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MARY HOPKIN, HENLEY-ON-THAMES, 1984


GEOFFREY: Tell me how you got your first big break.

MARY HOPKIN: I appeared on a national television show, which I was very embarrassed about. It was a competition which some agent in Wales had put my name down for. Twiggy was watching. She met Paul a couple of days later. He was telling her about the Apple label. They were starting up and wanted people to record for Apple. She said, "Oh, I saw this great girl on television a couple of days ago." So I had a telegram, which I completely ignored. It sat on a mantelpiece for a couple of days.

GEOFFREY: What did it say?

HOPKIN: It said, "From Peter Brown at Apple Records." I thought, "Oh, I'd heard of the Apple Boutique," but it didn't really strike a bell.

GEOFFREY: Do you still have the telegram?

HOPKIN: Yeah, I think my mom has it in a scrapbook somewhere, but I ignored it and she said, "You ought to ring these people back." I said, "Oh, well, okay." So I rang this number and this chap with a very strong Liverpool accent said would I come to London and record? I said, "Well, that depends on a lot of things." Eventually, he said, "Go and ask your mom if you can come to London tomorrow." This was unheard of in those days. You used to plan for six months for a trip to London from Wales. So my mom came on the phone and he said, "Hello, Mrs. Hopkin, this is Paul McCartney," and she went into shock and so did I because I adored the Beatles. They were my idols. So we went to London the next day and I met with Paul.

GEOFFREY: Did they put you in a hotel and all that?

HOPKIN: "Yeah, I'll say that for Paul. So anyway we went to Dick James's demo studios.

GEOFFREY: And you did "House of the Rising Sun"?

HOPKIN: "House of the Rising Sun" and a few old Donovan songs, it was all terrible. I broke a guitar string halfway through.

GEOFFREY: You must have been devastatingly nervous.

HOPKIN: No, I never really got nervous at that time. I was shy. Terribly shy of Paul, but he was very sweet.

GEOFFREY: So, what happened at the end of the day? Did he say, yes, okay?

HOPKIN: I guess it was just taken for granted that I was in, that I was going to be signed. They had more trouble with my father than anything else, because he was very cautious about contracts and things. But they immediately signed me up. I think it was about three or four weeks after Paul said, "I've got this lovely song I'd like you to do. See if you like it," and he strummed "Those Were the Days." I don't think it ever would have occurred to me to say ,"No, I don't like it."

GEOFFREY: Where'd you record that?

HOPKIN: At EMI, Abbey Road.

GEOFFREY: Paul produced?

HOPKIN: Yes.

GEOFFREY: How much in an active hand does he actually take in producing?

HOPKIN: A great deal. He sat with Richard something... I can't remember his name now, the arranger. He sat with him and sang a lot of the parts. He would say, "I want the string parts to do this and the guitar to do this." Then he actually played guitar, just bits and pieces. He took a great interest in it.

GEOFFREY: Was that the first time you ever recorded?

HOPKIN: Me? No. I'd recorded in Wales. I was a recording artist in Wales from about sixteen, I think.

GEOFFREY: Were they in Welsh, these songs?

HOPKINS: In Welsh, yes, folk songs.

GEOFFREY: How did you first become interested in the guitar?

HOPKINS: At thirteen my grandmother bought me a guitar. I was longing for one. I was a Joan Baez fan. I started playing along with records and teaching myself fingerpicking.

GEOFFREY: So you recorded this song, "Those were the Days," and it became a worldwide ... What was it, number one around the world?

HOPKIN: Yes, in thirteen countries.

GEOFFREY: There's a big difference between recording something in a room in St. John's Wood and suddenly realizing that in thirteen counties simultaneously around the world you're the number one singer on the planet.

HOPKIN: It's funny, but I reacted quite calmly to everything. I was delighted and pleased, but it didn't throw me at all. I don't suppose I ever took it very seriously anyway. I was eighteen. I thought, "Oh well, it's all good fun? I'll enjoy it and see how it goes." I didn't really expect anything from it.

GEOFFREY: What was life like as a singer on the Apple label on a day-to-day basis? Was it good fun?

HOPKIN: It was, yes. It was very interesting to see the whole setup at Apple. It really was like one big party. Like one happy family, I suppose. But I didn't know the ins and outs, of course. I didn't know what was going on behind the scenes because the business side wasn't as it seemed to be.

