Cynthia grew up in the middle-class area of Hoylake, on the Wirral, and gained a place at the Liverpool College of Art, which is where she met Lennon in a lettering class. She started a relationship with Lennon, and married him in 1962, after becoming pregnant. They had a son, Julian Lennon, who also became a musician. Julian was their only child together.
Cynthia was the last of three children born to Charles and Lillian Powell, who had two older sons named Anthony (Tony) and Charles. Charles Powell worked for the GEC company, and sold electrical goods to shops in Liverpool. In 1939, Cynthia's pregnant mother (who was carrying Cynthia) was sent to Blackpool after World War II had been declared, and lived in a small room in a bed-and-breakfast on the Blackpool seafront before giving birth. When Lillian came to term, she was in labour for a whole day and a night until a midwife arrived, who saw how bad the situation was. The nurse locked the door, swore Lillian to secrecy, and "dragged" the baby (Cynthia) into the world. After Cynthia's birth, the Powell family moved to a two-bedroomed semi-detached house in Hoylake; across the river Mersey from Liverpool.< Because of the war (and for years after) food in Britain was severely rationed, which meant that Cynthia would get less to eat than her brothers or her father, had to polish their shoes, and generally to look after them. She accepted this—being the youngest and female—as that was the accepted attitude at that time. Cynthia's eldest brother Charles was a talented pianist, but he left home when he was 16 to work for the GEC in Birmingham.
At age 12, Cynthia was accepted at the Junior Art School, which was only a short distance away from the Liverpool Art College, and it was there that she met Phyllis McKenzie, who became her lifetime friend. When Cynthia was 17, her father died after a long battle with lung cancer. Before he died, he told Cynthia that she would have to get a job to support her mother, and would not be able to go to the Liverpool College of Art. As Cynthia's mother wanted to see her daughter receive a better education, she squeezed four single beds into the master bedroom and rented it out to four apprentice electricians. Cynthia remembered there was always a queue for the bathroom in the morning.
Cynthia started to change her dress style, grow her hair, and often did not wear her glasses, which meant that she sometimes got off a bus at the wrong stop, and misread notices in college, although she had to wear them in class, as she would not have been able to see what she was drawing without them. Although she was studying graphics, Cynthia also took some classes in lettering, and during the first class a Teddy Boy came in late and sat down behind her. He tapped Cynthia on the back and said, "Hi, I'm John". Lennon never brought any equipment with him, so he constantly borrowed pens and pencils from Cynthia, who found out that he was only in the lettering class because other teachers refused to have him. Lennon sometimes brought a guitar with him into class, and once kindly sang "Ain't She Sweet" directly to Cynthia, which made her blush and run out of the class. Cynthia once overheard Lennon make a comment about a girl with blonde hair in the college, whom Lennon thought looked like Brigitte Bardot. The next Saturday, Cynthia dyed her hair, and went into college on Monday with her hair several shades blonder. Lennon noticed straight away, exclaiming, "Get you, Miss Hoylake!" (Lennon's nickname for Cynthia—referring to the middle-class suburb where she lived). He also used to call Cynthia "Miss Powell", and later, after their relationship started, simply "Cyn" [Cynthia].
Their relationship started after a college party before the summer holidays when Lennon asked Cynthia to go to the Ye Cracke pub with him and some friends later that evening. Cynthia told him she was engaged (to Barry, in Hoylake) and Lennon stormed off, shouting, "I didn't ask you to fucking marry me, did I?" Cynthia later went to the pub, although Lennon ignored her all evening, but as she was ready to leave, he grabbed her hand and took her to a room Stuart Sutcliffe was renting, where they engaged in sexual intercourse. During the beginning of their relationship, the two often had sex in alleyways or shop doorways (if Sutcliffe's room was not available) but Cynthia didn't enjoy those "snatched encounters".
Lennon's jealousy could manifest itself in aggressive behaviour towards Cynthia, as when he slapped her across the face (knocking her head against the wall) the day after he saw her dancing with Stuart Sutcliffe. Cynthia broke up with Lennon for three months, but resumed their relationship after Lennon's profuse apology.
