By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON — Pattie Boyd is the A-list musicians’ muse.
A convent schoolgirl turned swinging London fashion model, Boyd was married to Beatle George Harrison, then to guitar god Eric Clapton — and the relationships live on in song.
For Boyd, Harrison wrote “Something,” one of the Fab Four’s most-covered tunes. Clapton’s passion for his friend’s wife inspired the scorching “Layla.” Later, when Boyd had left Harrison and married Clapton, he serenaded her with “Wonderful Tonight.”
Even now, 63-year-old Boyd says, “there is still a shiver of thrill” when she hears the songs.
“I’m so familiar with them, they’ve become intimate. They’ve become a part of me. So when I hear them it’s a part of my body I can hear,” she said.
The songs made Boyd an icon through the words of others. She tells her own side of the story in the newly released memoir “Wonderful Tonight,” written with royal biographer Penny Junor.
(In the United Kingdom, the book has been released under the title, “Wonderful Today”).
Shaye Areheart, Boyd’s editor at Harmony Books, said Boyd’s version of events was eagerly anticipated by music fans.
“If you know anything about the rock music scene, you have to want to see what Pattie has to say,” Areheart said. “She was there when so many exciting, seminal things were happening. She was in the middle of this incredible scene and she has lived to tell the tale.”
The book begins a long way from the glamorous rock world, with an account of Boyd’s emotionally detached middle-class childhood — a world of secrets and silences in which “nothing was ever explained; everything was a mystery.”
“My parents behaved in the way they’d been treated as children themselves, which was very austere — children were seen and not really spoken to,” said Boyd, who still cuts a glamorous figure, from her shiny black boots to her blond hair and cornflower-blue eyes.
“Then when the ’60s emerged, there was all of this freedom. It was like being able to be a child. In the arts, everything emerged at the same time: poetry, writers, musicians, fashion designers, painters. It just all seemed to happen at the same time. It was really very special. I feel very privileged to have been there.”
She fled her family’s suburban home, began a modeling career and was asked to appear as an extra in the first Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night.” It was on the set that she met Harrison, “the best-looking man I’d ever seen.” On their first date, they were accompanied by The Beatles’ manager and father-figure, Brian Epstein.
Before long, Boyd and Harrison married and set up house, exploring spirituality during a sojourn in India to learn from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Boyd tells her tale in a matter-of-fact, even subdued way, but there are moments when the extraordinarily strange world of The Beatles breaks through. Before asking Boyd to marry him, Harrison dashes off to consult with Epstein. “Brian says it’s OK,” he tells her. “Will you marry me?”
Clapton’s proposal, years later, was even less romantic. He asked, through a friend, whether Boyd would marry him the following Tuesday. Boyd later learned that another friend, as a drunken bet, had already told a newspaper gossip column that the couple were getting married that day.
Boyd says that for a time, she and Harrison enjoyed “a normal life.”
“I was working, modeling, and George would have to go off on tour every so often, so what would be annoying for us is if the two things clashed,” she said.
Eventually, the breakup of The Beatles, Harrison’s affair with Ringo Starr’s wife Maureen and Boyd’s attraction to the intense and infatuated Clapton pulled them apart. You sense things are starting to go wrong when Harrison invites a group of Hare Krishna families to live at the couple’s mansion near London. “George thought it would be wonderful: We could chant together and there would be good vibes in the house,” Boyd writes. The vibes soon turned bad.
Despite the ups and downs of the marriage, the book presents a warm portrait of Harrison, who died of cancer in 2001. “Eric and I were playmates,” Boyd writes, “but George and I were soul mates.”
“I absolutely adored him. He was the kindest, sweetest person. George and I spiritually grew up together. We met when we were 19 and 20. We knew each other almost from leaving home.”
Even after they split up, “there was always a friendship there.”
“With Eric — he was fun to play with. He seemed to have no limits, and I thought that was incredibly freeing, because I suppose in my upbringing there had always been boundaries. Here was somebody with no boundaries at all, which I thought represented the ultimate freedom. But it doesn’t, because excess has to come in when there are no boundaries. It has to create some sort of disastrous situations.”
Clapton does not come off very well in the book. His marriage to Boyd coincided with a long period of alcoholism, and his behavior often appears thoughtless and cruel. But Boyd, now a photographer who has exhibited her work in London and San Francisco, has left recrimination behind her.
“I have to take some of the credit for his bad behavior,” she said. “I allowed it. I would not allow it now.
“I now know about alcoholism, for example — I know that it is a disease. Whereas when I was younger, I just thought it was people behaving badly. Eric was drinking far too much and I just thought it was a nightmare. I didn’t realize he was ill.”
Clapton’s own autobiography was released last month.