I first met John Lennon’s half-sister, Julia Baird, in 1990 at Liverpool’s annual Beatle Week, and I recently spoke with her just after this year’s Beatle Week, which she described as “Absolutely fantastic; I’m in recovery! My voice is just coming back.”
As one of the directors of Cavern City Tours, which organizes Beatle Week, Julia is always around during the big event, and this year she also had a book to promote, “Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon.”
Julia previously had written 1988’s “John Lennon My Brother,” prompted by the 1985 BBC TV special “John Lennon: A Journey in the Life.”
“It didn’t mention me, my sister [Jacqui], or Victoria [another half-sister], and it didn’t mention [John’s son] Julian, not once,” she says. “So I phoned the BBC and they said, ‘We’ve done thorough research, and John hasn’t got any sisters.’ Truly! And I said, ‘But I am his sister!’ And they said, ‘No, he hasn’t got any.’ I can laugh about it now, but it’s tragic. It’s just wiping out my mother’s life like she’s a nonentity.”
Part of the problem was that many Beatles books hadn’t properly covered John’s childhood. John was the firstborn child to Julia Dykins, who married Alfred Lennon in 1938. While Alfred was away during World War II, Julia had an affair resulting in a daughter, Victoria, later put up for adoption. Then Julia and Alfred split but never obtained a divorce; Julia and her common-law husband, John Dykins, then had two daughters, Julia and Jacqui. For years, many Beatles fans knew nothing about John’s half siblings, and Julia’s John Lennon book endeavored to set the record straight.
Julia has since learned even more about her childhood from her aunt Nanny (her mother, Julia, having died in 1958). “She’d always been the keeper of all the facts and wouldn’t speak at all,” says Julia. “But in the last 18 months of her life, I was with her an awful lot, and she just started to talk. It put a completely different light on what happened in our childhood. And with this new information I thought, I’ve just got to do another book.”
“Imagine This” paints an evocative picture of the years before mother Julia’s death, tranquil days of games and birthday parties, but also of the shame and secrecy surrounding the family.
“Most people’s first question is, how did John end up with Mimi?” says Julia, referring to Mimi Smith, her mother’s sister, and the woman who primarily raised John. As Julia explains it, the rest of family considered her mother to be “living in sin” with John Dykins, hence they were able to force John’s mother to surrender him to Mimi. “Mimi used the services of the state to take John away from my mother,” says Julia.
A sympathetic relative later showed John where his mother lived, and he would regularly sneak over for visits.
“We all knew that we couldn’t tell Mimi,” says Julia. “Even the neighbors knew, ‘Don’t tell Mimi!’’ It engendered a conspiracy of silence Julia admits was “not good” for the family, though she adds, “the only thing I have to say in their defense is that many families have skeletons in the cupboard. There are many secrets that are never uncovered, and some that are uncovered. But, in our family, it was a matter of once John became famous, these things were written across the sky. All the time, and never the sam