GEOFFREY: Did they seem to know what they were doing at Apple?

HOPKIN: No. People like Derek always seemed to be in control, but there appeared to be a lot of hangers-on. The money that was spent was astounding. Booze coming in every day, and God knows what else.

GEOFFREY: Tell us about how your image was put together while you were at Apple.

HOPKIN: I don't think it needed much putting together at that point because I was very shy, sweet, and vulnerable. I don't think they had to try. In fact, they did try to exaggerate that, which seemed ridiculous because I was already sugary enough.

GEOFFREY: When you went out to discos for dancing what did they do?

HOPKIN: If I were sitting somewhere with glasses of wine or Scotch on the table, I'd be whisked away if a photographer came by. It's ridiculous. It didn't need any help, that image. It became a great embarrassment to me, and i think to them, to have me on the label because it was such a sugary image. I mean, they had James Taylor and Jackie Lomax, so it was quite a contrast. But it wasn't my doing. If they'd let me develop in my own way, I'd have come through that.

GEOFFREY: You think if maybe this whole Apple/Beatle thing had never happened to you, it might have been better?

HOPKIN: In some ways, yes. I don't mean to sound ungrateful because, obviously Paul, in particular, did a tremendous amount for me. But I think if I had been left to my own devices, I would have just grown and progressed musically in other ways. I also might have been able to retain a little bit more self-respect. I would have only worked at the music that pleased me and I wouldn't have really considered the commercial value of it so much.

GEOFFREY: You made four records altogether, didn't you?

HOPKIN: Did I? I only really recorded two albums. The others were compilations, I think.

GEOFFREY: You weren't pleased, then, with the music that was presented to you to record?

HOPKIN: Not exactly, no.

GEOFFREY: What was wrong with it?

HOPKIN: It was bubblegum music. It got more and more talky, silly, and shallow. I wanted to do something with more substance.

GEOFFREY: I know that at one point you worked with Donovan. It seems a good combination.

HOPKIN: Yes, I enjoyed it. It was a lovely experience sitting with Paul and Donovan on guitar. They sat on the side playing guitar and I just read straight from the book of Donovan's lyrics. It was lovely. I did "Lord of the Reedy River" and I can't remember the title of the other one, but it's on the Post Card album.

GEOFFREY: You came into the Beatles' lives at just about the time they were breaking up. What was that like?

HOPKIN: Well, I attended some of their sessions; but I didn't really pick up on that. I used to sit quietly in the corner taking it all in. It was lovely. I mean, I certainly remember when Allen Klein came on the scene. It was instant hostility. Everyone hated him.

GEOFFREY: I'd be interested to know your first impressions of John Lennon?

HOPKIN: Oh, I hardly dared to speak to John. I was painfully shy at the time. Can you imagine actually meeting your idol, somebody you idolized since you were thirteen?

GEOFFREY: Did the boys seem unapproachable personally?

HOPKIN: They weren't standoffish at all, it was just me at the time. I had the problem. They were sweet. John was lovely. On various occasions he spoke to me. He was very kind.

GEOFFREY: Tell me about the tune "Goodbye." How did that come about?

HOPKIN: It was a year after "Those Were the Days." Promoting that kept me going for a whole year, playing all these dreadful cabarets, the whole thing. I went to South America as well, which was terrific from the traveling point of view, but the work was God-awful. So it was a year later before "Goodbye" came, and Paul thought, "Oh, I think it's in about time Mary should record another song." So he wrote "Goodbye" in about ten minutes flat, I think.

GEOFFREY: Did you like "Goodbye" any better than ...

HOPKIN: No. I liked "Those Were the Days." "Goodbye" was fun, but I thought it was obviously a step in the wrong direction because by then people had already put me in that little bag.

GEOFFREY: So what would have been the right direction then for you as far as you're concerned?

HOPKIN: Well, I think something more moody, deeper stuff. If I'd been more encouraged to record ... I suppose by the time I got to the end I was more in control. I was choosing more "meaningful" songs by then. I hate using that word, but that's what it's about, really. If you're trying to express yourself, you might as well find the right vehicle. And you certainly don't do it through releasing such shallow, silly pop songs.

GEOFFREY: What was it like to be the most famous teenage girl in London there for awhile?

HOPKIN: It didn't occur to me that I was.

GEOFFREY: Did fans approach you?

