You are currently viewing What happened between John Lennon and Brian Epstein in Spain?

What happened between John Lennon and Brian Epstein in Spain?

On April 28th, 1963, with their latest single, ‘From Me to You’, heading to the top of the charts and their debut album Please Please Me already in the middle of its 30-week run at the top spot, The Beatles headed on a well-earned holiday. Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr jetted off to the Canary Islands. John Lennon, however, had other plans.

Lennon had a new baby at home, Julian, who had been born three weeks earlier to wife Cynthia. But that wasn’t his concern. He’d just been offered the chance to go on a trip to Barcelona and Torremolinos in Spain with The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, and the temptation go the better of him.

Recalling the trip during an interview with Playboy in 1980, Lennon commented, “Lots of funny stories, you know.” He didn’t fully elaborate on all of them. However, he did describe how he and Epstein “used to sit in cafs and Brian would look at all the boys and I would ask, ‘Do you like that one? Do you like this one?’” In an unedited version of the interview transcript, Lennon mentions that this pastime took place in Torremolinos, which was already known at the time as the gay capital of southern Europe.

Epstein also apparently came out to Lennon during the trip. Lennon called it his “first experience with someone I knew was a homosexual. He admitted it to me.”

Did their relationship turn sexual?
According to Pete Shotton, Lennon’s closest friend from his Liverpool school days, after considerable coercion, it is alleged that Lennon allowed Epstein to perform a sex act on him. There is a whole passage of Shotton’s 1983 memoir John Lennon in My Life dedicated to his second-hand account of the incident.

“What happened,” Lenin supposedly told Shotton when he was back from his trip, “Is that Eppy just kept on and on at me”. In the end, he allegedly relented, revealing himself to Epstein and telling him, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Brian, just stick it up me fucking arse then.”

Epstein is alleged to have replied, “Actually, John, I don’t do that kind of thing. That’s not what I like to do.” By Shotton’s account, Epstein explained to Lennon that he’d prefer just to touch him. “And so I let him toss me off,” Lennon is said to have admitted.

Both Epstein and Lennon were dead by the time Shotton published this version of the story, which had never been reported before. And so neither were in a position to confirm or deny it.

Did Lennon ever admit to an affair in public?
The first that people heard of something sexual being alleged to have happened between Lennon and Epstein on the trip was when Lennon returned to Liverpool in the days that followed. Lennon later bemoaned the various “rumours” he found on his return, “that he and I were having a love affair.”

This rumour did the rounds in circles of friends and acquaintances around Liverpool, until at Paul McCartney’s birthday in June 1963, friend of the band Bob Wooler asked Lennon about his “honeymoon” with Epstein. Lennon snapped, and beat Wooler within an inch of his life.

Does Lennon’s reaction to Wooler’s remark prove that nothing happened with Epstein? Not necessarily. Only that he was seemingly very insecure about his own sexuality.

Nevertheless, Lennon did go on to deny to the media that anything sexual took place between him and Epstein in Spain on two separate occasions. Firstly, in 1970, he explicitly told Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, “We didn’t have an affair.” And in his Playboy interview a decade later, he said, “Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But we did have a pretty intense relationship.”

The latter quote does leave some room for the possibility that Shotton’s account is true; if “never consummated” is simply taken to mean that they didn’t have intercourse, perhaps Lennon wasn’t denying that something else sexual did take place. In any case, he suggests that it was close to happening. He said that at one point or another during the trip, he wasn’t totally opposed to the idea.

Lennon was certainly quite close to Epstein, who was the best man at his wedding to Cynthia Lennon in late 1962 and paid for their reception. The shock and grief written across Lennon’s face in an interview he gave hours after hearing of Epstein’s untimely death was a stark illustration of how much he’d meant to him.

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that Lennon had lacked any kind of father figure throughout most of his childhood. His father left him to divorce his mother and move to New Zealand when he was five years old, and his erstwhile guardian and uncle, George Smith, died when he was just 14. Epstein filled this gap in Lennon’s childhood as much as any other role he played in his life. He took care of The Beatles almost as a parent would, deciding on the clothes they’d wear, managing their schedules, and controlling their finances.

Epstein may have wanted to take their relationship in a sexual direction, and Lennon was happy to lead him on in that regard. But maybe the orphaned Beatle was looking for something more familial from his manager. This would go some way to explaining why he abandoned his wife and newborn baby to go with Epstein on a tour of Spain’s gay hangouts.

Leave a Reply