When Lennon returned home to Mendips after the first Hamburg trip, Mimi Smith (Lennon's Aunt and guardian) threw a cooked chicken (that Lennon had bought especially for Mimi) and a hand-mirror at Lennon for spending money on a suede coat for Cynthia, and once referred to Cynthia as "a gangster's moll", and was unpleasant or cold towards her. The Beatles went to Hamburg in 1960, and Cynthia and Dot Rhone (McCartney's girlfriend) visited them there two weeks later, but had to stay up all night because of the long sets, with both taking the same pills (Preludin) that the others took just to stay awake.
After the trip to Hamburg, Cynthia's mother told her that her cousin and husband were emigrating to Canada with their new-born baby and that she [Cynthia's mother] would also be going with them to look after the baby while they studied to become teachers. Cynthia waited until Lennon came back from Hamburg before she asked Mimi—who had taken in lodgers before at 251 Menlove Avenue—if she would rent a room to her. Mimi let Cynthia have the little box-room above the front door (which used to be Lennon's bedroom) and demanded that Cynthia do chores around the house, but it meant that Cynthia would see Lennon a lot more often. Cynthia remembered Mendips as cold and draughty (it had no central heating system) with only old electric fires in the downstairs rooms. To pay her rent, Cynthia took a job at a Woolworths store in the city as her student grant had run out.
In 1961, when Lennon was 21 years old, he received £100 from his aunt Mater (who lived in Edinburgh) and went to Paris with McCartney for a holiday. Cynthia could not accompany them because she was studying for her final exams, since she had teacher-training practice at local schools. It was at one of these schools (a private girls' college that she hated) that Cynthia later made the mistake of teaching in her class the wrong material for an exam, and was sternly told off, although the students were able to take the exam again.
The Beatles went to Hamburg again in April 1962, but Cynthia decided that she had had enough of living with Mimi, and moved into her aunt Tess's house for awhile, or slept at McKenzie's house. She looked for somewhere to rent, and found a bedsit in a terraced house in 93 Garmoyle Road, which was close to the two schools where she was teaching. It had a one-ring cooker, a one-bar electric fire, a single bed and an old armchair. Cynthia had to put a shilling into a meter for enough ankle-deep hot water to take a bath in the shared bathroom. When the old woman who was living in the larger room next door moved out—which pleased Cynthia as the woman filled her room with cats and bags of coal—Cynthia asked Rhone to share the rent of the two rooms together.
In July 1962, Cynthia found out that she had failed one of her exams, and that she was pregnant with Lennon's child. They had never used contraception, and Cynthia explained that they never talked about it and didn't think about it at the time. When Cynthia told Lennon he said, "There's only one thing for it Cyn [Cynthia] we'll have to get married", but when he told Mimi she "screamed and raged" at him—threatening never to speak to him again—in order to stop him from going through with it. Cynthia's mother was back in England for a visit, and Cynthia told her the day before she was due to go back to Canada. Cynthia married Lennon the next day.
During Cynthia's pregnancy Epstein offered the Lennons the use of his flat at 36 Faulkner Street—and later paid for a private hospital room when Cynthia was coming to term. After Lennon and Cynthia had been living at Epstein's flat for a few months (and after hearing about a near-miscarriage that Cynthia had) Mimi offered to rent the downstairs rooms of Mendips to them both. Although pregnant, Cynthia had to boil hake fish for Mimi's three Siamese cats every day, which made Cynthia nauseous. While Lennon was in Hamburg he would often telephone Mendips, but Mimi always got to the phone first and talked to Lennon until shortly before his money ran out—only then handing over the phone to Cynthia.
After Cynthia had been in labour for 24 hours, John Charles Julian Lennon was born on 8 April 1963, at 6:50 a.m. in the Sefton General Hospital in Liverpool. Lennon was on tour at the time, so was not present (Mimi was the first to see Julian) although Lennon did see his son three days later during a short stop-over trip to Liverpool.
