It’s always a problem when two men fall in love with the same woman. But what happens when those two men are extremely famous rock stars? It just so happens that two of history’s most iconic musicians, George Harrison and Eric Clapton, fell for the same woman. That woman? A blonde British blue-eyed beauty by the name of Pattie Boyd. And it was Pattie that inspired both of them (and others) to write songs about her.
Pattie was married to both of them, at different times, of course, and is now in her third. With these affairs now decades in the past, Pattie has recently come forward with her true feelings about what those two marriages and life was really like behind the concerts, parties, tours, and affairs. Despite a rowdy and eventful past, Pattie Boyd is quite rare. She came out unscathed and even a happy survivor of the decade that not only defined her but her a generation.
This is Pattie Boyd’s personal account of what it was like to have to choose between George Harrison and Eric Clapton. And by the end, you’ll hear what Clapton has to say about it…
Everyone wanted to look like Pattie Boyd in the 1960s. Born on March 17, 1944, in Somerset, England, the English model and photographer was one of the leading international models of the time and pretty much epitomized the British female style of the era. First, she worked as a shampoo girl in Elizabeth Arden’s salon.
Then, a client from the fashion industry spotted her and helped her get into the world of modeling. She had worked in London, New York, and Paris, appearing in UK and Italian editions of Vogue magazine. So what does it mean to be the It girl of 1960s Britain? It means she caught the eye of some famous musicians (we’ll get to the whole list later). One of those being The Beatles’ George Harrison.
Pattie’s turning point came in 1964 when she got cast in a small part in the Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night. It was 1964, and Beatlemania was in full swing. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was at the top of the charts, and The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show set a record for being the most-watched television program in American history.
The Fab Four wanted to capitalize on their fame, so when United Artists Records asked if they wanted to make a three-movie deal, they instantly agreed. It was then and there that she met George Harrison, and Pattie was immediately attracted to him.
Little did Pattie know that her marriage to him would have extreme ups and downs, only to end and eventually spin her into the direction of his close friend…
The film, A Hard Day’s Night, became a major commercial success. But their first feature film didn’t just bring more fame and fortune; it also brought someone special. George Harrison met a special extra on set. That extra, of course, was Pattie Boyd, a 19-year-old model that graced the covers of Vogue, Elle, and Vanity Fair.
It was hard to miss her, with her long hair, big blue eyes, and her signature mini-skirts. Boyd was what every girl strived to look like. And Harrison was equally taken by her, despite finding out that at the time, she was in a relationship with photographer Eric Swayne. But Harrison was a Beatle! That was all the confidence he needed to open with the line, “Will you marry me?”
A sane girl, Boyd refused. She just met him! But Harrison responded with, “Well, if you won’t marry me, will you have dinner with me tonight?” It took less than a week for Boyd to break things off with Swayne and take Harrison up on his offer. Boyd was living out every girl’s fantasy.
The couple enjoyed their first date on an evening at the Garrick Club in London. It marked the start of what became a passionate romance. Harrison didn’t wait long to ask Pattie to marry him, this time asking seriously. And this time, Pattie said yes. They weren’t engaged long before the two lovers got married on January 21, 1966. They had a small and modest ceremony at a register office in Epsom. Paul McCartney was Harrison’s best man.
“There’s something in the way she moves/Attracts me like no other lover.” Yes, that beautiful song was written by Harrison in her honor, which is a song Frank Sinatra called “the greatest ever love song.” Boyd and Harrison’s relationship actually inspired a number of Beatles hits, like ‘I Need You,’ ‘Love You To,’ and ‘For You Blue.’ But it was ‘Something’ from 1969’s Abbey Road that became the most iconic song.
Abbey Road album was arguably Harrison’s finest work as well as one of the greatest Beatles songs of all time. According to Boyd, Harrison wrote, ‘Something’ was about her in a “matter-of-fact way.” Of the hundreds of cover versions, Boyd said that her favorite version is George’s, which he played for her in their kitchen. In 1980, Harrison said how he wrote the song on the piano during the making of The White Album.
