It was the rock ’n’ roll coup of the decade, the one that every broadcaster was desperate to secure: the first interview for ten years with John Lennon.And for Andy Peebles of BBC Radio One, it was a remarkable new high in an already distinguished career.Millions heard his acclaimed Lennon Interview in January 1981, made all the more powerful by John’s horrific death just two days after their recording.The episode would prove to be a turning point, not just in the history of popular music, but in Andy’s life too. Indeed, it cast a shadow that has remained with him ever since.Bound by professional obligations to the BBC, as well a natural sense of discretion, Peebles has never before told the story of the aftermath of his close, if improbable, friendship with John’s charismatic widow, Yoko Ono.But today, in a frank and at times emotional interview, he raises a series of disturbing questions about her fame-hungry behaviour. He asks:
*.Why did Yoko seem much happier after John’s death?
*.Why did she parade her new lover Sam Havadtoy around New York, dressed in John’s old clothes?
*.And why did she appear to exploit John’s memory and legacy for personal fame?
Peebles fears that John and Yoko – but especially Yoko – manipulated him for the sake of commercial profit. And, perhaps most troubling of all, he concludes that the couple’s ‘Starting Over’ episode in December 1980 was a sham promotional exercise, designed to restore John’s profile after a five-year absence.He voices both sadness and anger at the BBC for keeping his most famous interview locked away instead of treating it as the public document he had hoped it would be.Peebles had never before met John and Yoko when he flew to New York with his production team in December 1980, to talk about the new album, Double Fantasy.John and Yoko realised that the key to its success was to regain contact with the UK, having walked away after the break-up of the Beatles, because Yoko had been blamed for it.Immersed in controversy and scandal thanks to drug offences, aware that the Nixon administration wantedhim out of America, and terrified to travel home for fear that U.S. immigration authorities would prevent himreturning to the States, John had stayed put and parked his musical career.Now he was back on the music scene, promoting the album Double Fantasy, which featured an equal number of songs by husband and wife. And they wanted to talk to the BBC, the broadcaster that John held most dear.Peebles, of course, was a name in his own right. A respected DJ and music authority who spent 13 years at Radio One and created the long-running My Top Ten, interviewing stars about their favourite records.Yet little had prepared him for his first encounter with Yoko.‘We had agreed to meet her at The Dakota [the apartment block where she and Lennon lived] at midday on Friday, December 5,’ Peebles recalls. ‘Even though everything was arranged before we left the UK, we still had to be interviewed by her, to ensure that she wanted to proceed.‘Their apartment was palatial, gorgeous. We were shown in to Yoko’s enormous office. She was seated behind an antique Egyptian desk. We were asked to remove our shoes.
‘I remember thinking, thank God I’d put on clean socks. I sat cross- legged on a sofa, and barely said a word. Yoko was opinionated and emphatic. She told us she’d had better offers than the BBC’s. She was being deliberately provocative. She wanted us to beg for it.’Peebles was struck by her appearance in the flesh. At 47, she was ‘small and hard, with a slim figure, but also very busty.‘What was I thinking as I sat there looking at her? I was thinking, frankly, “So this is the woman who broke up the Beatles”.‘She said, “Right, if we are going to do this, I need to make very clear to you that this interview will be 50 per cent about John, and 50 per cent about me.” I felt like saying, “Who on earth are you? You’re the woman who has done for singing what Wayne Sleep has done for Rugby League”.’Nevertheless, the interview the next day was a triumph, concluding with a celebratory dinner.Peebles and his team spent the next day Christmas shopping, and boarded their return Pan Am flight on theevening of December 8. When they were halfway across the Atlantic, assassin Mark Chapman shot Lennonoutside his home. Only when the plane landed was Peebles given the devastating news.Perhaps the last thing he could have expected was that he and Yoko Ono would become friends.But soon after the historic interview was finally broadcast in January 1981, he began receiving calls from New York.