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Lay off Linda, the ultimate rock chick

Never marry a Beatle. That's the lesson to be learned from the passages on the late Linda McCartney by the author Howard Sounes, whose new tome Fab: An Intimate Biography of Paul McCartney was serialised this week in a downmarket English tabloid newspaper.

The book portrays Linda as a "groping groupie" who threw herself at every other rock star of the age, notching up 20 lovers in two years, before ruthlessly fixing in on her prey -- the richest, most famous and most eligible of them all: Beatle Paul.

It also denigrates her achievements as a photographer in the years before she met Macca, quoting one 'former friend' who described her as "a groupie who was into photographing stars with little or no film in her camera" -- the object of the exercise being to bed her famous subjects. Some friend.

Just what Linda McCartney did to deserve such a tawdry and distasteful filleting is a mystery to me.

The first thing that crossed my mind was: Hey, it was the Swinging Sixties -- the zenith of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. In the Beatles's own words, everybody let their hair down; everybody had a good time. What's the big deal?

Why should the likes of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards be lionised in the media for their Bacchanalian escapades in the era of free love, but Linda McCartney made to sound like a cheap slut?

So a young, attractive woman in her twenties enjoyed the new freedoms of the decade that transformed the world, before finding love, marrying and raising a family with her soul mate -- who also happened to be handsome, rich, immensely talented and world famous? Sounds to me like she had one hell of a life. Fair play to her.

One reason why some Beatlemaniacs never quite warmed to Linda was because she was seen as an American interloper who steered Paul away from his previous long-term girlfriend, the actress Jane Asher -- who was a media darling, thanks to her classical good looks and well-spoken manner.

But Macca found happiness elsewhere. I've always thought that Paul and Linda looked absolutely devoted to each other in photos together. And speaking to camera in documentaries, Linda always seemed to exude a warm, easy grace, like someone who was at peace with herself and the world.

And she had her fair share of tragedy in her life too -- when she was in her early 20s, her mother died in a plane crash in New York.

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I'm glad she's not around to read Sounes's grubby little book, documenting the one-night stands of her youth.

Linda was successful in her own right, both behind the lens and later as an entrepreneurial businesswoman.

She certainly didn't marry Macca for his money -- Linda was the daughter of a rich lawyer and an heiress to the Lindner Department Store in the US. In fact, her father and, after his death, her brother, would go on to represent Paul in their capacity as entertainment lawyers.

And she would go on to make a fortune as the figurehead of a company that brought vegetarian cooking to the masses with its meat-free meals in the mid-70s. And her series of vegetarian cookbooks were global bestsellers that helped change the way we eat now.

"If slaughterhouses had glass walls the whole world would be vegetarian," she famously said. Indeed, it was Linda who persuaded Macca to become a convert to the cause and drastically change his diet.

Such was her success, when she died at the age of 56 of breast cancer in 1998, it was Linda who left a fortune to Paul.

But before she ever set eyes on her Beatle, Linda had already photographed the most famous rock stars on the planet: Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Tim Buckley ... . Her striking black-and-white portrait of Neil Young from 1967 adorned the front cover of his live album Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968.

The pioneering Linda also snapped Eric Clapton for Rolling Stone magazine in May 1968, becoming the first woman to have a photo featured on its front cover.

Her work was later exhibited in more than 50 galleries around the world. And her book, Linda McCartney's Sixties: Portrait of an Era, showed the world just how well she had mastered her craft -- and at a time when female rock photographers were as rare as a flying walrus. So much for "photographing stars with little or no film in her camera".

True, her musical abilities left something to be desired, but one got the impression that she was only a member of Wings because her and Macca couldn't bear to be apart from each other for any length of time. Problem solved -- learn the keyboards and join the band.

So why is there such lingering animosity toward Linda?

None of the women who would go on to wed Messrs John, Paul, George and Ringo could have been under any illusions that their romantic rollercoaster was going to be an easy ride.

Poor Yoko's was derailed by a homicidal maniac with a gun and a chip on his shoulder. Linda at least got to live out her dream into middle age.

Alas, in death, the gossip-mongering continues unabated. I suppose that's what she gets for marrying a Beatle.

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