This happened two weeks ago: I was on a train coming back from London to Hastings, where I live. I’d had a wakeful night with a baby and a long lunch with a television producer – not a good combination for rest – and was groggy. So I slept for the first part of the journey and, when I woke up, Paul McCartney was sitting on the other side of the aisle.
I love the Beatles. Like millions of middle-aged British men, I have all their records in every available format. I’ve also written a book about their White Album and a TV drama, Snodgrass, about John Lennon. I also love Paul McCartney’s music (I was, in fact, waiting to get a copy of his new compilation, Pure McCartney, to review for a rock music monthly). The first single I ever bought was “Mull of Kintyre”. And here I was, on a train and, as I say, tired and groggy – and Paul McCartney was sitting two metres away from me.
From time to time, passengers would hand him scraps of paper and ask for his autograph, and he would make eye contact with them, ask who it was for, and scribble a signature. (The eye contact is significant: once, while drunk, I asked Cliff Richard for his autograph and he signed it while looking at someone else.)
I decided not to ask Paul for his autograph. Instead, I would be cool, and tweet to all my friends that I was on a train with Paul McCartney. I also tried hard not to eavesdrop on his conversation but it was difficult, as he was telling his travel companion about albums he had made. It was all I could do to stop myself from leaping up and yelling, “I LOVE CHAOS AND CREATION IN THE BACKYARD!” like the huge, empty nerd that I am.
I also found myself – tired and groggy as I was – quite moved by the experience. I don’t think I’m a stalker; I don’t take stealth photos of famous people in restaurants; and, being a music journalist and a television writer, I’ve met enough famous people to not go barmy whenever I see someone who was once in Grange Hill. But there is a strange mental split with Paul McCartney; he’s a man, and he is also an entire era in human form. And the physical manifestation of the art of songwriting.
The train stopped and Paul and his travel companion got up. “Remember last time we were here the doors didn’t open?” said his companion.
Paul nodded and then his eye caught mine. Presumably for want of something to fill the moment, he said: “Last time we were here, the doors didn’t open.”
And I said, “You can’t trust Southeastern trains.”
At which point he gave me a closer look, and saw a red-faced, middle-aged man.
“Have a good evening,” I offered wildly.
“Thank you,” said Paul McCartney, and got off.
This article appears in the 29 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies