The Beatles arrive in Hong Kong

More than 1,000 fans were waiting for The Beatles at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport when they arrived on 8 June. They were allowed to bypass customs and immigration procedures and were swiftly taken to the President Hotel in Kowloon, where they were booked to stay on the 15th floor.

We’d been booked in to the President because it was big and new, very grand. The Beatles’ suite had just been vacated by President Sukarno of Indonesia, who had left his mistress behind. She appeared not to mind the change of company; just sat there calmly, beautiful and smilingly silent, as if waiting for room service to remove her (which apparently they did since she was gone by next day). ‘What sort of hotel is this,’ demanded [John Lennon’s aunt] Mimi, ‘leaving strange women lying around from the previous guest?’
Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

At the hotel Paul McCartney and Neil Aspinall ordered a couple of Hong Kong’s 24-hour bespoke suits, a popular request among visitors to the then-British colony.

McCartney also tried to visit Kowloon, but was forced to return to the hotel after being recognised by fans. Jimmie Nicol, standing in for Ringo Starr on this early part of the world tour, felt no such restrictions and was able to wander around unbothered.

In the evening The Beatles had been expected to attend the Miss Hong Kong pageant, which was held in the hotel’s Convention Hall. The long journey from Amsterdam had left them tired and jet-lagged, and they turned down the invitation, a decision which caused tears among the contestants. Eventually John Lennon – never one to shy away from female encounters – went down to the hall to greet them.

In the evening of that day we arrived, Monday 8 June, the finals of the Miss Hong Kong pageant were to take place in the hotel, and The Beatles were expected to attend. The promoters and the hotel management were all over me, just about the only member of our party still awake by early evening: they said hearts would be broken – maybe (murky hints) contracts, too – if The Beatles didn’t show up. I was still very susceptible to threat and cajolery, and there was something of each in this. I knew Paul and George were asleep, and Jimmie Nicol was out playing tourist; that left only John. I called his room and asked if he’d like to help. He didn’t seem to mind my disturbing him. ‘I can’t sleep,’ he said. ‘I’m too “blocked”. Come round and we’ll have a drink.

Over Scotch and Coke and pills, I explained the situation to him. He was amused but unmoved. ‘These f*****s are always arranging things and not telling us,’ he said. ‘Still, as it’s a beauty contest… You’ll have to pretend to be a Beatle. You might as well – Jimmie Nicol’s doing it, so why not you. Well, what’ll I say to them?’ With the hotel management now at the door, we hastily settled on a great ‘Liverpool’ word: ‘definitely’. Being very positive and of three syllables (‘def-nut-lee’), it was a winner in a tight corner and could cover just about anything. ‘Are you having a nice time?’ Definitely. ‘Do you take this beauty queen to be your awful shredded wheat?’ Oh, definitely… We had another drink and then, after washing ourselves into something approaching personal freshness, swayed down to the ballroom, which was full of people frightfully overdressed and extremely expectant, sitting at tables loaded with food and drink and flowers and high good living.

There was a tremendous buzz of excitement when the famous haircut appeared. He was invited up onto the platform, dragged me with him and immediately launched into an incredibly fast and complex speech in which the only intelligible word was ‘definitely’. He used the word so often that I feared he would be rumbled as ‘out of his head’, but he wasn’t. It seemed he could not give offence, no matter what. He smiled, kissed contestants on the cheek and kept on rolling with ‘definitely… yes, defnutlee’, stretching it outrageously to become more and more Liverpudlian. If the Duke of Edinburgh had turned up saying ‘definitely’ every other word, there would definitely have been trouble; but The Beatles, being funsters, cards, mischievous boys, could get away with it. Miss Hong Kong having at last been chosen, we took ourselves off and John crawled up to his room, laughing all the way, now totally exhausted. Much later, unable to sleep, I went out for a walk with Neil, also sleepless. We wandered around for a while but found nothing to do and went back to the hotel convinced that, like everywhere else, Hong Kong closed down too early. In fact, it was 4am. The clocks in our heads were all over the place – we were working to Drinamyl Time. The Hour of the Purple Heart had truly arrived…

During the 48 hours we were in Hong Kong, several of us ordered and received new suits – very smart and shiny, with the tightest of drainpipe trousers. Paul bought two watches, one for each wrist; the one on his left wrist he kept on English time, ‘for when I ring me dad’. I didn’t see any money change hands in Hong Kong; everything seemed to be ‘available’ – for all of us, if we wanted. After years of financial anxiety and near-crises this was a wonderful change, but it made me uneasy. Like Jimmie Nicol, I was still learning; unlike him, I was supposed to be in this for keeps, and I knew the tour wasn’t paying for itself – much of it had been booked before The Boys had become the Most Prized People in History.

Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

The Beatles also held a press conference at the President Hotel.

Q: Mr Nicol, how do you feel being rushed into this vast world of publicity all at once?

Jimmie Nicol: It’s a most exciting experience.

John and George: Correct.

Q: According to the Newsweek article, George and Paul are supposed to have said that you people are ‘just a bunch of crummy musicians.’ How were you able to get to the top, then?

Paul McCartney: Who said we were?

John Lennon: You said.

George Harrison: We said.

Paul: I remember.

John: We told ’em we couldn’t play.

Paul: You said we were crummy.

George: Well, I dunno.

Paul: What’s that, George… What’s your answer?

John: You said in the paper you couldn’t play. How come you’ve got all that money?

George: We don’t profess to be good musicians. But, whatever it is, it sells. And, you know, we don’t know why.

Q: How did you pick the name ‘Beatles’?

George: John picked the name Beatles. Why did you pick the name Beatles, John?

John: It’s not my fault. It’s just a name by any other. But why does anybody pick any name, you know, ’cause it’s the one they like best.

Paul: Beatles seemed like a good name, at the time.

Q: Is it supposed to mean the crawly-crawly…

John: Well, you ought to see us at night.

George: That’s the double-e, crawly-crawly.

Paul: Crawly-crawly, you see. It’s a pun. Jolly good.

John: Pun, pun.

Q: Gentlemen, you’ve had a chance to see something of Asia’s beauty.

Paul: Lovely, yes.

Q: What’s your impression?

Paul: Lovely. Marvellous. Beautiful. Very good, isn’t it?

John: Yeah.

Paul: Very great. Marvellous. Love it.

Q: With all this travelling about, how do you get time to rehearse?

John: We don’t!

Q: You don’t rehearse?

John: We do, a bit. We rehearse with Jimmie ’cause he’s new.

Q: One of the reports made here was that you’d chosen Hong Kong yourselves. You’ve been offered several places and that you, yourselves had chosen Hong Kong. Is that true?

John: Yes.

Q: Why was that?

John: ’cause we wanted to see it.

Q: Any reports from other showbusiness personalities coming back?

John: All of them. All like it.

Paul: We heard a lot about it, anyway…

John: They all like it.

Paul: …since we were kids.

Last updated: 10 November 2020
Travel: Amsterdam to Hong Kong
Mixing: A Hard Day's Night, Things We Said Today
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