Lesley-Ann Jones Shares Her Memories of the Late Christine McVie

Christine McVie remembers Fleetwood Mac in 2017

We had our backs to the kitchen wall at someone’s New Year’s Eve party in Los Angeles. “The older you get, the quieter you get,” mused Christine McVie, clutching a crystal champagne flute but not drinking a drop. Suddenly, she crossed the room to dump hers in the sink, then met me at the brink of a fray.

Taking my glass, he drank it down in one gulp, then slumped over, cackling. It was a teasing nod to his binge drinking.

“Life brings you down little by little,” the Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter and keyboardist, who died this week at 79 after a brief illness, mused to this rookie upstart, who probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. .

Being English in California, as I discovered, came in handy in the 1980s. An unlikely friendship with movie star Raquel Welch opened doors for me. Certainly Chris, as everyone knew her, was unfazed by my presence, which was enough.

“There comes the realization of how many stupid nonsense you have wasted your time,” said the then 41-year-old. “You want to get those years back, but of course you can’t get them back.

“Composers are the lucky ones. We can go back, reliving experiences that maybe were too painful to live at the time, or were too crazy on alcohol and drugs to know what was going on. We come to make sense of things in words and melodies. As far as compensation, it’s not the worst kind.”

It was January 1984. About a week earlier, on December 28, Chris’s ex-lover, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, had fallen overboard from a yacht called the Emerald moored in Marina del Rey. Drugs, alcohol and icy seawater did it for him. He was only 39 years old.

Chris learned of the tragedy from a call from his personal assistant, who called at the ungodly rock star hour of 8 am to inform his boss, Dennis, that he had drowned.

Christine McVie playing the piano

Christine McVie was happiest while playing the keyboard (Image: Getty)

“He’s fine?” Chris asked. Convinced that the hellish love of her life was indestructible, she couldn’t figure out that “drowned” meant “dead.”

I convinced my new friend to invite me over to her house to talk more.

Days later, I drove through the driveway of a gated estate in the Crest Streets enclave of Beverly Hills for the first of many encounters over the next few years.

I was confronted with what looked like a luxurious English country mansion that I later learned had once belonged to Joan Collins and, separately, Elton John.

A stately marble fireplace dominated the ballroom-sized living room. French windows opened onto a terrace patio with majestic views. We sit in a spacious pine kitchen with a beamed ceiling and a sitting room. Not a maid in sight. Chris made coffee. We talked about the night, just a week before his death, when I had dinner with Dennis and his old friend from England, DJ Roger Scott. By then, Chris and Dennis had been history for almost two years.

But Dennis spent the night mourning her passing, sipping shots from a bottle, sobbing into his plate and dripping snot. “It almost killed us to be together,” I told him that he had said.

“But she’s the one for me. I’m the one for her. There are no two ways around it. I know she’ll see him one of these days. Do I think we’ll get back together? Hell yeah. If I can clean myself up and she can come to her senses, we’ll do it. Me and Chris, the only place to be.”

dennis wilson

Christine’s beach boy’s lover, Dennis Wilson (Image: Getty)

It was a tongue-in-cheek statement from the lone surfer of the 1960s surfer boy supergroup. Christine, by her own admission, had turned him into a cocaine addict.

The most outrageously decadent gang of the 1970s and 1980s, Fleetwood Mac were legendary for slicing their way through gigantic amounts of the drug, as well as destroying relationships and breaking hearts as they hooked up and toured the world.

They did it with their own soundtrack: an addictive, melodic, soft rock phenomenon that spawned huge hits around the world, including Dreams, Rhiannon and Little Lies.

Their 1977 “divorce album,” Rumors, shamelessly charted the collapse of each band member’s significant relationship.

Long-term lovers Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham broke up. “Steamy Nicks”, as she was nicknamed, seduced drummer Mick Fleetwood behind the back of her model wife Jenny, sister of the iconic Pattie Boyd.

Christine left her husband, bassist John McVie, for a short-lived relationship with the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant, before falling in love with Dennis. Of the 10 tracks on Timeless Rumours, one of the biggest sellers in music history, Christine wrote and sang four of them in her soulful, bluesy voice, including Songbird, the tune Mick Fleetwood wants played at his funeral, Say You Love Me. and you make loving fun.

But Dennis had entered their relationship as a world-class drunk. The combination of these two self-destructive dysfunctionals was lethal. Chris admitted that their relationship was doomed from the start, but he couldn’t say no.

