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Cynthia Lennon
Cynthia Lennon
Lennon in October 2010
Cynthia Powell

(1939-09-10)10 September 1939
Blackpool, England
Died 1 April 2015(2015-04-01) (aged 75)
(m. 1962; div. 1968)

Roberto Bassanini
(m. 1970; div. 1976)

John Twist
(m. 1978; div. 1982)

Noel Charles
(m. 2002; died 2013)
Children Julian Lennon

Cynthia Lennon (born Powell; 10 September 1939 – 1 April 2015) was the first wife of John Lennon and the mother of Julian Lennon.

Born in Blackpool and raised in Hoylake on the Wirral Peninsula, she attended the Liverpool College of Art where Lennon was also a student. Powell and Lennon started a relationship after meeting in a calligraphy class. When Lennon was performing in Hamburg with the Beatles, Powell rented his bedroom at 251 Menlove Avenue in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton from his aunt and legal guardian, Mimi Smith. After Powell became pregnant, she and Lennon married in August 1962, and the couple lived at Kenwood in Weybridge from 1964 to 1968, where she kept house and participated with Lennon in a London-based social life. In 1968, Lennon left her for Japanese artist Yoko Ono; as a result, the couple's divorce was legally granted in November 1968.

Powell had three further marriages. She published a book of memoirs, A Twist of Lennon, in 1978, and a more intimate biography, John, in 2005. Over the years, she held several auctions of memorabilia associated with her life with Lennon. In her later years she lived in Calvià, Mallorca, where she died in 2015.

Early years

Cynthia Powell was born in Blackpool on 10 September 1939, the youngest of three children of General Electric Company employee Charles Powell and his wife Lillian (née Roby), who already had two sons named Charles and Anthony. Her parents were from Liverpool, but her mother (along with other pregnant women) was sent to the safer area of Blackpool after World War II had been declared and lived in a small room in a bed-and-breakfast on the Blackpool seafront. After the birth, with Liverpool becoming a frequent target of German air raids, the Powell family moved to a two-bedroomed semi-detached house in Hoylake, a middle-class area on the Wirral Peninsula which was considered "posh" by those in Liverpool. At the age of 11, Powell won an art prize in a competition organised by the Liverpool Echo. A year later, she was accepted into Liverpool's Junior Art School, which was also attended by Bill Harry, later the editor of Liverpool's Mersey Beat newspaper.

Art college

When Powell was 16, her father died following a lengthy bout with lung cancer. Before he died, he told her she would have to get a job to support her mother, and would not be able to go to art school. As her mother wanted her to receive an education, she rented out a room to four apprentice electricians. In September 1957, Powell gained a place at the Liverpool College of Art. Although studying graphics, she also took lettering classes, as did Lennon. He never had any drawing tools with him, so he constantly borrowed pens and pencils from Powell, who discovered he was only there because other teachers had refused to instruct him. She had an air of respectability and moved in different social circles than her future husband. Lennon and an art school friend, Geoff Mohammed, used to make fun of her by stopping the conversation when she walked in the room, saying: "Quiet please! No dirty jokes; it's Cynthia."

Powell once overheard Lennon give a compliment to a girl with blonde hair in the college, who looked similar to the French actress Brigitte Bardot. The next Saturday, Powell turned up at the college with her hair several shades blonder. Lennon noticed straight away, exclaiming, "Get you, Miss Hoylake!" (Lennon's nickname for her, along with "Miss Powell" or "Miss Prim"). Dressed like a Teddy Boy, he sometimes brought a guitar with him into class, and once sang "Ain't She Sweet" directly to Powell.

Relationship with John Lennon

After a college party to celebrate the end of term, Lennon asked Powell if she would like to "go out" with him. She quickly replied that she was engaged to a young man in Hoylake; he replied, "I didn't ask you to marry me, did I?" He later approached her and asked if she would go to the Ye Cracke pub. She was confused when he ignored her all evening, but eventually invited her into the group with a joke.

