When I have spoken about this blog at various places, I often get asked the question about which Beatle was the kindest to the fans. And people are shocked when I tell them "George" because George has this reputation for being a bit of a grump and hating fame and recognition. And while it is true that George disliked the lack of privacy and the mania that came with being a Beatle, we have seen over and over again that George was the first one to stop and talk to the fans and even invite them into his home. This story from 1999 shows that George's loving heart towards his fans continued even later in his life.
A memorable Visit to Henley-on Thames
By Javier Estrach
Originally published in Oct/Sept 1999 Issue of Beatlefan magazine
On holiday in England, my wife and I decided to go for a couple of days to Henley-on Thames just to try to see George. We were sure that it would be almost impossible but we’d try anyway.
We got to Friar Park on May 23 in the afternoon without a clear idea of what we could do but wait. We took pictures of the house for awhile and we waited for I don’t know how long. We were going ‘round and ‘round until a few minutes later, we decided to walk by the street beside the stockade on the right side of Friar Park.
So we walked away from the main gate. After a few minutes, we heard a noise in the woods inside the estate, a sound like footsteps on dried leaves. We looked over our shoulders and saw a man standing very quietly in the shadows watching us (we were talking Spanish, a foreign language to him, so I suppose that called his attention). We recognized this very familiar silhouette.
So I started calling him: “George! George!” Then he said very quietly, “Huh? Who’s there?”
“George we come from Argentina just to try to see you. We have a present for you from our country. Please, could you give us just one minute? Please, just only one!”
“What kind of present?”
“It’s a T-shirt. It’s for you George.”
“But I don’t’ want a T-shirt.”
“Why not? It’s a nice one! (I think he wasn’t so sure about us or what kind of people we were).
Then I reminded him about another present that I sent him earlier in the year.
“George, some months ago, I sent you by mail from Argentina a Juan Manuel Fangio video (the old F1 car racer). Do you remember? I know you received it because a couple of months ago, I received from your office this badge and card as response. Please, George, give us just one minute. Please!”
Then he smiled and said the magical words: “OK, go down to the gate.”
“Yeah, go down to the gate.”
I can’t describe it – it was simply one of the most emotional moments of our whole lives. We were almost running to the gate and meanwhile I am thinking, “I can’t believe it! It’s true! I’m not dreaming! I’m here!”
Of course, we got to the gate first so we had time to calm ourselves. Within a minute, we could see one of those little electric golf carts coming, approaching the gate. It was him! He got out of the cart with a big smile on his face and we said, “Nice car, George.”
“Yes it is.” Then he opened a smaller gate beside the big one and shook our hands (terrific!). We were thrilled and knowing that we were living one of the greatest experiences of our lives.
He was dressed in jeans, white T-shirt, plaid shirt and a dark red jacket. He looked healthy and had a light, maybe 10 days’ beard, goatee-style.
We started telling him how important he is to us and how important he has been through the years for us; not only his music but his words and his way of thinking and that we learned to be better people because of him.
He smiled and said, “Thank you very much. Thank you for listening. Many people hear stupid music now, music without any sense.”
Then we were talking about the video that I sent him earlier in the year and the “Ohm” badge and the card that he sent me back and he told me that sometimes he prefers to send something better than a simple autograph and that the Ohm and the Swami Sivananda’s words help people feel better inside because everyone is special and that we were.
Then smiling he asked jokingly, “How is Gardel?” (A famous Argentinean tango singer)”
And we responded, “Every day he sings better! It’s an old saying our country.” He smiled.
Then we gave him the T-shirt and he looked at it very carefully and he asked us what the drawing was on it. We explained that it was a drawing of one of the main streets of – and he added, “Ah! Buenos Aires?”
“Yeah, very good George!”
“Thank you very much, but you don’t need to give me anything.”
“We know but we live very far away from here and this is just a way for us to feel a little bit closer to you.”
“OK, thank you.”
I reminded him about another little present I sent him. “Did you receive the magnet that I sent you for your birthday?”
“For the fridge?” He said laughing.
“Yeah, that one.”
I sent him a little magnet and he’s got it on his fridge! After talking with him for awhile, we apologized if our English wasn’t as good as we would like; we were a little bit nervous.
But he said, “Don’t worry. Your English is very good. You speak much better English than I Spanish.”
He asked how long and where we were staying in Henley and what places we had been visiting in Europe. He laughed when he told him that we went to Hamburg and we talked about the Reeperbahn and the Grosse Freiheit.
“That was a long time ago.”
We talked about the similarity between the “red light district” in Amsterdam and the one in Hamburg. But the most important point is that he was comfortable with us and always smiling.
He asked us what life was like in Buenos Aires. “I’ve never been to Argentina. I’ve only been to South America when I was in Brazil many years ago.”
“Yeah we remember. It was in Guaruja with Emerson Fitipaldi in 1979.”
“Yeah Emerson is a good friend of mine.”
Then in the middle of our chat, I asked him, “What about your health? How are you now?”
“Oh, fine, thanks. I was in America for a lot of tests and the doctors said I am OK. Papers are always saying a lot of silly things, but I am fine.”
After all that time at the gate of his house, we felt it was time to start to say goodbye. We asked for just one minute and he was very nice and gave a lot more. But first we asked if we could take a picture with him. “Because our friend won’t believe us, George.”
“Oh yeah, sure. One picture with each one.”
So my wife, Silvia took my photo with him first. When I was ready to take the picture of him with my wife, I don’t’ know what happened but the automatic camera didn’t work! I tried two more times but without any luck and George says, “There’s no more film in the camera.”
“No George, the film is OK. I don’t’ know what the hell is going on!” So he very kindly took a look at the camera. He pressed the red button and –magic! It worked (He took the best picture of my wife’s feet). So I took the camera again and attempted to take the picture but again, the camera simply didn’t work.
“I can’t believe it George!”
And he said joking “There are no good photographers these days.”
Fortunately, we had two cameras with us so I used my old ‘60’s Asahi Pentex and this time I took one of the quickest photos of my life with that camera.
Now finally it was time to say goodbye. He shook our hands I couldn’t help my impulse so I embraced him strongly and he embraced me very warmly. He and Silvia embraced and George gave her a kiss.
And so matchless was this moment for us, I said to him, “For you, this is maybe one very little moment in your life, but not for us. This is something that we’ll never forget in our whole life!”
“Oh! Isn’t that too much?”
“No, it isn’t at all.”
“OK. Thank you. Bye-bye.”
“Bye George! Take care!”
He went back inside, closed the small gate and just before getting into the golf cart, he turned around with our gift in hand and said thank you again.
“Thanks to you!” We said and we could see the cart moving way into the woods.