'd be great to come back.."

Yoko caught a quick hour's nap at the Adelphi Hotel after the visit with Mimi and while she slept, the hotel foyer was besieged by the press, the curious and the concerned, and even the puzzled remnants of a business convention. One portly man in pinstripes asked, "Yoko..who?"

So many people were crushed into the hotel inquiring about her, Yoko was able to fool them all. According to the Liverpool Echo: "Clutching Sean closely to her, she left through the side door, disappearing into the night along with those ever-faithful exhaust fumes."

At the hotel, Sean had been asked by reporters how he had enjoyed seeing the city and he showed some of his Lennon-style humor by replying: "You'll see it in the news, but I might as well say for the 100th time - I love it!" How did the British view the foreign woman who captured the heart of their Beatle? The Liverpool Echo said in its Wednesday, January 25th edition: "Yesterday, the 50-year-old former Japanese eccentric artist displayed dignity, charm and a genuine feeling of warmth and happiness to be here in John's hometown."

JULIAN-YOKO-SEAN

An Irish newspaper reported that one story that was missed that day by the "eagle-eyed world press" was the fact that during Yoko and Sean's stay in Liverpool, mutual friends arranged a reunion between Julian, Yoko and Sean. The paper said: "The two (Yoko and Julian) have become close friends since the former Beatle was murdered, and regularly phone each other across the Atlantic." The same article also expanded on the broken-down limo incident. While Yoko and company sat stranded on the curb, a woman appeared from a nearby house with steaming hot tea to keep them warm.

One final note. Sources in London who were in contact with people in Liverpool said that at one point, a fan rushed towards Yoko and asked her if she had seen something he'd sent her. Yoko's bodyguards restrained the man and Yoko took refuge in her limo. It was also noted that the press had been relentless in their pursuit of Yoko and Sean that day, literally jumping on their cars. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to keep a trip like theirs a secret for very long. One would just hope on their next visit, the press allows them a little space for less hectic sightseeing.


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