After Julian's birth, Cynthia often found one of Mimi's cats (along with cat hairs) in Julian's cot, and Mimi vacuumed outside Cynthia's door every morning to let Cynthia know it was time to get up. Mimi constantly complained that Julian's constant crying during the night was keeping her [Mimi] awake. In November of 1963, Cynthia left Mendips and moved into a bedsit with Julian and her mother Lillian, who had returned to Liverpool. They had to live in the bedsit for a month, as they had to wait for the lodgers in the Powell house in Hoylake to move out.
The press heard rumours about Lennon having a wife and child at the end of 1963—after Beatlemania had already swept the whole of Europe—and descended on Hoylake in November and December. Friends and neighbours protected Cynthia's anonymity, but Cynthia was often approached by journalists. In late December Cynthia had Julian christened at the Hoylake parish church, but didn't tell Lennon because she feared a media circus and believed Lennon wouldn't approve. She told him two days after, and he was angry as he hadn't wanted it to be done, but when Epstein heard about it he asked to be Julian's godfather. Not long after the christening Cynthia opened her door to cameras flashing, and the next day every paper was full of the story about Lennon's secret wife and baby boy.
The Lennons both moved to London and found a three-bedroomed flat in Emperor's Gate, which was just off Cromwell Road. The flat was the third flat of three, which were built over two floors. This meant climbing six flights of stairs as the building had no lift. Cynthia firstly had to carry Julian up to the flat, and then go back down to collect shopping bags. The Beatles' fans found out where they were living, and Cynthia would find them camping out in the hallway, and would have to push through them when leaving or arriving.
Cynthia went with Lennon to America on The Beatles' first trip there, and to Cynthia's surprise Lennon agreed when the press asked for a photo of them together. Cynthia was left behind in New York while Lennon and the other Beatles were quickly ushered into a car, and in Miami she had to ask the help of fans to convince a security guard who she was. Lennon's response was, "Don't be so bloody slow next time—they could have killed you".
Back at Emperor's Gate the situation grew worse, with fans sticking chewing gum in the lock of the flat and tearing at any article of clothing when Cynthia or Lennon were leaving or arriving. The Beatles' accountant advised Epstein that the individual Beatles should move to houses near his in Esher, so Cynthia and Lennon bought a house called Kenwood, which was a mock-Tudor-style house on three acres in Weybridge, where Tom Jones and Cliff Richard already lived.
Lennon and Cynthia spent twice the original £20,000 purchase price on renovations for Kenwood — reducing its 22 rooms to 17. The new kitchen was so modern and complicated that someone had to be sent to Kenwood to show Cynthia how it all worked. During the extensive renovations the couple lived in the attic bedroom, and had to stay there for nine months. Although Cynthia enjoyed entertaining in the larger rooms, Lennon could usually be found in a small sunroom at the back of the house overlooking the swimming pool, which was similar to Mimi's conservatory in Liverpool. Cynthia often found Lennon there in a daydream, and said that in that state he was "present but absent".
When Lennon was working, or non-communicative, Cynthia took her £50 a week allowance and went shopping. She loved buying clothes for Lennon and Julian, bedding, and a lot of shoes. Assistants in expensive shoe shops in Weybridge would happily welcome Cynthia when she walked in, knowing they were sure of a sale. Cynthia enjoyed the closeness of Maureen Starkey (Ringo's wife) and Pattie Harrison (Harrison's wife) as they lived nearby, and they often went on holiday together or shopping.
Kenwood became a place for the other Beatles to visit, various American musicians, and total strangers that Lennon had met the night before in a London nightclub. Both Lennons enjoyed London nightlife in 1965, and went to many expensive restaurants and clubs which Epstein recommended. At home they enjoyed simple food (as Cynthia admitted that cooking was not one of her strong points) like bacon or steak sandwiches, meat pies, cheese on toast, and tea.
Cynthia was often photographed at Beatles' movie premieres and special occasions, and sometimes with Lennon and Julian at home, which meant she had the role of a Beatle wife, as well as being the mother of Julian. She would often go to a nightclub with Lennon until nearly dawn, but in the morning she would take Julian to school like any other suburban housewife. When Cynthia passed her driving test Lennon bought her a white Mini, and then a gold Porsche. She found a red Ferrari in its place one day, as Lennon had traded the Mini in for the Ferrari (which was for himself as he had recently passed his driving test) without telling her. Lennon then bought Cynthia a green Volkswagen Beetle.
