You might know the story. Pattie Boyd was the wide-eyed, model face of 1960s London who inspired two of the greatest love songs of the 20th century.
The Beatles’ George Harrison wrote Something in her honour. Blues maestro Eric Clapton wrote Layla. Both men took Boyd’s hand in marriage – first Harrison, then his good friend Clapton.
It’s an era that’s been referred to as the “rock-ocracy” of the sixties. Boyd moved in a circle that included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.
Born Patricia Anne Boyd in 1944, she married Harrison in 1966 and they were divorced in June 1977. Boyd married Clapton in 1979, divorcing him in 1989. Though a fashion-world icon in her own right, when she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day’s Night and they became a couple, Boyd was suddenly one of the world’s most talked about musical “muses”.
Used to being in front of a camera, modelling, but now living in a superstar’s shadow, Boyd picked up a camera and started taking photographs of her own. They continue to fascinate music lovers today.
“What is so bizarre is that I had no idea at the time how important these photographs were. I was just photographing my life,” she tells Weekender from London.
“I was a nobody, I just happened to be married to George. I was the sidekick, you know, I was just the wife. I never thought that I would have any prominence. I never wanted to be famous. Life had turned things around for me in a way that I didn’t desire.”
Harrison was often away on tour. Boyd was in love but she was lonely.
“It wasn’t all happy clappy, you know,” she says. “I’m sure people imagine that if you’re married to a rock star you’d be smiling every day from the minute you woke up to the minute you went to sleep. That’s not the reality. The good days were great fun, the bad days were shitty. It’s the same as life for anyone, really.”
One day Boyd noticed an advertisement in the newspaper for classes in transcendental meditation. She and Harrison had already travelled to India to study its culture and spirituality with Ravi Shankar. This was fate.
“I realised that I was in a most extraordinary and privileged position by being with George but life was not how I had imagined it to be,” she says.
“I thought it would be really nice to learn a little bit more about spirituality. The Beatles were away on tour in America when I saw the advertisement. I phoned my girlfriend and said ‘Come on let’s go check this out’, which we did, and we had our mantras and really enjoyed it.
“And then when the Beatles came back I told George how cool this school of meditation was. Then Paul phoned and he said there was this guy called Maharishi Mahesh and he was coming to London to give a talk about meditation. And I said to George ‘That’s my guy, that’s the meditation I’ve been practising’.
“Back in those days when one of the Beatles did something, they all wanted to do it. So we all went to the Hilton to listen to the Maharishi speak. Somehow the press found out and it turned into a bit of a zoo so the Maharishi asked us to come to Wales to study with him.”
So Boyd and the Beatles caught a train to northern Wales.
“Off we all went and the next day we were told some really really bad news. Their manager Brian Epstein had died that night,” Boyd says.
“He was their friend and adviser. They all looked up to him and they were all so fond of him. They didn’t know what they were doing until Brian told them, or where they were going and when they were recording; when they would go on holidays. And so now this man was gone and the shock was so much the Maharishi suggested that maybe they needed some quiet time to digest what had happened. That’s when we all went to India.”
Being married to a Beatle meant life could get hectic at times.
“When we moved out of London to the country it wasn’t quite so crazy, though,” Boyd says. “I mean, sometimes girls would turn up at our house if we forgot to lock the gates. I remember my lovely watch was stolen.
“Otherwise it was normal for everyone we knew to drop by and say hello. One time Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull came by and we weren’t home. They saw this can of spraypaint and they painted ‘Mick and Marianne were here’ on the walls of the house, with a big kiss. Never mind using pen and paper. But it was funny.”
About her divorce to Harrison and eventual acceptance of Clapton’s proposal, Boyd had this to say: “I still hear stories about George playing around. And I find that really hurtful. I realise now that Eric probably knew about this.”
The “muse” tag doesn’t sit well with Boyd. Or me. After all, weren’t they two creative and talented musicians at the peak of their careers? “Oh that’s sweet of you,” Boyd says. “What can I say, people like to put a label on things. I always think of a muse as a model for painters in the 18th century, you know?”
Is she surprised that people are still so interested in her photographs? “Yes. I really am totally blown away that anyone would want to see them. If anybody is happy to see them I’m thrilled to show them, but I’m not pushing myself out there.”
As for the rose garden photograph with Harrison, it might be one of the earliest known “selfies”.
“I took that one. I remember it so clearly. I put the camera on the tripod and told George to stand there and wait for the timer to go off. So we’re standing there looking at the lens and George obviously got bored so he looked away. And me, I was looking worriedly at the camera wondering when the shutter was going to click.”
Boyd still loves photography and hopes to build a studio at her cottage in the English countryside so that she can “take proper photographs again”. She married long-term partner and property developer Rod Weston in 2015. I ask her if she’s happy.
“I am. I am. I’m happy and I’m lucky. We love travelling, Rod and I, so life is good. How about you?”
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.