Cynthia Lillian Powell was born on 10 September 1939 in Blackpool, Lancashire. She was John Lennon’s first wife until their marriage broke down in 1968.
She was born to Charles and Lillian Powell, and had two older brothers, Anthony (Tony) and Charles. Cynthia was raised in the well-to-do area of Hoylake, Wirral, across the river Mersey from Liverpool.
At the age of 12 she gained a place at the Junior Art School, near to the Liverpool College of Art. Before her father died of lung cancer in 1956, he told her she would have to support her mother, and couldn’t go to the art college. Lillian Powell, meanwhile, eased the financial pressure without her husband by renting out their master bedroom to four apprentice electricians.
Cynthia started at Liverpool College of Art in September 1957. A diligent student, she fell into a relationship with a boy called Barry whom she described as the “Romeo of Hoylake”. Although they discussed marriage, their relationship waned when he was unfaithful to her.
With John Lennon
She met John Lennon in a lettering class at college, when he tapped her on the back and said, “Hi, I’m John”. Although he wasn’t her normal type, Cynthia felt drawn towards him. She changed her style of dressing, and often didn’t wear her glasses. She also dyed her hair blonde after hearing him comment favourably about another girl who looked like Brigitte Bardot – when Lennon saw her, he called out: “Get you, Miss Hoylake!”
They began a relationship before the summer holidays in 1958, when Lennon invited her to the Ye Cracke pub with him and some friends after a college party. She pretended to be engaged to Barry, which angered Lennon – he stormed off, shouting: “I didn’t ask you to fucking marry me, did I?” Although she went to the pub, Lennon ignored her until she was about to leave, whereupon he grabbed her hand, took her to a room rented by Stuart Sutcliffe, and the pair had sex for the first time.
The early days of their relationship were turbulent. They would often have sex in alleys or doorways, and Lennon often showed jealousy towards her. He once slapped her face after she had dances with Sutcliffe, which led to them breaking up for three months until Lennon apologised profusely.
He saw me dancing with his best friend Stuart, my best friend Stuart. That made him see red at that time. But it wasn’t until the following day and he’d been thinking about it all night and he caught me outside the ladies loos in the college basement, and just smacked me one. And I hit my head on the back of the pipes and he just walked off.
In addition to Lennon’s anger, Cynthia also had to contend with his aunt Mimi. She was hostile towards Cynthia, and once referred to her as “a gangster’s moll”. Upon The Beatles’ return from their first trip to Hamburg in 1960, Lennon bought a chicken for Mimi. She angrily threw this at Lennon, along with a mirror, for buying Cynthia a suede coat.
Cynthia accompanied the band to Hamburg, along with Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Dot Rhone. Finding it hard to cope with the long hours kept by the band, the two women began taking the Preludin pills used by The Beatles to stay awake.
It was magic, it was the first time we’d left the country. Especially going on our own on a boat train and not knowing what we were going to see or do or where we were going to stay. But when we got there it was just fantastic we had the greatest time. I think we all grew up in Hamburg, in terms of experience and seeing the rest of the world. It’s a fantastic city.
On her return Cynthia found out that her mother was emigrating to Canada. She asked Mimi if she could rent a room at 251 Menlove Avenue (‘Mendips’), which she agreed to, on condition that Cynthia also did chores around the house.
After leaving the College of Art Cynthia trained to become a teacher. When The Beatles returned to Hamburg in 1962 she moved out of Mendips and eventually settled in a bedsit at 93 Garmoyle Road, where she was later joined by Dot Rhone.
In July 1962 Cynthia learned that she had failed one of her teacher training exams, and also that she was pregnant. She and Lennon had never used contraception – the couple reportedly never discussed it. His response to the news was: “There’s only one thing for it Cyn – we’ll have to get married.”
This they did, though not without fierce opposition from Mimi, who threatened never to speak to Lennon again. He and Cynthia married on 23 August 1962 at the Mount Pleasant Register Office, Liverpool.
On the wedding night, Lennon played in Chester with The Beatles. The marriage remained a secret during the band’s early years, at the behest of manager Brian Epstein, to avoid the risk of alienating their fans.
During the pregnancy Brian Epstein allowed John and Cynthia to use his flat at 36 Faulkner Street, though they moved back to Mendips before the birth. John Charles Julian Lennon (known as Julian, and named after John’s late mother), was born in Sefton General Hospital on 8 April 1963.