In 1965, Cynthia opened the front door of Kenwood to see a man who "looked like a tramp", but alarmingly, with Lennon's face. It was Alf Lennon, whom Lennon had not seen for years. Cynthia invited Alf in, and gave him tea and cheese on toast until Lennon came home, which he was expected to do in an hour or so. While waiting, Cynthia offered to cut Alf's "long, stringy locks" of hair, which he allowed her to do. After waiting for a couple of hours, Alf left. Lennon was annoyed when he came home, and told Cynthia (for the first time) about Freddie's visit to the NEMS office a few weeks before.
Three years after meeting Lennon in the NEMS office, Alf (who was then 56-years-old) turned up at Kenwood again, with nineteen-year-old student Pauline Jones, who was Freddie's fiancée. Alf asked Cynthia to ask Lennon if he could give Pauline a job, so Pauline was hired to help Cynthia with Julian and the piles of Beatles' fan mail. Pauline and Alf spent a few months living at Kenwood in the attic bedroom, but Cynthia remembered Pauline, "crying all the time and arguing with her mother on the phone".
Cynthia knew that Lennon took drugs like cannabis (which made Cynthia feel sick and sleepy) and previously Preludin, but saw them as not being very dangerous. At a dinner party in central London one night, Cynthia, Lennon, Harrison and Pattie Boyd were given LSD without their knowledge. They all went to the Ad Lib club, where they thought the lift up to the club was on fire, and were then driven back home by Harrison (which took hours because Harrison was still tripping). They sat up all night at Kenwood and experienced the full effects of their first LSD trip. Cynthia thought it was "horrific", and hated the feeling of not being in control of herself and not knowing what would happen next. Lennon thought differently, however, and started taking LSD on a regular basis. Cynthia, after much encouragement from Lennon, agreed to try LSD one more time, but this second trip at Kenwood was even worse than the first. She said that she saw her own skeleton in a mirror, watched the friends that Lennon had invited turn into snakes, and saw their cat's fur bounce in time to the music. The next day she told Lennon that she would never take it again, although she relented and took it (for the last time) a few weeks later on the way to a party at Epstein's house in the Sussex. The results were the same, and Cynthia realised that a gulf was opening between her and Lennon.
The Beatles publicly renounced drugs (although never completely) after their initial meetings with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London, and took a train to Bangor, in Wales, to meet him again in the summer of 1967. A policeman stopped Cynthia from boarding the train as it was pulling out (not knowing who she was) with Lennon calling out of a window after her, "Tell them to let you on!". Cynthia broke down in tears, and later said that it symbolised where she felt their marriage was heading, with Lennon speeding into the future and herself being left behind. Epstein had previously agreed to travel to Bangor to join them after the August Bank Holiday, but died of a drug overdose on 27 August 1967, which was a massive shock to both Cynthia and Lennon.
In February 1968, Cynthia flew to India with Lennon and the other Beatles and their partners. She had taken pens and paper with her, so was able to draw, meditate with Lennon every day, and for the first time in her life she started to write poetry. "Magic Alex" (Greek-born Alex Mardas who was part of Apple Electronics) was also with them, and smuggled in alcohol from the nearest village as it was not allowed in the ashram. After two weeks Lennon wanted to sleep in a separate room from Cynthia, saying that he could only meditate when he was alone. Cynthia found out much later that Lennon walked down to the local post office every morning to see if he had received a telegram from Ono, who sent one almost daily.
Cynthia had suspicions of Lennon's infidelity over the years, and people had told her that he had had numerous affairs as far back as their time together at the art college in Liverpool, but Cynthia decided to ignore it, unless there was definite proof.