John McVie

Christine’s first husband, John McVie (Image: Getty)

“Dennis was a magnet,” he said. “He drew you to him. He drew everyone to him. The guy sitting in the next seat on a plane, the woman behind the counter in a store. They had become his best friends overnight. He was the Pied Piper, he collected people. He certainly magnetized me. I couldn’t resist it.

“We convinced ourselves that we were meant to be together. Our relationship was a dark and destructive fantasy. When I think about it, that’s what Fleetwood Mac was, too.

“But I am grateful to him. For having awakened aspects of myself that I had always been afraid to experience. He was indebted to a somewhat cool Northern streak.”

Christine Anne Perfect, the daughter of a concert violinist, father a music teacher and mother a psychic healer, was born in the Lake District village of Bouth in 1943 and raised in Birmingham. She studied classical piano from the age of 11.

After discovering the blues at 15, she moved to London in search of her ilk and achieved early success with the band Chicken Shack before marrying John McVie and joining him in Fleetwood Mac, the group founded by the guitarist Peter Green.

But it was her hard-living Beach Boy lover with whom she felt the strongest connection. “Dennis helped me admit my true emotions,” she said.

“I think my songwriting got deeper because of that. It also seemed fated that he would release his magnum opus, Pacific Ocean Blue, the same year we came out with Rumours. There was symmetry in that. We were at the same level. We clicked.

Fleetwood Mac

From left to right: Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie and John McVie (Image: Getty)

“But in the end, his madness separated us. He would be away for days and come back so dedicated that he had to clean him up, wipe his bottom, wash his vomit.

“I became the mother of Dennis and that ended us. She was already known as the mother of the band.

“I did not have children. Life on the road in a rock band is not conducive to raising children, whatever they tell you. My songs were my children. I didn’t have it in me to be motherly to Dennis as well.”

Much has been said, over the decades, about newcomer Stevie hogging the spotlight and becoming the focal point of the band, when Chris was around much longer and went through his successive incarnations. But Chris never cared.

“It saved me from having to do it. I was happy as Larry in the back behind my keyboard. I was one of the boys, always had been. Stevie walked in, this floating, ethereal thing, and everyone fell in love with her and wanted to protect her.

“Of course I wasn’t jealous. I didn’t care about his look, it wasn’t my look. He would put my jeans on me, roll up my sleeves, and move on. I let her do the whole image thing for her. She embodied us.”

Did he care that Stevie, five years younger, prettier, and more feminine, was considered by some to be the “voice” and face of Fleetwood Mac?

“Come now!” she scoffed. “Anyone who heard the music knew that the goal of the band was our three-part harmonies. Yours, mine and Lindsey’s. Our individual voices are so different from each other that they could never be compared.”

Fleetwood Mac in 2019

Fleetwood Mac in 2019 (Image: Getty)

What was the secret of the band’s success? “Chemistry. And if you can define that, you’re better than me. It just is, you either have it or you don’t. It’s the reason we broke up so many times and keep getting back together. We could ‘go our own way.’ A “Often we did. But the chemistry has a life of its own. Maybe it will always bring us back together.”

Chris continued with the band throughout the ’80s. He released a self-titled second solo album in 1984, before comeback record Tango In The Night became Mac’s biggest since Rumors 10 years earlier.

Chris contributed to Little Lies, co-written with her new husband, songwriter Eddie Quintela. It became one of her biggest hits.

Then her fear of flying got the best of her. She stopped touring because of it. She performed Don’t Stop with them for Bill Clinton’s inaugural gala as President of the United States in January 1993 and worked with the band on their 1997 live album, The Dance.

He then went up and left Los Angeles for Wickhambreaux, Kent, to be near his brother. In the town of Christmas cards, he restored a Tudor manor house, recorded one last solo album, In The Meantime, in his barn and walked his dogs.

But I missed the musicians. In 2015, at the age of 72, he sold the house, moved to London and plunged back into his tribe.

But one by one rock superstars fall. In 10 to 15 years, we will have seen the last of them. If the rockers of yore were wise, perhaps Christine was the most enlightened of all. She brought optimism into the mix. She captured the complexity of relationships, distilling emotion into songs we’ll listen to until the end, because no one has ever surpassed them.

And he was nice to the young showbiz writer from England whose champagne he stole all those years ago.

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