The Ye Cracke public house

They began dating, with Lennon now referring to her as "Cyn". In the autumn of 1958, she ended her engagement to be with him, and he ended his relationship with another art student, Thelma Pickles. His jealousy could also manifest itself in violent behaviour towards her, as when he slapped her across the face (causing her head to hit a wall), after watching her dance with Stuart Sutcliffe. After the incident, she broke up with Lennon for three months, but resumed their relationship after his profuse apology.

Her work at art school began to suffer, and teachers told her the relationship with Lennon was doing her no good. Lennon continued to be casually inconsiderate towards her, later saying, "I was in sort of a blind rage for two years. It had been the same with other girl friends I'd had. There was something the matter with me." Tony Bramwell—a friend of Lennon's since his youth—later said: "Cynthia was beautiful, physically, and on the inside. Although she knew he [Lennon] was apt to find love on the road, she was totally dedicated to his success... and extremely influential. He was insecure and Cynthia was there to pump him up, to buttress, sort of, his weak side."

The Beatles' first Hamburg residency took place in 1960, with Lennon writing frequent and passionate letters back home to Powell. After returning home, Lennon's aunt and legal guardian, Mimi Smith, threw a hand-mirror at him for spending a lot of money on a suede coat for Powell. Smith later referred to her as "a gangster's moll", and was often unpleasant towards her. The Beatles went to Hamburg for a second time in 1961, and both Powell and Dot Rhone (Paul McCartney's girlfriend at the time), visited them two weeks later, during the Easter holidays. They had to stay up all night because of the long sets, both taking Preludin to stay awake, which the group was also taking. Lennon and Powell stayed with Sutcliffe's girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr, at her mother's house.

After the trip to Hamburg, Powell's mother Lillian said Powell's cousin and husband were emigrating to Canada with their new-born baby, and that she, Lillian, would be going with them while they studied to become teachers. Powell waited until Lennon came back from Hamburg before she asked Smith—who had taken in lodgers before at 251 Menlove Avenue—if she would rent a room to her. Smith rented out the box-room above the front door (which had been Lennon's bedroom), but insisted she also do chores around the house. After her student grant had run out, she took a job at a Woolworths store in Liverpool in order to pay the rent. In the same year, when Lennon was 21 years old, he received £100 (equivalent to £1,600 in 2024) from his aunt Elizabeth Sutherland (whom he called "Mater") who lived in Edinburgh, and went to Paris with McCartney. Powell could not accompany them as she was studying for her final exams.

When Lennon went to Hamburg again in April 1962, she found a bedsit in a terraced house at 93 Garmoyle Road, Liverpool. Shortly after having failed her art teacher's diploma exam, in August 1962, she found she was pregnant with Lennon's child. When she told Lennon he said, "There's only one thing for it Cyn, we'll have to get married".

Marriage to Lennon and birth of Julian

Powell and Lennon were married on 23 August 1962 at the Mount Pleasant register office in Liverpool. Fellow Beatles McCartney and George Harrison were in attendance, as was their manager, Brian Epstein, who was best man; no parents were there. The wedding was farcical, because as soon as the ceremony began a workman in the backyard of the building opposite started using a pneumatic drill that drowned out anything the registrar, Lennon, or Powell said. When the registrar asked for the groom to step forward, Harrison stepped forward instead. With no photographs or flowers the wedding party celebrated afterwards, at Epstein's invitation, in Reece's restaurant in Clayton Square, which was the place Lennon's parents, Alfred Lennon and Julia Lennon, had celebrated their marriage in 1938. Lennon was 21 years old, and Powell 22. The newlyweds had no honeymoon, as Lennon had to play an engagement at the Riverpark Ballroom in Chester the same night. They travelled to the Hotel George V in Paris for a belated honeymoon on 16 September but were accompanied by Epstein, even though he had not been invited to join them.

During Powell’s pregnancy, Epstein offered her and Lennon the use of his flat at 36 Falkner Street, Liverpool, and later paid for a private hospital room when the pregnancy was coming to term. Although still unknown outside Liverpool, by now the Beatles had a fanatical following among girls within the city. Epstein had one condition which the Lennons had to follow: the marriage and the baby were to be kept a close secret, so as not to upset any of these fans. One time when news of the wedding leaked out, the group denied it.