Harrison had said that Boyd significantly broadened his world view, which helped him adopt Indian lifestyle practices and Eastern mysticism. Boyd was a true photographer and served to expose to fans a more intimate side of Harrison. Boyd was no stranger to the camera, but she found herself living in a superstar’s shadow. So she started taking her own photographs. Those photos of the Beatles’ guitarist were widely circulated at the time and still continue to fascinate music lovers today.
“What’s so bizarre is that I had no idea at the time how important these photographs were. I was just photographing my life,” Boyd told the Weekender. “I was a nobody. I just happened to be married to George. I was the sidekick, you know. I was just the wife. I never thought that I would have any prominence. I never wanted to be famous. Life had turned things around for me in a way that I didn’t desire.”
Pattie Boyd was in love, but she was lonely. Harrison was away a lot on tour. “It wasn’t all happy-clappy, you know. I’m sure people imagine that if you’re married to a rock star, that you would be smiling every day from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep. But that’s not the reality. The good days were great fun; the bad days were shitty. It’s the same as life for anyone, really.”
Being married to a Beatle had its ups and downs. It could get hectic, even when they left London and moved out into the countryside. If they forgot to lock the gates, girls would try to get in. It could also be exciting, like having Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull come by the house.
It was thanks to Pattie Boyd that the entire band took a hiatus in India. It was after their manager, Brian Epstein, had died. Boyd and Harrison had already traveled to Indi, studying with Ravi Shankar. After seeing an advertisement on transcendental meditation, she told the guys that they should go check it out. “Back in those days when one of the Beatles did something, they all wanted to do it,” Boyd said.
They all went together to hear a guru named Maharishi speak. The next day, Epstein passed away. He was more than just a manager; he was their friend and adviser. “They didn’t know what they were doing until Brian told them, or where they were going and when they were recording, or when they would go on holidays,” Boyd recalled. Maharishi suggested to them that maybe some quiet time to digest what happened would be a good idea. And so off to India they all went.
In the 70s and about a decade into the marriage, the spark between the two began to fizzle out. Boyd and Harrison were starting to notice spiritual differences, and Harrison was becoming increasingly dependent on drugs alcohol. There were also claims of infidelity on Harrison’s part. During this time, another musician and a close friend of Harrison’s stepped into Boyd’s life…
At the time, Boyd thought of Eric Clapton as just a friend and a collaborator of Harrison’s. But everything changed one day when she received an anonymous love letter signed simply from “E.” Boyd just assumed that the letter was from a secret admirer or something like that, until one evening at a party at Clapton’s manager’s house. Her secret admirer was no longer a secret.
Clapton, just a friend at the time, came up to Pattie and asked if she received his letter; the one in which he declared his love for her. Boyd was shocked but flattered. She wasn’t able to hide the drama from Harrison, who wasn’t only at the same party but saw it all unfold. When Harrison asked her who she wanted to go home with, she chose her husband.
Boyd later said about that night, “I held marriage very dearly but felt torn at that moment.” That decision to stay with Harrison and essentially reject Clapton’s proposal, drove Clapton into a deep depression, involving a heroin addiction, and resulting in a three-year hiatus from music.
Meanwhile, Boyd and Harrison’s marriage was disintegrating…
By 1974, the marriage was too strained to continue on, and so Boyd decided to separate from Harrison. She was fed up with his endless infidelities, including an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife, Maureen “Mo” Starkey Tigrett. Boyd described the last year of their marriage as “fueled by alcohol and intolerable.” But it was during this failing end of their marriage that Clapton became obsessed with her.
At first, Boyd refused his advances. Clapton even told her that if she didn’t want to be with him, he would start taking heroin. Well, she didn’t choose him (yet), and the fragile musician descended into heroin addiction and then a deep depression. For four years, he was gripped by the drug, and basically ‘off the radar,’ a hermit in his mansion.
Clapton was madly in love with Pattie. In an effort to fulfill his unrequited feelings, Clapton wrote his soon-to-be-famous hit ‘Layla.’ He actually used Derek and the Dominos’ studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, as a 77-minute declaration of his love for Pattie. The name Layla came from an Arabian poem-turned-book called The Story of Layla and Majnun. It was about forbidden love.