After returning to Kenwood from India, Lennon got very drunk on scotch and coke and confessed that there had been "other women" during his time with Cynthia that he had had affairs with. He detailed every groupie, friends of Cynthia's, Joan Baez, Maureen Cleave, and told her about "thousands" of women around the globe. Cynthia was totally taken aback and simply replied, "That's OK". Two weeks later, in May 1968, Lennon suggested that Cynthia take a holiday in Greece with Mardas, Donovan and two friends. Lennon said that he would be very busy recording The White Album and that it would do her some good to take a break.
The beginning of the end for their marriage came when Cynthia arrived back at Kenwood one day early from Greece on 22 May 1968, to discover Lennon and Ono sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring into each others eyes, and then found Ono's slippers outside their bedroom door. Cynthia gathered a few things and asked Jenny Boyd and Mardas if she could spend the night at their apartment. At the apartment Boyd went straight to bed, but Mardas got Cynthia drunk and tried to convince her that they should both run away together. After Cynthia had been sick in the bathroom she collapsed on a bed in the spare bedroom, but Mardas joined her and tried to kiss her until Cynthia pushed him away.
Lennon seemed absolutely normal when Cynthia returned to Kenwood the next day, and maintained his love for Cynthia and Julian. Lennon went to New York with McCartney shortly after and told Cynthia she could not go with them, so Cynthia went on a trip to Italy with her mother. Mardas appeared during Cynthia's holiday in Italy and broke the news that Lennon was planning to sue Cynthia for divorce on grounds of adultery, seek sole custody of Julian, and send Cynthia "back to Hoylake". Cynthia said in 2005:
Cynthia was allowed to return to Kenwood, while Lennon and Ono took up residence at Ringo's flat ground floor and basement flat at 34 Montagu Square. Lennon and Cynthia had one last short meeting at Kenwood (with Ono alongside Lennon) but Lennon accused Cynthia of an affair in India—saying that she was no "innocent little flower".
McCartney visited Cynthia and Julian that year, even though it was frowned upon by Lennon. On the way to Kenwood he composed a song in his head that would later turn out to be "Hey Jude". Having just broken up with fiancée Jane Asher, he took Cynthia a single red rose, and asked jokingly "How about it, Cyn? How about you and me getting married now?" She never forgot the gesture — or the laugh they both had at the idea.
Lennon refused to give Cynthia any more than £75,000, telling her on the phone, "That's like winning the pools, so what are you moaning about? You're not worth any more." As Cynthia did not want to take half of Lennon's millions (as she would have been entitled to) because she did not want to go through a lengthy court battle, she accepted £100,000, plus £2,400 a year, custody of Julian and Kenwood. Their decree nisi was granted on 8 November 1968.
Cynthia learned of Lennon's death while she was staying with friends in London. She received a call from Ringo Starr two hours after Lennon had been shot in New York on 8 December 1980.
In May 1976, she married John Twist—an engineer from Lancashire—they divorced in 1983. Cynthia Lennon settled in Ruthin, north Wales, and opened the Manor House Restaurant, Well Street. Her son Julian Lennon attended Ruthin School. Later Cynthia met Jim Christie, who was her partner for 17 years until they broke up in 1999. Cynthia said at the time: "Jim [Christie] has never felt he's living in John Lennon's shadow. He's four years younger than me and wasn't really part of that whole Beatles scene, though his parents were in showbusiness. He knew Julian before he knew me and, in fact taught him to ride motorbikes - and we became friends as a result. He's slotted so easily into my life it really is a miracle for me."
After her divorce from John Twist, Cynthia changed her name back to Lennon by deed poll. She kept mementos of Lennon for years, including never-published photographs, letters, and personal items, finally auctioning off many of them long after his death. She published a memoir, A Twist of Lennon, in 1978, telling about her life before and with Lennon, containing her own illustrations and poetry. In 2002 she married Noel Charles, a night club owner. By the late 1970s, Cynthia's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and died in 1985. In September 2005, she published a new biography, simply titled John, that re-examined her life with Lennon and the years afterwards, including events following his death. In 2006, she and Julian attended the Las Vegas premiere of the Cirque du Soleil production of the Beatles Love, which marked her only joint public appearance with Ono. Cynthia currently lives on the island of Majorca, Spain.
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