Celebrity / 22-05-2020

The Beatles 'lost' member Stuart Sutcliffe's romance that made 'John Lennon jealous'

EXCLUSIVE: Trendy Astrid and Klaus befriended good-looking art student Stuart, but love soon developed between him and Astrid, leaving Klaus on the sidelines and John bereft when Stuart quit The Beatles to remain in Hamburg

The Beatles 'lost' member Stuart Sutcliffe's romance that made 'John Lennon jealous'

Long before Yoko Ono made her brooding presence felt in The Fab Four’s studio, another woman might have been held responsible by territorial fans for breaking up The Beatles.

Astrid Kerchherr, who died last week at the age of 81, was the uber-cool German photographer who the fledgling band met in Hamburg when they travelled there in 1960 to perform at its seedy red light district clubs as they fought to make their name.

In fact, far from breaking up The Beatles, Astrid could be credited with creating them – or at least their style.

She took photos of them which became iconic and encouraged them to cut their hair into cool moptops like that of her boyfriend Klaus Voormann. She even wielded the scissors herself.

But, just like Yoko, the stylish young artist with film star looks also got together with a band member, triggering a complicated love triangle of sorts which could have finished the magic before it even began.

Back then, John Lennon’s best pal Stuart Sutcliffe, dubbed “The Lost Beatle”, was the bassist, alongside John, Paul, George and original drummer Pete Best.

Trendy Astrid and Klaus befriended good-looking art student Stuart, but love soon developed between him and Astrid, leaving Klaus on the sidelines and John bereft when Stuart quit The Beatles to remain in Hamburg.

Astrid Kircherr

As it turned out, Astrid and Stuart’s romance was cut tragically short just two years later when Stuart died of a sudden brain haemorrhage aged 21.

A grief-stricken John confessed to Astrid his inner conflict – both his initial envy of her attraction to Stuart over him, and his own, confusing, love for his friend.

Paying tribute to Astrid this week, film director Iain Softley revealed her moving words from his interviews with her when he made 1994 movie Backbeat about her and Stuart’s romance.

They hint at a complex relationship between her, Stuart and John. She said it was only after Stuart died that she and John “took a load of pills” and talked for 12 hours about “all the things on our minds about Stuart”. “‘He was jealous when Klaus and I fancied Stuart more, and took him home and left John out,” she told Iain.

“He told me he really loved Stuart, but was afraid of the feeling.”

Iain adds: “I think she thought he meant as a friend, I don’t think there was any suggestion they were in a relationship. But Stuart had always been John’s best friend, they shared a flat in Liverpool. John would write to Stuart as ‘Jesus Christ to John the Baptist’, in the sense Stuart was showing him the way. He looked up to him.

“There was a sense John didn’t want Stuart taken away from him, he didn’t want Stuart to stay in Hamburg.

“At the same time he was very fond of Astrid, but I think there was a conflict there.”

Astrid Kirchherr with Stuart Sutcliffe and Klaus Voormann

It was only after Stuart had died, that a normally chipper John revealed his vulnerable side.

“Astrid said John was very sweet and thoughtful after Stuart died,” Iain says and reads from his extracts: “So soft and sweet and holding my hand. It was love for a friend he knew was in pain.”

Astrid told him: “I was afraid to cry or show emotion when John was there, but at one point he said, ‘Come on cry, we’ll cry together’. The pain we both had over Stuart’s death just gave our relationship an enormous kind of freedom, suddenly we felt like we had known each other for years.”

Iain built a friendship with Astrid after tracking her down in Hamburg, to ask for her help in making Backbeat. By then, she was managing a bar.

He wanted to celebrate the strong woman and accomplished photographer, but also explore her pivotal role in Beatles’ history. He says she was the band’s “muse” for their 1960s’ style.

But her whirlwind relationship with Stuart also altered the original line-up of the then Fab Five who were green to the trendy European arts scene.

