Ringo’s Starr is still shining at eighty
HE’S CHEATED death at least three times – once aged six. He used to drink so heavily years of his life are a blank. And he’s always been scorned as the least talented member of the world’s favourite pop group.
Yet on Tuesday Ringo Starr is 80: a greatgrandfather and teetotal vegetarian who meditates daily, was knighted by Prince William in 2018, divides his time between Los Angeles, London and Monaco, and is worth an estimated £285million.
Not bad for someone whose childhood was described by a Beatles biographer as a “Dickensian chronicle of misfortune”.
Among those who knew Ringo best in his pre-fab Four days was Bill Harry, a close friend of John Lennon’s, and who began the Mersey Beat newspaper that first charted their rise to fame.
“I first met him in the late 50s at the Jacaranda Club coffee bar where we all hung out,” recalls Bill, now 81. “He was always such a happy-go-lucky fella, so when he told me what he’d been through in his early life, I was amazed.”
The boy born in 1940 to mother Elsie was named after his father, confectioner Richard Starkey. His parents loved nights ballroom dancing; the trouble was that Richard senior continued to do so after his son’s birth, disappearing for days, and for good by the time Richy, as he became known, was three.
Following an appendix operation at six, he contracted deadly peritonitis and, though he pulled through, spent a year in hospital. He later caught tuberculosis and was in a sanatorium for two years. School remained a rarity until he left at 15. “His few appearances earned him the nickname Lazarus from other pupils,” laughs Bill.
Elsie had married again, to Londoner Harry Graves. He and the teenage boy got on, and one Christmas he presented his stepson with a second-hand drum kit (including an improvised dustbin lid cymbal). After playing skiffle with a chum from the school equipment factory where he was a machinist, Richy joined rock’n’roll band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. His nickname, “Rings” (after the three he always wore), evolved into Ringo Starr.
He met The Beatles when the Hurricanes played Hamburg’s bars. His solid beat, made more distinctive by being a lefthander playing a right-handed kit, impressed Lennon and Co enough to ditch their drummer, Pete Best, and pursue him.
“Another Liverpool group, called King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, offered Ringo £20 a week to join them,” says Bill Harry. “But The Beatles offered him £25.”
Hostile chants of “Pete forever, Ringo never” greeted his band debut at the Cavern, and when producer George Martin used a session drummer for their first single, Love Me Do, Ringo feared his career would be short-lived – until Beatlemania.
“He was the most popular Beatle in America,” says Bill. “Cher’s first single was Ringo I Love You, and there were numerous novelty records about him, one called Ringo For President.”
In 1965, he married Liverpool hairdresser Maureen Cox, who was 18 and pregnant. Son Zak arrived the day Yesterday was released (they had two other sons, Jason and Lee). Zak followed in his father’s drumsticks, playing with Oasis and becoming a long-standing member of thewho.
There were numerous mansions, one with go-kart track and pub, before the couple bought Tittenhurst Park near Ascot in 1973 from Lennon (where the latter performed Imagine on a white piano).
But by 1975, Ringo and Maureen were divorced. He admitted later he’d been “a drunk, a wife-beater and an absent father”.
The Beatles had broken up five years earlier. His solo career flourished briefly with hits such as Back Off Boogaloo and You’re Sixteen. But in 1979 Ringo nearly died again from peritonitis. The next year he walked away after his Mercedes hit two lampposts and overturned in Surrey. In the car was his new girlfriend, Barbara Bach (who had starred opposite Roger Moore’s James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me). Ringo reportedly pulled her free before returning for his cigarettes, proposing days later.they wed in 1981.
Narrating TV series Thomas And Friends, based on the Thomas The Tank Engine books, proved a rare professional high point in the 80s. In 1988, he and Bach checked into an Arizona detox clinic and are still sober. He says: “Years I’ve lost, absolute years... I’ve no idea what happened.”
Since then he has toured with his Allstarr Band, fallen out with Liverpool after saying he missed “nothing” about it in 2008, and even supported Leave in the EU referendum, commenting that “to be in control of your country is a good move”.
The supposed John Lennon quip that Ringo “wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles” is a myth. It originated in a 1980s radio comedy, and gained prominence when repeated by Jasper Carrott.
In an interview shortly before he was murdered, Lennon not only conceded that Ringo was “a star in his own right” in Liverpool before the rest of The Beatles, he was also a “damn good drummer”.
He still is. Happy birthday, Ringo.