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The week which sees seemingly all musical conversations revolving around The Beatles and the month in 1969 they spent making a film, an album and whole lot of myths and legends, also is two decades since the death of the youngest Beatle, George Harrison.

Naturally then, Wind Back Wednesday, riding on the back of a flood of words about Get Back from me already, gets as close to a Beatle as was possible at the time. In this case, Harrison’s second wife, Olivia, who in 2011 was marking the 10th anniversary of his death with a Martin Scorsese film, a book and a well of personal tales.


“WHO HE IS AND WAS, will live or it won't."

As Olivia Harrison makes clear, in keeping with the sanguine philosophy of life she shared with her husband, the former Beatles guitarist George Harrison, she is not hung up on the idea of nurturing a legacy. Nor does she define herself by the role she’s held for 33 years - wife of one of the most famous men in popular music - even if for most of us any interaction we have with her is always in that context.

"I don't have a problem with that. It's not my problem," she says calmly. "He was my friend and my husband and there is an association there, a bond there, that's there for all time; you can't change history. But I think I am enough of an individual, within my own self, to feel like an individual. I don't feel like I am him."

But if a legacy is not her agenda, fulfilling some of her husband’s final plans are. In the first years after George’s death from cancer, as well as running her own charity assisting Romanian orphans, Olivia Harrison staged A Concert For George which raised funds for his humanitarian foundation, made a film of that concert which won her a Grammy, and issued a rare and expensive book of memorabilia from that same show.

And this month sees the publication of a large, photo-driven biographical book and a three hour-plus, Martin Scorsese-directed documentary which features previously unseen home films made, both called George Harrison: Living In the Material World.

Throughout both the book and the wide-ranging and sometimes frank film, a fascinating picture emerges of a complex, driven and yet spiritual man who was always much more than the cheap cliché of “the quiet one” in the Beatles.

There’s much evidence for Olivia’s statement that “people with curious minds are always interesting and interested" as Scorsese follows the son of a bus driver from post-war privations to unprecedented fame, public and private spirituality, a bizarre attempt on his life and then carefully designed final days that he’d prepared for all his adult life.

"He wasn't a saint, you can't sanctify a person,” Olivia says. “Really what Marty was interested in making with this movie was a man's journey. How do get through a life the best you can? What is it you are looking for? What is at the core of the man?"

In the footage and text, George Harrison comes across as someone who had mixed views about a life indelibly marked by his tumultuous decade in the most famous pop band of all time ("when we was Fab,” as he sang in 1987) but appreciated the opportunities it had afforded him, not least the discovery of eastern philosophies which guided the rest of his life.

“He was contrary and liked to queer the pitch a bit,” remembers Olivia. “He was grumpy and not happy about the state of humanity. He’d seen everything and he always said his nervous system had been battered by the Beatles experience and he didn’t have a lot tolerance left for nonsense. He felt it was a distraction from his real goals in life.”

But then she adds that “people evolve and change [and] I think it's fair to say he was a pretty wise man”, describing how he was “a very present person“, who worked hard to find his peace.

"Like Ringo said, ‘at first, it's fun and then you want it to end, but it never ends: that’s the deal’,” Olivia says. “And it is a bit of a deal, a trade-off. It's about finding a balance: how much you want to put yourself out there and he had a lot of joy and a lot of friends and a lot of fun."

If nothing else, the book and film reveal a man for whom friendships mattered more deeply than almost anything. His wide circle of friends went from famous comedians and giants of music to race car drivers and local musicians he played with in local pubs. And all of them felt that they’d had a special bond.

"If George knew you and was your friend then he would be at the heart of you,” says his widow. “If he liked you and wanted to know you then he didn't just want to know you superficially. He didn't waste time; he got right to the heart of the person and that's why people felt so special."

And if he didn't like you?

"He didn't suffer fools and he didn't like to waste his time. No one does, but he was more bold and honest about it. Bold is the word."


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