McCartney Times

Maureen Starkey

Maureen Starkey

Maureen Starkey

Maureen “Mo” Starkey Tigrett, born Mary Cox (4 August 1946 – 30 December 1994) was a hairdresser from Liverpool, England, best known as the first wife of the Beatles‘ drummer, Ringo Starr. She met Starr at The Cavern Club, where the Beatles were playing, when she was a trainee hairdresser in Liverpool. Starr proposed marriage at the Ad-Lib Club in London, on 20 January 1965. They married at the Caxton Hall Register Office, London, in 1965, and divorced in 1975.

First living at 34 Montagu Square, Marylebone, the Starrs bought Sunny Heights, in St George’s Hill, Weybridge. In 1973, they bought Tittenhurst Park from John Lennon. They had three children together: Zak, Jason, and a daughter, Lee. As a favour to Starr, Frank Sinatra recorded a special version of “The Lady Is a Tramp” for Maureen’s 22nd birthday in 1968.

Maureen died at home of leukemia on 30 December 1994, after receiving treatment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Her four children, mother, then-husband and ex-husband Starr were at her bedside when she died. 

At 15, Cox became a regular at The Cavern Club, and remembered the long queues and violent competition for access to the Beatles. Although she got a kiss from Ringo, whom she called ‘Ritchie’ (for Richard), he did not immediately notice her among his numerous fans. All the Beatles were supposed to be officially unattached, for image purposes, and when Ringo started dating Cox, she was often threatened, and once scratched in the face by a vicious rival. She even had to stop working as a hairdresser because of the threats. In September 1963, with her parents’ permission, she travelled to Greece with Starr, McCartney and Jane Asher.

On the eve of an international tour, Starr collapsed during a photo session at a studio in Barnes, London. Stricken with a 102 °F (39 °C) fever and tonsillitis, he was rushed to hospital, where Cox visited every day to help him recuperate. Afterwards they became a monogamous couple. On 20 January 1965, Starr proposed marriage to Cox at the Ad-Lib Club, above the Prince Charles Theatre, London.

After finding out she was pregnant in late January 1965, Starr and the 18-year-old Cox were married at the Caxton Hall Register Office, London, by the superintendent registrar Barry Digweed, on 11 February 1965. Starr listed his father’s profession as ‘confectioner’, and she listed her father as ‘ship’s steward’. Starr wrote that his profession was ‘musician’, but she left her profession blank.[18]

Because of the pregnancy, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein arranged the wedding very quickly, hoping it would be a private affair, with John Lennon telling her there should be no tears, or she ‘wouldn’t be one of the gang’. McCartney was in Tunisia at the time, and could not attend. After the wedding, George Harrison (who had arrived on a bicycle) jokingly said ‘Two down, two to go’, meaning the only two Beatles who were not married: Harrison and McCartney. The Starrs had a brief honeymoon for three days at the holiday home of Epstein’s lawyer, David Jacobs, in Prince’s Crescent, Hove, but gave an interview in the back garden on their wedding day, as they were being besieged by numerous reporters, with 100 photographers. Starr then had to depart to the Bahamas for the filming of Help!, on 22 February. She made it clear from the start that she would not give interviews, as a Beatles spokesperson explained: ‘She doesn’t want to get mixed up in publicity, and Ringo doesn’t want her to, either.’

The Starrs were living at 34 Montagu Square, Marylebone, when Epstein’s accountant suggested that the group members should move to houses near his, in Esher. Lennon bought a house called Kenwood in St George’s Hill, Weybridge, Harrison bought Kinfauns on a nearby estate in Esher, and on 24 July 1965, the Starrs bought Sunny Heights, on South Road, St George’s Hill, for £30,000 ($72,000). Ken Partridge was asked to redesign the interior of the six-bedroomed house, incorporating a private pub above the garage, called The Flying Cow, which had a mirrored bar, pool table, jukebox, and a portrait of Lennon and McCartney on the wall. A TV was usually on in every single room, and a go-kart track was laid in the grounds. Although she cooked for the family, the Starrs had a nanny who lived in the house, and a cleaning woman who visited every day.

After Lennon moved away, they sold Sunny Heights for £50,000 ($120,000), and bought a 16th-century mansion in Elstead, from Peter Sellers, which they soon sold to Stephen Stills, before moving into Roundhill, on Compton Avenue, Highgate, London, on 25 April 1969. They bought Tittenhurst Park on 18 September 1973, which had been Lennon’s former home.

Cox enjoyed the closeness of Cynthia Lennon and Pattie Harrison, as they often went on holiday together, shopping, and celebrated Christmas. Starr promised that he would set up a nationwide hairdressing business for his wife, but the idea was later shelved, as she had to deal with looking after their children and being the wife of a Beatle. This would entail waiting with other Beatles’ partners, at clubs like the Speakeasy Club, the Ad-Lib, or the Scotch of St James, or staying up all night, waiting for Starr to come home after a recording session, with a cooked meal waiting for him. She was also asked to look after voluminous fan club mail, and would personally answer letters. The Starrs were both interested in various arts, and collaborated on photo montages, paintings and simple sculptures together.

On 19 February 1968, the Starrs travelled to Rishikesh, India, with McCartney and Asher, joining the Lennons and the Harrisons, who had arrived three days earlier. Maureen took an instant dislike to the spiders, mosquitoes, and flies that were ever-present in the ashram, and as Starr was allergic to many foodstuffs, he had taken a case full of tinned baked beans along, but soon tired of them. The division between the sexes was emphasised by the male musicians sitting outside at night composing songs, while their partners would gather together in one of their rooms, often talking about life as the wife or partner of a Beatle. The Starrs left India on 1 March, saying the unfamiliar food was not to their liking, and they were missing their children.

Cox sang backup vocals on “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” (from The White Album) and was, along with Yoko Ono, in attendance at the Apple Corps‘ rooftop concert in 1969, which was filmed for Let It Be, showing her sitting next to the chimney stack with Ono to keep warm. Responding to applause, McCartney can be heard saying ‘Thanks, Mo’ after the final performance of “Get Back” on the album Let It Be.

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