A Hymn to Yesterday

By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 7, 2006


Most of the choir and orchestra sit tomb-silent, as a single oboe's lament rises over the welling strings, soft as a mourner's sigh.

It is for Linda, written by Paul, and everyone in the room knows it.

Paul -- McCartney -- leans way back and tips his face skyward in his small chair, set in the middle of this converted church. He's been tapping his toes and singing along with "Ecce Cor Meum" ("Behold My Heart"), the piece he spent eight years composing. Before its Nov. 3 premiere at Royal Albert Hall the next night, the singers and musicians are rehearsing the one-hour work -- including the interlude, a long and aching elegy to Linda McCartney, who died of breast cancer in 1998 during the composing of "Ecce."

Now Paul is staring straight up into the air, to the hall's elegantly detailed 30-foot ceiling, or maybe beyond.

A few of the idle cello players and sopranos look at him. The man is as famous as France; it's hard not to stare. Others fiddle with their horns or stare awkwardly at their sheet music.

Paul and Linda seem to be having a moment.

And with all the smarm and scandal battering the 64-year-old former Beatle these days, nobody is about to spoil it.

* * *

Outside the warm bubble of the rehearsal space, Macca, as the tabloids here call him, is up to his yellow submarine in lurid scandal. He and the former model he married four years after Linda's death, Heather Mills McCartney, split up in May after four years together. With a fortune in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion on the line, documents from the divorce proceedings keep appearing mysteriously -- via anonymous fax -- on the front pages of the British tabloids.

Heather alleges ugly things; according to those news reports, her version of Sir Paul is dark and controlling, almost cartoonishly psychotic, like a Liverpudlian Snidely Whiplash. It is also almost universally disbelieved in a country that has known McCartney since he was a floppy-haired teenager.

Oddball stories from Heather's past, along with long-ago nude photos from a sex manual, have done little to help her public image. By saying almost nothing, Macca has won the battle for the taxi drivers' hearts. But it is clearly a battle he doesn't want, and he is taking a painful beating.

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