The Lennons' son, Julian, was born at 7.45 am on 8 April 1963, in Sefton Hospital. Lennon, being on tour at the time, did not see his son until three days later, and when he finally arrived at the hospital, said: "He's bloody marvellous, Cyn! ... Who's gonna be a famous rocker like his Dad then?" He then explained that he would be going on a four-day holiday to Barcelona, with Epstein. Lennon later referred to Julian as a "Saturday night special; the way that most people get here", or said that his son "came out of a whisky bottle," suggesting this as explanation for his poor parenting of Julian as compared to his second son, Sean Lennon: "Sean is a planned child, and therein lies the difference. I don't love Julian any less as a child."


Around the time of Julian's birth, the Beatles became a pop sensation across Britain, a phenomenon which became known as Beatlemania. That one of the members was married and had a son was not publicly known at the time; a 1963 "Lifelines of the Beatles" page in the New Musical Express detailed over 25 biographical facts about each member of the group, but never gave any hint Lennon was married, even reporting "girls" as one of his hobbies.

The press heard rumours about Lennon's wife and child at the end of 1963—after Beatlemania had already swept the UK and Europe—and descended on her mother's house in Hoylake (where mother and son were staying), in November and December. Friends and neighbours protected their anonymity, but she was often approached by journalists. In November, she had her son christened at Hoylake Parish Church, but didn't tell Lennon (who was on tour at the time), because she feared a media circus. She told him two days after, and he was angry as he hadn't wanted his son to be christened, even though Epstein had asked to be Julian's godfather. Not long after the christening, every newspaper was full of the story about Lennon's secret wife and baby boy.

Brian Epstein told the other Beatles to make the best of the situation, and hoped newspapers would not say Cynthia was pregnant before marrying him. After living at Lennon's aunt's house for some months, the couple moved to London and found a three-bedroomed flat at 13 Emperor's Gate, off Cromwell Road. The top floor flat was the third of three, which were each built over two floors. This meant climbing six flights of stairs, as the building had no lift. Cynthia firstly had to carry Julian up to the flat, and then go back down to collect shopping bags. The Beatles' fans soon found out where they were living, and she would find them camping out in the hallway, and have to push through them when leaving or arriving.

She accompanied Lennon to the United States in the first Beatles' tour there, with Lennon allowing the press to photograph them together, which infuriated Epstein, as he had wanted to keep their marriage a secret. On the tour, she was left behind in New York when Lennon and the other Beatles were quickly ushered into a car, and in Miami she had to ask the help of fans to convince a security guard who she was. Lennon's response was, "Don't be so bloody slow next time—they could have killed you". It would be the only time Cynthia would go on tour with them. At the Emperor's Gate address the situation grew worse, with fans sticking chewing gum in the lock of the flat and tearing at any article of clothing when she or Lennon were leaving or arriving. American girls would write her letters proclaiming their desperate love for John; the women in the lives of the other Beatles received equivalent missives. As late as 1967, Beatles' wives were still dealing with occasional physical danger from female Beatles fans, with Cynthia being kicked in the legs by one who demanded she "leave John alone!"

As Lennon was either touring or recording, supposed family holidays in 1966 were spent skiing in St. Moritz, with producer George Martin and his girlfriend, or staying at a castle in Ireland, with George Harrison and his wife Pattie Boyd. Even these were subject to being discovered by fans, and Cynthia and Boyd had to escape the Irish location dressed as maids. As a result of the long recording sessions and tours, Lennon usually slept for days afterwards. When Lennon started filming How I Won the War in Almeria, Spain, he promised his wife and son they could join him there after two weeks of filming. The small apartment they were allocated was swiftly replaced by a villa when Starr and his wife joined them.