A mutual friend of both Clapton and Boyd gave each a copy. At one point, Clapton secretly met with Boyd in a South Kensington apartment and played the song for her off of his tape recorder machine. Although Boyd went home to her husband instead, she later wrote in her memoirs that the song was “the most powerful, moving song I had ever heard.”
By 1977, Boyd’s marriage to Harrison officially ended. Clapton must have seen the light because he finally got out of his dark trance and even managed to get the woman of his dreams. The jaded guitarist tried again to win Boyd’s affections, as he had done numerous times before. And this time, he was successful. By 1979, though, Boyd moved in with Clapton, and the two soon got married on March 27, 1979.
Boyd was now married to another famous musician and became yet another rock legend’s muse. In her book, Pattie Boyd wrote of one night when she spent hours deciding which dress to wear, while Clapton was waiting in the other room, playing his guitar. The result of that night was the song ‘Wonderful Tonight.’ When she finally came downstairs and asked him how she looks, he played her what he just wrote. Clapton also wrote other songs about his lover, like ‘Bell Bottom Blues,’ ‘She’s Waiting,’ and ‘Old Love.’
Sadly, as it goes in many marriages, the period of love’s delusion was soon over. The couple was facing marriage struggles, not unlike the ones she and Harrison experienced. Similar to Harrison, Clapton was also cheating on her. Clapton had an affair with a model which resulted in them having a child. That child tragically fell from a New York window and died.
Boyd herself was unable to cope with the stress of this new marriage and started drinking heavily. Clapton soon followed suit. Drug and alcohol abuse and his many affairs are what provoked Boyd to leave Clapton in 1987. By 1989, the divorce was finalized. Boyd cited his numerous affairs and “unreasonable behavior.” In her mind, Clapton’s infatuation with her was only a product of his competitive relationship with Harrison: “Eric just wanted what George had.”
In 2007, Boyd published her book, ‘Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me.’ She wrote about how after two failed marriages, she decided that the music industry was too harsh of a place for a broken heart. Despite the heartache, Boyd still looks back on her days as one of music’s most influential muses.
When she was asked who her greatest love was, and she said: “That is so difficult, but I would say [Harrison]. He will always stay with me.” But Pattie moved on, and in 1991, she began dating property developer Rod Weston. She took her time with this one and “only” 24 years later, in 2015, they got married. In an interview, Weston said: “It was almost our silver anniversary, so we thought we had better get on with it.”
When Boyd was later asked about her divorce to George Harrison and eventual acceptance of Eric Clapton’s proposal, she said: “I still hear stories about George playing around. And I find that really hurtful. I realize now that Eric probably knew about this.” And when asked about being their muse, she said how it doesn’t sit with her so well.
Boyd wasn’t such a fan of the “muse” tag. “What can I say, people, like to put a label on things. I always think of a muse as a model for painters in the 18th century, you know?” But Boyd was more than just a muse; her photos spoke for themselves. She took countless candid photos of both the Beatles and Clapton. These photos have been featured in exhibitions around the world.
Boyd is surprised that people are still interested in her photographs. The famous rose garden photograph with Harrison? Well, it might just be one of the earliest known selfies. “I remember it so clearly: I put the camera on the tripod and told him to stand there and wait for the timer to go off.”
“So we’re standing there looking at the lens, and George obviously got bored so he looked away. And me, I was looking worriedly at the camera wondering when the shutter was going to click.” That photo is beautiful no doubt, but in retrospect, it can be seen as a foreshadowing of their marriage, where both are looking in two directions. Boyd spoke about her marriage to the Beatle in an interview with Taylor Swift. Yes, Taylor Swift.
Pattie Boyd was interviewed by Taylor Swift in 2018 for a Harper’s Bazaar article. The pop star got to ask her about what it was like being married to George Harrison during the peak of Beatlemania. Swift asked Boyd what it was like to live inside Beatlemania, to which Boyd said it was “absolutely terrifying.” Why terrifying? She explained…
Boyd described a time when she got to see the Beatles play at a theater in London, and George told her that she should leave with her friends before the last number. “So before the last song, we got up from our seats and walked toward the nearest exit door, and there were these girls behind me. They followed us out, and they were kicking me and pulling my hair and pushing us all the way down this long passageway.”
