Ringo Starr: What happened to Ringo’s first wife? Maureen Starkey’s only interview
Ringo Starr and wife Maureen discuss wedding in 1965
This weekend marks the anniversary of Ringo’s divorce from Maureen in 1975 after ten years of marriage and three children. It had started out as a romantic fairytale outside Liverpool’s Cavern club. Beatles manages Brian Epstein once said: “It makes you feel secure just looking at the two of them.” It all ended in infidelities and wrangles over money. Frank Sinatra famously reworked the song The Lady Is A Tramp for Maureen, singing it with new lyrics, “She married Ringo, and she could have had Paul. That’s why the lady is a champ.” It was a playful joke for her 1968 birthday, but a few years later Maureen would actually have an affair with another Beatle, George Harrison.
Ringo met Maureen in 1963 when she was just 16 and already dating Hurricanes star Johnny Guitar. Ringo, real name Richard Starkey, was the band’s drummer at the time and smitten with the brunette young hairdresser.
When he left the Hurricanes to join The Beatles he asked if he could drive Maureen home and she agreed but said he had to take her friend home too. This continued for six weeks before Ringo asked her out on a solo date.
They quietly dated as The Beatles fame suddenly exploded, but Maureen’s pregnancy in January 1965 forced a quick February wedding. Marriage was viewed at the time as career suicide for teen idols but Ringo didn’t care.
He later said: “All this stuff about drink milk and not get married… Well, I’ve always been the marrying type. Anyway, I was rich already so it didn’t matter.”
READ MORE: The Beatles split: Fellow 1960s legend says, ‘There was no problem between three of them’ So WHO was the problem?
Ringo Starr and wife Maureen
At the press conference during their weekend honeymoon in Hove, Maureen declared she was not interested in speaking to the press, and never broke that rule for decades until 1988.
The couple were interviewed together in 1968 at their Weybridge mansion, Sunny Heights – the one with the infamous pub above the garage, named the Flying Cow.
Journalist Maureen Cleave said of Maureen: “She doesn’t talk much but what she does say is sensible. She adores him and calls him Richie. They always sit very close, side by side, and Ringo always lights two cigarettes simultaneously, one for her and one for him.”
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Ringo Starr and wife Maureen with newborn son Jason baby in 1967
Ringo told Cleave: “Her place is with me. I own her, of course. When I married her, her parents signed her over to me. That just knocked me out; she’s still a minor you see.
“When you’re married it’s not like when you’re courting. You both become different people because you get to know each other so well. She can shout at me now without opening her mouth – that’s being married.”
Three children quickly followed. Zak was born in September 1965, followed by Jason in 1967 and daughter Lee in 1970.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s, Maureen stayed at home. Plans for her to open a chain of hairdressers were shelved as she raised their children and personally answered Ringo’s fanmail.
While the band toured or spent all their time in recording studios, Maureen became friends with Paul’s girlfriend Jane Asher, John Lennon’s wife Cynthia and George’s partner Cynthia.
During the famous group 1968 trip to the Rishikesh in India, the women spent all their time together while the band was with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
The Beatles and their wives at the Rishikesh in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, March 1968, Ma
Paul and Ringo with partners Jane Asher and Maureen Starkey in 1968
By 1969, constant infighting was tearing the band apart. In that unique 1988 interview with French magazine Le Chronicleur, Maureen remembered the impact Yoko Ono had on the band and Ringo’s fury at Paul.
She said of Yoko: “I always thought her strange. I mean she would always interrupt the lads when they were working or do strange things without any reason whatsoever. I was there when John brought the bed, and said something about wanting Yoko to be there. I asked Richy about this and he just shook his head in disbelief. I often wondered how they all put up with her. Even Richy would come home and tell me all these strange stories about her. He once told me about her moaning into John’s microphone while they were recording a song and how the two of them would make-out during takes. I always avoided her in the studio for those reasons. She was just too strange for me.”
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During the 1968 recording sessions for The White Album, Ringo quit the band and came home and told Maureen they were leaving for Sardinia.
She recalled in 1988: “He told me to pack my bags without giving me much of an explanation, but I could see a look of distress in his eyes. It was just painful. I fought with him for a while, I really did and I told him that it was foolish to go away so soon, but I could tell he didn’t really care at that point. I do remember him muttering something about Paul under his breath- something really dirty which made me believe that Paul and Richy had a row.”
Pushed to reveal what Ringo had said, Maureen added: “I will never forget what he muttered as he folded his socks and put them in the suitcase. He said, ‘Paul is a f***ing moron.”
Ringo Starr and Maureen in 1967
Ringo eventually rejoined the band, but the end was inevitable the following year (although not announced until July 1970).
The Starkey marriage was in similar distress, exacerbated by Ringo’s infidelities and drinking. IN 1995, Ringo told The Independent, he had been “a drunk, a wife-beater and an absent father.”
Meanwhile, another Beatle had developed strong feelings for Maureen. During a visit to their house, George Harrison declared his love and they began a relationship which was eventually exposed when George’s wife Patti told Ringo she had found the pair in bed.
The marriage staggered on for a few more years until Ringo’s affair with American model Nancy Lee Adams precipitated divorce in 1975. George and Patti would also divorce two years later.
George Harrison and Patti Boyd
Looking back in 1988, Maureen painted an intimate picture of Ringo: “Richy isn’t assertive at all. He’s pretty laid-back and gentle – some people could call him a pushover. He has this inferiority complex about him. I don’t know how to describe it. He just wants me to constantly reassure him that I love him because he gets afraid. We would be lying in bed and he would hold me close to him and say, ‘Do you really love me?’ I would have to constantly reassure him that I did love him, that I did care for him; and I think he was really pleased to hear me say that to him. He was so afraid that I might not love him.”
On the positive side, she added: “Richy is such a cheerful, peaceful man that it’s wonderful to talk with him. He has a wonderful sense of humor and can be very charming at times. My mother loved him when she first met him because he charmed the socks off of her. He was excellent with children – mostly because he’s usually gentle and playful. I used to comment to him that he still acted like a child, but he laughed it off.”
After the divorce, Maureen started a relationship in 1976 with entrepreneur Isaac Tigrett, who founded the Hard Rock Cafe chain. They married in 1989 and had one daughter, Augusta.
Apart from that rare French interview in 1988, Maureen maintained her silence with the press throughout her life, enjoying the trappings of wealth but avoiding the limelight.
She died at home of leukaemia on 30 December 1994. All four of her children, her mother Florence, husband Isaac and ex-husband Ringo were at her bedside.
Paul wrote the 1997 song Little Willow for Maureen and dedicated it to her children.
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