Domestic life

The Beatles' accountant told Epstein the group members should move to houses near his in Esher, so Lennon bought a house called Kenwood in July 1964. It was a mock-Tudor-style house on three acres in Weybridge, where Cliff Richard already lived. Lennon then spent twice the original £20,000 purchase price (equivalent to £292,100 in 2024) on renovations for Kenwood, reducing its 22 rooms to 17. The new kitchen was so modern and complicated, someone had to be sent to explain how everything worked, and during the extensive renovations the couple had to live in the attic bedroom for nine months. Although Cynthia enjoyed entertaining in the larger rooms, Lennon could usually be found in a small sunroom at the back of the house overlooking the swimming pool, which was similar to his aunt's conservatory in Liverpool. They had a cat called "Mimi", named after Lennon's aunt. Cynthia took care of Julian herself, without a nanny, although babysitters were frequently employed. She also did the cooking herself, but employed a housekeeper, gardener, and chauffeur, who lived off the premises.

When she passed her driving test, Lennon serially bought her a white Mini, a gold Porsche, a red Ferrari, and a green Volkswagen Beetle, usually as surprises without consulting her first. Cynthia enjoyed the closeness of Pattie Boyd (George Harrison's wife) and Maureen Starkey (Ringo Starr's wife), as both lived nearby, often going on holiday together or shopping. She was often photographed at Beatles' movie premieres and special occasions, and sometimes with Lennon and Julian at home, which meant she had the role of a Beatle wife, as well as being a mother. The Lennons often went to a nightclub in central London until nearly dawn, after which she took Julian to school. Kenwood became the place to visit for the other Beatles, various American musicians, and total strangers who Lennon had met the previous night in London nightclubs.

In 1965, she opened the front door of Kenwood to see a man who "looked like a tramp", but with her husband's features. He explained that he was Alfred Lennon, the father whom Lennon had supposedly not seen for years. Lennon was annoyed when he came home, telling her for the first time that his father had visited the NEMS office, Epstein's business, a few weeks before. Three years after the meeting in the NEMS office, Alfred Lennon (who was then 56 years old) turned up at Kenwood again with his fiancée, 19-year-old student Pauline Jones. He asked if the Lennons could give Pauline a job, so she was hired to help with Julian and the piles of Beatles' fan mail. Lennon's father and his fiancée then spent a few months living in the attic bedroom. During an interview at Kenwood with Evening Standard reporter Maureen Cleave, Lennon said, "Here I am in my Hansel and Gretel house, famous and loaded, and I can't go anywhere. There's something else I'm going to do, only I don't know what it is, but I do know this isn't it for me".

India and Ono

The Beatles were scheduled to fly to India to visit the Maharishi for two or three months of Transcendental Meditation. Before they left, Cynthia found letters from Yoko Ono to Lennon which indicated he had had contact with her over a period of some time. Lennon denied he was involved with Ono, explaining that she was just some "crazy artist" who wanted to be sponsored, although Ono kept up a stream of telephone calls and visits to Kenwood. On 15 February 1968, the Lennons flew to India, followed by the other Beatles and their partners four days later: Boyd, Asher, and Maureen Starkey. The division between the sexes was emphasised by the male musicians sitting outside at night composing songs, while their partners gathered together in one of their rooms, often talking about life as the wife or partner of a Beatle. The Lennons shared a four-poster bed at the ashram, with Lennon playing guitar and Cynthia drawing and writing poetry between their long sessions of meditation.

"Magic Alex" (Greek-born Alex Mardas, who controlled Apple Electronics) arrived later. After two weeks, Lennon asked to sleep in a separate room, saying he could only meditate when he was alone. Every morning, Lennon would walk to the local post office to see if he had received a telegram from Ono, who sent one almost daily. Cynthia found out about these secretive trips much later, saying: "I had thought our magical interlude with the Maharishi would be the making of our marriage – but in reality it just presaged the end". Paul Saltzman later published a book of photographs, The Beatles in Rishikesh, showing Lennon deep in thought, and Cynthia's confused expression. Despite the alienation from Lennon, she later spoke about her time there, saying: "I loved being away from the fans, hordes of people, deadlines, demands and flashing cameras".