During the interview, Swift brought up a part of Boyd’s book that she found to be the most heartbreaking. “Years later, you and Eric get married, and George and his new wife, Olivia, come to the wedding party. Paul comes, Ringo comes, but John couldn’t go… That night there was a huge jam session and had he been there, it would have been the last time the Beatles played together.”
“Can you imagine?” Boyd said to Swift. “I was heartbroken,” Boyd explained how John felt like he couldn’t come because he thought that if he left the US, they wouldn’t let him back in. At that point, it was “important for him to be in America.”
Let’s take a look at the other songs written for or about Pattie Boyd that we haven’t talked about yet…
“I Need You” was the second song written by Harrison that made it onto a Beatles album, which was 1965’s Help! Ringo Starr played “drummed” on the back of an acoustic guitar while John Lennon played the snare drum. This song is assumed to be about Harrison’s relationship with Boyd.
Many people claim that it was written while The Beatles were filming the movie ‘Help!’ in the Bahamas. Harrison was missing his then-girlfriend Pattie Boyd, which resulted in the lyrics of “I Need You.” But one problem with this theory is that the song was already recorded before they were in the Bahamas. More than anything, the song seems like more of a breakup song. “Please come on back to me” and “I’m lonely as can be” is the true gist of the song.
This is a song from their 1970 album Let It Be. George Harrison wrote it as a love song to Pattie, who was his wife by that time. In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison described the composition as “A simple 12-bar song following all the normal 12-bar principles, only that it’s happy-go-lucky!” Okay, that’s nice, but it’s still widely considered to be about Boyd.
The song was somewhat influenced by Harrison’s stay in Woodstock, where he had collaborated with Bob Dylan. The visit let Harrison experience a musical camaraderie that was refreshingly different from the tense atmosphere of the Beatles. He enjoyed the creative equality with Dylan and his band. It was different from the dominance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The song “Mystifies Me” was on Ronnie Wood’s solo record I’ve Got My Own Album to Do. It was during a period he was still a member of the band Faces, released one year before he joined the Rolling Stones. Wood had something of a “warped rock star wife swap,” where he had an affair with Boyd while Harrison had an affair with Wood’s first wife, Krissie Findley.
To make it even more complicated, Wood wrote in his autobiography how he actually “pinched” Findley from Eric Clapton in the first place. He also knew that Clapton was in love with Boyd.
The song “Breathe on Me” was on Wood’s following solo album, Now Look. Harrison and Wood later joked around about the wife swapping. How funny…
“So Sad” was on Harrison’s 1974 album Dark Horse and regarded as the only piece he wrote about the marital problems he had with Boyd. The album was released in the same year that they separated. He began writing the song in New York in 1972, and the lyrics’ winter imagery is opposite of the springtime optimism of the other song he wrote, “Here Comes the Sun.”
Harrison recorded it during the period when his marriage was in turmoil. The recording session took place at Harrison and Boyd’s home in Friar Park, in November 1973, which was 8 months before she left him for Eric Clapton. Aside from Harrison’s contributions on vocals, guitars, and keyboards, the musicians with credits include Ringo Starr, Nicky Hopkins, and Jim Keltner.
“She’s Waiting” was released on Clapton’s 1985 album Behind the Sun, which was an album Warner Bros. forced him to play around with because his initial interpretation of it was not commercial enough for the record company. Clapton explained how it had no singles and no relevance to anything that was out there at the time, and he needed to wake up and get what’s going on.
The song was released a year after Clapton and Boyd had separated. The song includes the lyrics: “She’s waiting for another love;” “Get ready now, ’cause pretty soon/She’ll be gone, and you’ll be on your own.” Those lyrics alone strongly indicated to rock critics that the song’s muse was none other than Mrs. Boyd-Harrison-Clapton.
After their divorce in 1988, Clapton wrote a letter to Boyd from New York, saying he was working on an album with Harrison (Journeyman) and that he wrote a song about her. He wrote: “I think it will be the best one on the album. It’s called Old Love. Don’t be offended; it’s not about you being old. It’s about love getting old, and it’s great. Well, you’ll see it when you hear it.”
