The run-up to Christmas and our Bristol production of The Happiest Days of Your Life seemed to drag on forever. I enjoyed doing the play, lightweight as it was. But my life was changing — Sheila, the RSC — and I wanted to get on with it.
Fortunately, we had a wonderful cast, and in it was a talented and pretty young actress with red hair named Jane Asher. Everyone knew that Jane was dating Paul McCartney, but we were all very circumspect around her and careful never to mention his name. Still, this was 1965, the year of Rubber Soul and the sold-out show at Shea Stadium in New York City. It was hard not to be starstruck by proxy.
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One night after a performance, we were all sitting in the Old Duke pub when someone suggested a party game: We would go around the table, and each of us would answer the question, “If you were given a million pounds, what would be the first thing you bought with it?”
When it was my turn, I didn’t hesitate. “An Aston Martin DB4,” I said. “It’s a fabulous car.”
Jump forward to the following Saturday. Word got around during the matinee that Paul McCartney was in Bristol and he was coming to the evening show! We were all beside ourselves with excitement, though we did our best to conceal it from Jane.
After the performance, I was alone in my dressing room, changing into my street clothes, when there was a knock on the door. Still in my underwear, I called out, “Come in.”
The door opened and there, in the flesh, was Paul McCartney. “Hello, Patrick,” he said. “Jane tells me you like Aston Martins. Here, drive this.” He tossed a bunch of keys my way.
Then he went off to get Jane. I was stunned — I pulled on my trousers and pinched myself to make sure this was real life.
The three of us made our exit out through the stage door, with Paul signing autographs as we went. His silver Aston Martin, a DB5, was parked at the end of the alley. We got in: me in the front, Paul and Jane cuddled together adorably in the back.
“I’ll tell you what, I have never been to Bath,” said Paul. “Why not drive us there?”
Gearhead that I am, I was as excited to be behind the wheel of an Aston as I was to chauffeur Paul and Jane. Traffic was light, and I was able to operate the car with ease. Several times, Paul encouraged me to put the pedal to the metal. “Yes, go on, overtake!” he said. “Faster, faster. You can make this! Go!”
I appreciated his encouragement, but the thought did cross my mind: If I kill Paul McCartney, it will be the only thing I will be remembered for.
But we got back to the theater safely. I dropped myself off where my old MG was parked, and Paul and Jane moved up to the Aston’s front seat. They had both been lovely, and Paul had been so generous. Decades later, I met Paul again at some random event. He had been uninterruptedly one of the most famous people in the world every day since we had first met. I had achieved my own level of fame only relatively recently, courtesy of Star Trek and Jean-Luc Picard. In the intervening years, I had been through dozens of acting jobs, my fortunes ebbing and flowing. I expected that Paul might, at least, find my face familiar. Maybe.
But what he said when we met for the second time was, “Hey, Patrick, do you remember when we met in Bristol and I let you drive my DB5?”
I was bowled over, for all that had happened in his life, he’d matched the middle-aged man before him with the young man he had met in Bristol.
But that’s Sir Paul for you. Not too long ago, I was having dinner at the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower hotel in West Hollywood— a very glamorous spot where celebrity-spotting is normal—when the room stirred with excitement. Why? Because who else had walked in but Sir Paul. He greeted me warmly, as is his wont. A few minutes later, there was a second stir. Why? Because who else was joining Sir Paul but the recently knighted Sir Richard Starkey, a.k.a. Ringo Starr.
My dining party had a head start on theirs, and we finished our meal before they did. As I got up to leave, Paul came over to hug me goodbye. He said in my ear, “Do you know Ringo?”
Everybody knows Ringo, but I had never met the man. So, Paul motioned Ringo to join us, and suddenly we were in a huddle, three modestly born men from the North of England in a fancy Los Angeles restaurant.
“Hang on a minute,” Paul remarked. “Sir Ringo. Sir Patrick. Sir Paul. Hey — we’ve got the Knights of the bloody Round Table!” But this was all still to come for me. Back at the end of 1965, by the time Jane and Paul had sped away, it was after midnight, but I wasn’t sleepy. Rather, I was in a daze of Did that just happen? Will anyone believe me?
The Old Duke was closed, so I couldn’t share my story with anyone. I did need a drink, though. When I got back to my basement flat, I was glad to find a few drops left in my one bottle of scotch.
Sitting with a glass of whisky in my hand, I decided, Yes, that joyride in Paul McCartney’s Aston Martin really did happen. It happened because I am joining the RSC and getting married to Sheila. Good things are happening. A guardian angel had patted me on the shoulder.
Copyright (c) 2023 by Camm Lane, Inc. From the book Making It So by Patrick Stewart to be published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.
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