SHE WAS the girl Paul McCartney almost married.

She was loved, hated, envied and admired - all at the same time.

Teen-age girls in mini skirts held all-night vigils outside her house, and chased her down the streets of London screaming, "We love Paul. We love Paul."

It was 1966 and Jane Asher was a Beatle's bird.

[TEXT OMITTED]

Jane Asher, the daughter of a British surgeon and a professional actress since the age of 5, had the unlikely fortune to fall in love with Paul McCartney at the height of Beatlemania. She went through it all - the drugs, the groupies, the hysteria, the meditation trips to India - apparently unscarred.

"She was just 17, you know what I mean . . . " Jane Asher was the shy, soft-spoken young English school girl who had been McCartney's companion for over four fab years. But somewhere between the Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, the romance ended.

[TEXT OMITTED]

She still won't talk about it.

"I never talk to anyone," Asher said in a telephone interview last week from Twyford, Hampshire, where she is appearing in a new play by C.P. Taylor called "Ophelia."

"I never do interviews. You've really caught me off guard."

Asher is touring England with the Oxford Playhouse Co. and has been active in British theater for the past few years. She is 30, and lives in London with political cartoonist Gerald Scrafe. They have one child, a 3 1/2-year-old daughter named Kate.

"I've been with Gerald six or seven years," she says softly.

Was the break up with McCartney horrible? "Oh no," Asher says quickly, "It wasn't horrible. Everybody has boyfriends they break up with." Yes, but not everybody had a Beatle.

That was 1968. A year later Paul McCartney married a young American photographer named Linda Eastman. Asher's voice turns icy when asked if she and McCartney are still friends.

"I don't want to comment on that," she said. "My life is very private. Apart from the theater, my life is really my own. I feel rather lucky - but you can never convince people of that."

Jane Asher made her film debut at age 6 in "Mandy." She appeared in "The Girl in The Headlines" (1963) and with Michael Caine in "Alfie" (1966). In her last film, "Deep End" she gave a steely perfomance as the heartless, snotty Susan - a role many critics applauded.

"I'd like to do another film," Asher said, "if the right part came along."

Asher last appeared onstage here in 1971 in the New York production of Christopher Harper's "The Philanthropist." Now she comes to America at least once a year to visit her brother Peter Asher who was part of the '60s singing duo "Peter and Gordon." Currently he is Linda Ronstadt's manager and producer.

"He's so clever," says Jane Asher, enjoying the anonymity of being known in America as the sister of a famous record producer.

The interview is over. There are children's voices in the background and the telly is turned up too loud. Jane Asher says she's happy.

But will she ever marry? "Me?," she laughs, "Oh I don't know. The theater is my first love."