In a 2008 interview with The Guardian, Boyd said how she didn’t think it was that awesome. “The end of a relationship is a sad enough thing, but to then have Eric writing about it as well. It makes me more sad, I think, because I can’t answer back.”
In 2008, Pattie Boyd wrote an article for the UK’s The Observer. As the title indicates, it was about her thoughts on men and relationships. She began by noting how she didn’t have boyfriends until her late teens. Why? Because she went to a girls’ boarding school, and her stepfather disapproved of her going out with anybody.
“I never really came across any boys. When I did, one of them asked me out, and I was petrified. I felt like a fish out of water and it was excruciating.” Her biological father was with her family until she was 10. Unfortunately, she has no recollection of him talking to her or communicating with her. He was a very remote man, a pilot in the war, and in her words, “slightly damaged.”
Two years after she met George, they were living together in their nice house and were decorating it together. It seemed just like a natural progression for them to get married. She admitted that George was the first person she properly fell in love with. Having three brothers, she said how she felt very easy in his company and that he was great fun.
Pattie had an idea of what family life would be like, but unfortunately, she wasn’t able to get pregnant. “Men find it more difficult than women to be alone. They function better with someone in their lives. Being married, they’re rooted, so they feel safe to go and do what they want to do.” She then spoke about her marriage to Eric…
When Pattie married Eric Clapton, she described it as dealing with someone who was “not well due to alcohol abuse.” In many cases, she had the upper hand, which she didn’t like. But like anything else, she got used to it. And then she needed it. “I needed for him to be ill for me to feel in control. And that’s a sick relationship.”
So what does she think of both her ex-husbands’ infidelity? Pattie wrote how both of them were unfaithful and destructive because they were naturally adored by a massive amount of people. In her words, “It’s very seductive and easy to misbehave.” She even partially blames herself because she didn’t put her foot down. In her opinion, it takes two to tango, and she colluded with the effect of their fame.
According to Pattie Boyd, “men are unfaithful because as they get older, they feel the urge to prove to themselves that they are still attractive.” That means needing to get proof from outside of the marriage. With George and Eric, they had women telling them how amazing they were all the time.
After reading Eric Clapton’s autobiography and seeing what he had to say about their marriage, she felt that his reflection was much colder than she believed he was feeling at the time. “I fell into his seductive trap, and I believed it. Whereas reading his book, it seemed like he had forgotten how he was when we were together.” Pattie described how while women hang onto romanticism in a relationship, men are able to compartmentalize and leave the past in the past.
As you know, George Harrison passed away in 2001 of lung cancer. And despite his infidelity, she still says that her greatest passion and chemistry of her life was with George. She considers herself a “romantic inspiration” to both Eric and George because she gave as much as she could to each of them, so much so that it was to her detriment.
She was always there for them. And that’s what she thinks the whole muse thing came from. According to Pattie, that’s what a muse really is: living your life for somebody else. So what’s one thing she learned about her past with these rock stars? To go for somebody now who doesn’t drink too much, a man who is a grown-up. “But there are not many of them. That’s why I’m on my own.” She wrote this in 2008 before choosing to marry her longtime partner Rod Weston.
But Clapton has his own take on what went wrong…
A 2007 article from The Daily Mail featured an interview with then 62-year-old Eric Clapton, which took place in the office of his house in Chelsea. At that point, he had just written his book, ‘Eric Clapton: The Autobiography,’ which was all about how the absence of his mother and how it led him to look for her in other women.
As it turns out, the person he thought was his mother was actually his grandmother. His mother, the woman who gave birth to him, was a woman he was told was his sister. Then, at the age of seven, he heard his aunt asking his grandmother (or what he thought was his mother): “Have you heard from his mum?” The young Eric felt completely confused.
His real mother, whose name was Pat, had had an affair during the Second World War. She was just 16 years old when she gave birth to Eric in a bedroom of her family home in Ripley, Surrey, on March 30, 1945. While Pat never confirmed it, Eric believes that his father was a married Canadian airman.
Considering the situation, Pat’s mother, Rose Clapp, and her second husband at the time, Jack, raised Eric as if he was their own. Pat got married to the Canadian airman, Frank McDonald, and moved to Canada. By the time Eric was nine, Pat, Frank, and their two children, Brian (six years old) and Cheryl (who was one), sailed in on a boat to Southampton for a family visit.