HOPKIN: Yes, yes, but I was never impressed by that. It became more of a nuisance than anything else. i didn't lie in bed at night thinking, "Oh, isn't it wonderful to be so famous?" I just thought, "Oh God, I wish  they'd leave me alone!"

GEOFFREY: Were there Mary Hopkin fan clubs and things like that?

HOPKIN: Yes. My mother ran me a British fan club.

GEOFFREY: If you got a new car, a new dog or something, would all that be reported around the world?

HOPKIN: Oh yeah, everything. No, I didn't like any of that. I didn't really enjoy that part of it at all.

GEOFFREY: Tell me about some of the promotional films you made, because obviously these days they are very obscure.

HOPKIN: They all sort of run into each other. Oh, you know just very corny ideas like gazing out longingly from the windows of little thatched cottages and things. I cringe at the thought.

GEOFFREY: One of the things that we touched upon was the fact that I found a certain duality in the way you were promoted because on one hand, you were the virginal, perpetually innocent, wide-eyed, lightweight Mary Hopkin. On the other, your skirts were about two inches away from your ... So I told you today - and you were a little surprised - that a lot of people thought you were rather sexy.

HOPKIN: Really? Oh, tell me more ...

GEOFFREY: Were you conscious that you were a very good-looking girl as well?

HOPKIN: Well, I mean I certainly knew I was popular and, of course, I did have a steady boyfriend.

GEOFFREY: What was it like dating after you became famous?

HOPKIN: Horrible, a real pain. It's just I was always very suspicious of boys after that unless they were musicians themselves. For awhile, I went with one of the guys from the Grapefruit band who were signed to Apple. That was fine, we were on an equal basis. We knew where we stood. But other people outside the business, I was immediately suspicious of. They always expected me to foot the bill if we went to a restaurant or they'd be off telling their mates, "Oh, I went out with Mary Hopkin." It was very difficult to figure out who wanted to know me for me and who wasn't impressed by all the rubbish that surrounded me.

GEOFFREY: Ultimately did you lose interest in the business or did the business lose interest in you?

HOPKIN: No, it's very nice to be able to say that I lost interest in the business. It's usually the other way around, isn't it? I mean, I bowed out at the peak of my career. I could have gone on to do anything I wanted to, I suppose, but I was very disillusioned by that time by the kind of music I was pressed into doing.

GEOFFREY: Did you ever feel you were hiding behind the microphone, as it were?

HOPKIN: Yes, but isn't that what we all do? I mean, you're actually very shy and quiet, aren't you? I would have liked to be given more freedom to choose what i wanted to do. I was very restricted, of course, they went for all the lucrative things once I had agents. They said, "Oh, Mary, this is great. You'd make a fortune." Regardless of the sort of music I had to do. The quality of the music was appalling after awhile, so I just gave it up.

GEOFFREY: Do you wish now you'd done at least a few horrible things just for the money? A couple of them anyway?

HOPKIN: No, because it's hard enough to live down the things I do. If I'd done anything worse, I couldn't take it.

GEOFFREY: Of course, you know I don't agree with you on this, but I understand what you're saying. A lot of your music was actually very good.

HOPKIN: I think you're about the only one who thinks so.

GEOFFREY: Did you ever sing backup on any Beatles' records or anything like that?

HOPKIN: Yes. I sang on "Let It Be." A little part with Linda and George, I'm not really sure, though, Paul used the original ones or if he redid them at some point, but it may well be on there.

GEOFFREY: What were you singing?

HOPKIN: Just those very high parts on the chorus, "Let it be, let it be ..." I mean, the part is certainly  still there. I don't know if he used the one I did with Linda and George or not. We just happened to be in the studio at that time. And I was also on "Hey Jude" with the mob, in the crowd.

GEOFFREY: Where did they get the mob from, then?

HOPKIN: Just people, you know, the secretaries and security guys from the studio.

GEOFFREY: I'm going o throw out some names and you just give me impressions, okay? Let's start with George Harrison.