Cynthia started her divorce proceedings against Lennon on 22 August 1968. The financial settlement was hampered by Lennon's refusing to offer any more than £75,000 (equivalent to £937,400 in 2024), telling her on the phone that the payment was akin to winning the football pools and that she was not worth any more. The settlement was then raised to £100,000 (equivalent to £1,249,900 in 2024), £2,400 annually (equivalent to £30,000 in 2024), and custody of Julian. Another £100,000 (equivalent to £1,249,900 in 2024) was put into a trust fund which Julian would inherit when he was 21. Until that time, his mother would receive the interest payments. Their decree nisi was granted on 8 November 1968. The trust fund had one codicil, which provided for any further children by Lennon, so when Sean Lennon was born in 1975, Julian's inheritance was cut to £50,000 (equivalent to £624,900 in 2024).

Subsequent life

On 31 July 1970, Cynthia married Bassanini, whom she had started dating after parting with Lennon; the couple divorced in 1973. She then opened a restaurant in Ruthin, Wales, called Oliver's Bistro, which also had a B&B above the premises. She enrolled her son into the Ruthin School and he later joined the local Combined Cadet Force. During Lennon's separation from Ono in 1973–74, his partner at the time, May Pang, tried to get Lennon to spend more time with his son, forming a friendship with Cynthia in the process, which continued even after John Lennon and Yoko Ono were reconciled. A meeting during this period was the last time Cynthia saw John. Julian had been allowed to visit his father twice a year by himself but John Lennon complained that during his time with Pang his ex-wife also wanted to be present, saying "She [Cynthia] thought she could walk back in 'cos I wasn't with Yoko!" After his reconciliation with Ono, he complained again that his son was not being allowed to visit him.

On 1 May 1976, Cynthia married John Twist, a television engineer from Lancashire. She published a memoir during their time together, A Twist of Lennon, in 1978, telling about her life before and with Lennon and containing her own illustrations and poetry. Lennon tried to stop the publication of the book after an excerpt was published in a newspaper. Cynthia's memoir gained renewed interest and went to a third printing of 200,000 copies in the weeks after Lennon's death. She and Twist separated in 1981 and were divorced in 1982. She sold the Bistro and changed her name back to Lennon by deed poll, later commenting about why it was financially necessary, "Do you imagine I would have been awarded a three-year contract to design bedding and textiles [for Vantona Vyella in 1983] with the name Powell? Neither did they. When it is necessary to earn a living, it is necessary to bite the bullet and take the flack".

She began a relationship with Liverpudlian chauffeur Jim Christie in 1981, who became her partner for 17 years as well as her business manager, living in Penrith, Cumbria. She said at the time "Jim has never felt he's living in John Lennon's shadow. He's four years younger than me and wasn't really part of that whole Beatles' scene". They later lived on the Isle of Man and then in Normandy for some years but separated in 1998.

She had kept mementos of Lennon for years but began auctioning them off after his death. This included a personally drawn Christmas card from Lennon to her, which fetched £8,800 at Christie's in August 1981. With her finances in an unsteady state – she would say in 1999 that "Apart from John, the men I have fallen in love with have never been good at earning a living" – more of her memorabilia of Lennon went up for auction in 1991, including antiques from Kenwood. She said at the time, "I've enjoyed these things for 30 years. But it's time for a change". Another set of items brought over $60,000 for her in 1995. She later said, "I think in life we collect so much baggage, when you have a clear-out, you send it to a car-boot sale, etc. My baggage was in demand and sold at Christie's. When you have to pay the bills, you're not proud and you can't take it with you".

Over the years she entered some failed business ventures, including in 1988 a perfume named Woman (after the 1980 John Lennon song) and, in April 1989, a restaurant named Lennon's—at 13/14 Upper St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden—which had menu items such as Rubber Sole (a play on the already-punning 1965 Beatles album), as well as Sgt. Pepper's Steak and Penny Lane Pâté. It had a short life as a business venture, as it was considered to be far too expensive. She would later blame some of these efforts on the men in her life encouraging her.