Eric Clapton described that day as he remembers it vividly. By then, Eric was aware that his “sister” was really his mother, and he bluntly asked Pat: “Can I call you Mummy now?” She seemed shocked and said it was best that he kept calling his grandparents “mum and dad.” in Eric’s eyes, it was a moment of complete abandonment.
“When I think about the book now, I think why didn’t I explore that? What I didn’t really explore was my fear of rejection and where that came from.” It was that feeling of rejection that spun his life into a downward spiral. His life turned into an addiction to women, drugs, and alcohol. Sadly, hitting rock bottom came when his four-year-old son, Conor, fell out of the window of a skyscraper. That event put him on the path of recovery.
Clapton was close to his “mother” Rose Clapp. But he didn’t choose women who were strong and selfless like his grandmother was. According to Clapton, he would chase after women that were more like his mother: with beautiful but cold looks. For him, it was all about the chase. “As long as I was aware that at some deep level, this person wasn’t really interested in the relationship, then I was comfortable.”
It’s Psychology 101 – he would find a woman like his mother and make her love him because he got rejected by the first one. And so his life was spent searching for that woman to give him the unconditional love and care that his own mother never gave him.
Clapton’s most famous relationship was with Pattie Boyd, and he admittedly manipulated her away from Harrison, was in love with her if his life depended on it, and then ultimately rejected her. Then, Boyd told her side of the story in her book, in which she pretty much punishes him for what he did. So how did he feel about it?
“What I saw was all blaming. I was drunk or stoned. She knew who I was and what condition I was in.” In his autobiography, he wrote about his pathetic attempt to manipulate her by threatening to take heroin if she wouldn’t leave George. But in his typical fashion, by the time Boyd was ready, it was too late. He just wanted to know that she wanted him back.
Pattie spent years longing for a baby and went through IVF treatment only to find out about Clapton’s affair with the Italian model, Lori Del Santo, and the fact that they were expecting a child. Clapton doesn’t blame Pattie for anything that went wrong; he only blames himself. But when he read something from Pattie’s book in a newspaper, he was taken aback.
“When I saw the headline, “Eric Clapton’s drinking killed my marriage,” it brought it all back to me – that fear and anger and self-loathing.” The interviewer then pointed out something to Clapton that really caught him off guard. When she mentioned that he might have been so obsessed with Boyd because she had the same name as his mother, his jaw dropped.
“You know that never occurred to me?” Clapton remarked. “One is Pat, and the other is Pattie.” Both women are named Patricia. When things were going well in their marriage, he called Pattie by her nickname, Nell. Since she was Pattie with George, he needed something to make her special to him, and Nell was his aunt’s name.
“She became Pattie again when we fell out. Nell was a term of endearment.” But his gaze was elsewhere. In 1984, when he was married to Pattie, Clapton started a year-long affair with Yvonne Kelly, a studio assistant from Doncaster. She became the mother of his daughter, Ruth. Somehow, he hid Ruth’s existence up until his divorce from Pattie five years later.
Remember how Pattie Boyd referred to his account of their relationship as cold? Well, the interviewer described how “It’s not that the book is without emotion. It’s as though he is living his life in the third person. Blaming himself is implicit.” In the book, he comes off as very hard on himself, almost as though he wants to punish himself.
But Clapton said, “Not at all. I would put it a different way. I would prefer to think that I took responsibility for myself.” And with the death of his son and the feeling of “absolute devastation,” he learned to let himself feel. “I am an emotional guy, and I think I’ve learned how to be emotional in the moment.”
Clapton said how learning to feel in the moment is a way for him to not relapse. This after a lifetime of trying not to feel. He didn’t want to go back to a life of addiction. And he chose not to relapse for the sake of his son. He wanted to have a meaningful life and give to other people.
Clapton’s mother passed away in 2000. She had been diagnosed with cancer but refused to accept the fact that she was going to die. Before she passed, she told him that she loved him. But it didn’t matter because he never felt loved by her. Only after she passed away was he able to be in a real relationship. “Interestingly, it wasn’t long after she died that I bumped into Melia, who’s now my wife.”