George Harrison was only just 17 and was later deported from Germany for being underage. The Beatles’ rough and ready gigs led to a first recording and their signing by Brian Epstein.

Astrid pictured with Ringo Starr and John Lennon

It was Klaus who first saw them at the Kaiserkeller bar. Iain says: “He was blown away. Klaus said to Astrid to ‘come down and see these guys’. She was fascinated, particularly by Stuart. She liked how he presented himself on stage, sometimes turning his back, adopting a James Dean-type pose.”

She and Klaus struck up a friendship with Stuart, and the moptop was modelled on him. “She cut his hair. I think George was next,” says Iain. “John and Paul were resistant, but by the time they came back after Stuart’s death I think she cut it then.” Astrid quickly realised the deep attraction she felt to the quiet Liverpudlian, who had attended art school with John.

Astrid asked to take arty photos of The Beatles in a fairground but soon requested to shoot Stuart individually.

Alone together, they kissed.

Iain recalls she was “distraught” because she loved Klaus, but couldn’t fight her feelings: “She couldn’t tell him for two or three days.”

Incredibly, Klaus was soon forgiving and became best mates with Stuart. But over in The Beatles’ camp, there was simmering, unspoken tension.

As John later divulged, he initially felt left out, and overlooked by Astrid.

Astrid with John Lennon

“Certainly he was attracted to her... she was like someone stepping out of a movie,” says Iain. “I think they were all attracted to her. But Stuart was his best friend, so that was that.”

More difficult was his attachment to Stuart. At that time, ‘Teddy Boy’ John struggled to express emotion. Stuart quickly moved in with Astrid and her mum, taking their attic as his art studio, and they got engaged.

“They wrote letters which they placed in the engagement ring boxes, – ‘I love you for ever and ever and ever’.” recalls Iain. “They drove to the beach where she first photographed him and threw them into the sea.” John quickly put aside envy and often joined the couple to hang out.

When The Beatles returned home, Stuart stayed in Hamburg, but the couple still influenced the band.

On a Christmas trip to see Stuart’s family in Liverpool, they stopped in London where Astrid encouraged him to buy a pair of Flamenco boots.

“When the band saw them they said, ‘We need to have these!’” says Iain. She even made the black scarves they wore on the cover of Revolver.

Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best with The Beatles

But tragedy was around the corner. Stuart was having severe headaches, painting intense abstract canvasses and not sleeping or eating well. It was due to a cerebral haemorrhage.

Emotionally, Astrid told Iain about the day her mother rang in April 1962 to say Stuart had fallen ill in his studio.

Iain says: “Her mother called her at work – ‘You’ve got to come home, Stuart’s not well’. She said ‘the dog’s in the room’ – the dog was never in the attic room, it had been trained not to, so Astrid knew something was wrong.

“When she got home, the dog was sitting there, teeth showing. It was almost like he was protecting Stuart.”

The Lost Beatle had collapsed. He died in the ambulance and devastated Astrid had to break the news to Stuart’s family, and The Beatles – who coincidentally were about to gig again in Hamburg. She met them at the airport. “John said, ‘Where’s Stu?’” says Iain. “He was just distraught.”

John went to her home to try to feel close to Stuart. He asked to have his photo taken there, in the same spot where she had photographed his pal.

That night he broke down to Astrid. Their friendship grew closer as they mourned the man they loved.

In 1964, amid Beatlemania, Astrid went to the UK to photograph the band making A Hard Day’s Night. She even ­holidayed with them in Tenerife.

Later, John and Yoko would send her a Christmas present every year. Astrid mar-ried and divorced twice, but never had children.

She and Klaus got back together briefly when Iain interviewed her, and they remained close. But she always told him Stuart remained ‘the one’.

Iain adds: “She lived in the moment. She was always very cool, ­sophisticated. But she talked about it as the love of her life.”

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22-05-2020 15:00, source: irishmirror, by James Foster
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