The Beatles' Hamburg days were the subject of the 1994 film Backbeat, with Jennifer Ehle portraying Cynthia Powell. The film characterises Lennon and Cynthia's relationship as one that will eventually be doomed by their wanting different things from life but with Lennon not wanting to hurt her. Cynthia later complained that the film made her out "as a clingy, dim, little girlfriend in a headscarf". In another film covering the early years of the pre-fame Beatles, the 1979 Birth of the Beatles, she was portrayed by Wendy Morgan. She was portrayed in 2000 television film In His Life: The John Lennon Story by Gillian Kearney; the negative aspects of John's treatment of her were not overlooked. Cynthia was subsequently portrayed in the troubled, Ono-centric 2005 American musical Lennon, with her character – played by Julia Murney – gaining a little more prominence during one of the show's rewrites. Her life had a more central role in the 2010 BBC Four film Lennon Naked, with Claudie Blakley playing the part. Her character was absent from the 2009 British film Nowhere Boy, which purported to cover the story of Lennon from 1955 to 1960 but focused on his relationships with his aunt and mother.

In 1995, Cynthia made her recording début with a rendition of "Those Were the Days" which, produced by McCartney, had been a number one hit for Mary Hopkin in 1968. It failed to chart. Whilst she was living in Normandy, an exhibition of her drawings and paintings were displayed at Portobello Road's KDK Gallery in 1999. By the 1990s, she was appearing at some Beatles conventions but appeared ambivalent about doing so. At times she maintained she was moving on with her life and putting her Beatles past behind her and at other times seemed to embrace continued interest in that past as inevitable. The Daily Telegraph said in a 1999 profile, "In essence, she is a suburban woman who – almost in spite of herself – got caught up with one of the most extraordinary men of modern times. More than 30 years since her marriage to John Lennon ended, she is as entangled as ever".

Later years and death

Cynthia and Julian Lennon at the unveiling ceremony of the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool - celebrating John Lennon's 70th Birthday - October 9th 2010 (retouched)
Cynthia and Julian Lennon at the unveiling ceremony of the John Lennon Peace Monument in Liverpool, 9 October 2010, John Lennon's 70th birthday

In 2002, she married Noel Charles, a Barbadian nightclub owner. In September 2005, she published a new biography, John, re-examining her life with Lennon and the years afterwards, including the events following his death. Michel Faber, writing in The Guardian, said of the book: "John is Cynthia's attempt to prove how much more she was worth. In theory, the disclosures of Lennon's loyal partner from 1958 to 1968 cannot fail to be valuable. On the page, the potential withers". Rachael Donadio in the New York Times said the book "paints the picture of a man wounded by the deaths of family and friends, and tells the difficult story of the domestic front during Beatlemania. "If there is to be a balanced picture of Dad's life, then Mum's side of the story is long overdue," Julian Lennon, the couple's son, writes in the foreword. In 2006, she and her son attended the Las Vegas premiere of the Cirque du Soleil production of Love, which marked a rare public appearance with Ono. In 2009, she and her son opened an exhibition of memorabilia at The Beatles Story exhibition in Liverpool, and she and Pattie Boyd staged a first-ever joint appearance at the opening of the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan, Armenia. On 30 September 2010, Julian opened his "Timeless" exhibition of photographs at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York. In attendance were Cynthia, Julian, Ono, Sean, and Pang, which was the first time all five had been in the same room together.

The John Lennon Peace Monument was unveiled by Cynthia and Julian at a ceremony in Chavasse Park, Liverpool, on 9 October 2010 to celebrate the anniversary of Lennon's 70th birthday. Cynthia lived with her husband, Noel, on the Spanish island of Mallorca until his death on 11 March 2013.

She died on 1 April 2015 at her home in Majorca, at the age of 75 following a brief bout with cancer, her son Julian by her side. Public messages of condolence were made by McCartney and Starr, with McCartney saying "She was a lovely lady who I've known since our early days together in Liverpool. She was a good mother to Julian and will be missed by us all", and Starr saying "Peace and love to Julian Lennon God bless Cynthia". Ono also issued a statement, emphasising the position she held in common: "Being a single parent of a strong and intelligent boy is never easy. Cynthia and I understood each other in that way, wishing well for our sons and their future." Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, who had spent considerable time with her and Lennon in the 1960s while researching his book, remembered her as "a lovely woman ... She was totally different from John in that she was quiet, reserved and calm."

See also

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