HOPKIN: Oh, he's a sweetheart. He bought me a wonderful guitar once, which was a great surprise. Could I tell you more about that? I went to one of the sessions. I think it was "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." I remember John strumming away . I'd been sitting there an hour before the session started. George had this beautiful acoustic guitar, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. I thought it was wonderful. A little while later George left. John and Paul were working out "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." They were just going through the chords and things. Later, when George returned, he went back to his guitar and started talking to the others. So, anyway, the Beatles' roadie Mal said, "Mary, come with me for a minute," and led me out to the studio. There, sitting on the reception desk, was this beautiful classic guitar, a Rameares, which is absolutely wonderful. It was a present from George. He'd just spent an hour hunting around town for a guitar for me and didn't't say anything. It was the day of the premiere of Yellow Submarine, so when I saw him later that evening I thanked him. But he's always been a sweetheart. Good man.

GEOFFREY: Ringo?

HOPKIN: Well, he's lovable, Ringo. Everybody knows Ringo.

GEOFFREY: Mal Evans.

HOPKIN: Oh, I loved Mal. I was horrified when I heard about the shooting. (On January 5, 1976, Beatles' minder, Mal Evans, was shot to death by Los Angeles police after they were called to his apartment by a distraught girlfriend. Evans was holed up in an upstairs bedroom with an air rifle, and when the cops burst in he made the mistake of pointing it at them.) I didn't know what really happened, of course, but it was awful. Couldn't the police just shot him in the knees or something? God, they're trained to shoot. They could shoot any part of the body they want. They didn't have to kill him. I mean, he was the gentlest person I've ever known. My sister and I used to go out for drinks with him in the evening sometimes to clubs. He was a darling. I got to know him and his family very well.

GEOFFREY: Linda McCartney.

HOPKIN: Oh, I like Linda very much. She wouldn't think this, but I think of her as a big sister. Although I hardly ever see her, but I feel very comfortable with Linda.

GEOFFREY: Derek Taylor.

HOPKIN: Yes, I like all these people. Derek was especially wonderful. I used to be terribly in awe of Derek because he's just so wonderful. His command of English is superb. He's a good man, very clever.

GEOFFREY: Allen Klein.

HOPKIN: A creep. A real creep. I didn't like him at all. He's very swarmy.

GEOFFREY: Why? What did he do to you?

HOPKIN: Nothing. He didn't need to. His personality was enough. I was never directly involved with him financially,, thank God. I just didn't like the man. I don't like people who try and patronize me.

GEOFFREY: So he was sort of transparent, then, in telling how wonderful you were.

HOPKIN: Yeah, trying to manipulate me. He'd say, "Do this, do that." I remember walking away from him in the middle of a meal once. I just don't like him. I like to think I'm a good judge of character. Maybe I'm not. Maybe that's why I'm divorced now. Certainly with him, he was very transparent.

GEOFFREY: Not only did the Beatles eventually disintegrate, but Apple disintergrated as well.

HOPKIN: To optimism, really. I think it was a lovely concept. Typical of the sixties to have this wonderful idea of one happy family and giving everybody the opportunity to be a success. But it attracts all the hangers-on. I think they realized that after awhile. After a lot of money had already been spent and had gone down the drain.

GEOFFREY: What's your life like today?

HOPKIN: well, sadly my sister and father died within a week of each other. I was seriously ill with hepatitis. That was awful because that came shortly afterwards. So this was a very rough time. I've finally come out of that now. I'm healthy again, everything's fine. I'm feeling settled for the first time in years. I'm sort of one with myself.

GEOFFREY: Do you have any professional aspirations?

HOPKIN: Well, I really want to sing. I enjoy writing songs. I'd like the opportunity to record my songs and other people's songs as well. Just to do good music and work with good people. I'd like to do one-off projects rather than a full commitment to one thing. I don't really want to be a member of a band. I don't want a full-time career anymore. But projects with people I respect I'd love to do. Yes, I do want to be heard, but it's not for the fame. I never enjoyed that side of it anyway, just the music.

GEOFFREY: Do you still play the guitar and sing?

HOPKIN: No, I play the piano and sing. I hardly ever touch the guitar at the moment. I may pick it up again one day, though.

GEOFFREY: You're very private and I know you make it a point to be that way. Do you have to struggle for that?

HOPKIN: Not as much now, I'm thankful to say. A lot of people think I live in the States. A lot of people are surprised that I've lived here all these years. Probably because of Tony, marrying an American. So I suppose in some ways it's been a help. The thing that bugs me now and then is the press, because every time i have a relationship or something, they love to exploit that side of things. They won't mind their own business about my private life. So next time around, if there ever is one, I don't think I'll be quite as polite with the press as I have been.

© THE LOST BEATLES INTERVIEWS