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Wings Over America
Wings Over America
(2013 Remaster)

2002-Dec-07: Heather's NPR Interview

An interview with Heather Mills McCartney was broadcast today on National Public Radio.  Host Scott Simon spoke to Heather from London this week.  She talked about her early life as a thief:
"Yeah, my mom left when I was nine and I sort of brought the family up until I was 13, when my father went to prison, but he would give us the equivalent then of $1.50 now and expect us to get the shopping in for the week. So he absolutely knew we had to steal but just never mentioned it. "
How did she learn?
"It was my sister, actually, that taught me that. She got a riding hat and it worked out perfectly that you could just slip something under the riding hat. And we'd put one item into the shopping bag and then the other item into the basket so that we'd actually go through the tills and it looked like we'd been shopping elsewhere. So it meant, you know, you didn't get beaten up when you got home. So you were prepared to take that risk."
When Heather was 13 years old, she joined a carnival:
"We'd been going there for about two weeks. It was on Clapham South in the south of London. And I used to go and play on the rides and things like that. So when it was time for me to have to go, my mother said 'Either you go,' or her partner at the time would go, Charles. So I lived on the fair for a number of months and just worked the rides, but unfortunately one of the guys on the fair died from a drugs overdose and the police had to come and I was illegally there. So I had to then go and live on the streets 'cause I was too proud to go back and ask my mom to have me back.

"I lived in a cardboard box and blankets and all that kind of stuff, but it's funny 'cause people go, 'Oh, but you were homeless. It must have been terrible,' but when you had an abusive sort of childhood, it's a feeling of freedom when you finally, you know, get out and you've got no fear because when you've had a father like I had--I've never been afraid of anyone since or ever will in my life. So for me, I just always knew in my heart of hearts that I was going to do well and I was going to be fine. And I just sort of kept my focus on that.

"And it was when I was under the arches and I woke up one morning, I could hear the sound of running water and then this horrendous stench, and my hair was soaked. And I turned round and this tramp had sort of urinated right next to me and it soaked into my hair, and I thought, 'Right. OK. I've got to get out of here now.' And then I got my first job in a croissant shop, pretending I was older, and then the guy said, 'You can eat as many croissants as you'd like.' And he didn't realize I had a huge appetite 'cause I was a very skinny kid. And I think I must have been eating 20 croissants a day 'cause I got sacked after a week."

After that, she was arrested for theft.
"I was working in a jewelry store and there was two guys that worked at the jeweler's and they were always stealing things and I was always getting accused of it. And I hadn't done anything, but every week one little thing would go missing and I'd get blamed. And so in the end, I just rebelled and I took a roll of gold chains, and I was pretty stupid 'cause I went and sold it to the jeweler's one mile away. I was pretty naive at the time. And signed my name on the form, exactly... you know, just totally daft 'cause I just had never had any direction on how things should be. And then I was lying in bed and the police turned up and I got dragged down to a cell two miles down the road. And my mother left me in the cell for the night as a lesson, which wasn't a bad idea. So that just kind of woke me up and I went, 'Right. This isnot the right path, and I should look into other avenues of earning an income.'
Heather then began her modeling career as "The girl holding the widget."
"I was with a guy and he kept saying, 'Oh, you should go into modeling,' and I said, 'I don't really want to go into modeling.' You know, I always thought of myself as the ugly duckling. I was always the skinny, lanky girl with the buck teeth at school. So the last thing I ever thought was to become a model. And he sent some pictures off to a newspaper that he'd taken, some swimwear pictures, and the next thing I know I got a phone call that said, 'You're in the final for this modeling competition, the Mirror Dream Girl competition.' And I said, 'I haven't entered a competition.' And he said, 'Well, your picture's been sent in and this is the contact number we've got.' And I said, 'Well, OK, I'll try it.'

"So I went along and got in, the last two models of the finals or something. And then they said, 'Oh, you know, you should get an agent.' And I went to ever single agency in London and they all said, 'Forget it. You could never be a model. You're too tall. You're too short. You're too fat. You're too thin.' And they said, 'You should do glamour modeling 'cause you're very big busted.' So I went and did some topless modeling and then I saw the pictures and I went, 'You know what? I don't really like this.' So that lasted for a few months and then I gave that up. And I purposely went on to become a successful model just to prove the people wrong that had actually told me I could never model and would never become successful at it.

Heather also talked about losing her leg:
"I got just down the road from the Royal Albert Hall and heard these two police cars go flying by with their sirens on and then two police motorcycles. So I sort of stepped back and went, 'Whoa, they're going fast,' and there was a red double-decker bus to my right. And I took a step, took another step, and then looked behind the bus and took another step, nothing coming. And a police motorcycle just came from behind the bus, chopped my leg off, punctured my lung, split my head open, crushed my pelvis. I went one way, the leg went the other. And they announced me about to die to my sister four times. And I managed to survive.
So she sold her story to the British tabloids:
"When I was in the hospital and they kept turning up and the nurses said, 'Please, get rid of them. You know, they won't go away.' And I got them in the room and I lined them up and I said, 'What do you want?' And they said, 'We want a story.' And I had no parents to fall back on. I had three mortgages. I was funding my brother, my sister and a number of friends and refugees, and I said, 'Well, how much are you going to pay for this story.' And they said, 'Oh, well, we don't pay for the story.' I said, 'Well, get out. You know, I want to listen to some of my music. Why do I need to sit and talk to you guys?'

"So they went off and then their editors got on the phone and said, 'Look, what do you want?' And we hit a mutual deal. And initially it was very selfish and it was survival skills, but within weeks, the response I got from the public saying it was an inspiration, it made them think about their lives and what they could do and how they could overcome things--and me and the media, between us, put me in a position of being a role model and taking the stigma away for disability."

And then she caught the eye of Sir Paul McCartney:
"He'd spotted me at an award ceremony where I gave a girl who lost her arms and legs an award. She'd lost them from meningitis. And she was a pianist and a biologist, amazing girl. And Paul spotted me, but I never spoke to him. And he kept ringing up my house and leaving messages, but I was in Cambodia, and then when I got back from Cambodia, I had dengue fever. I was really ill. And then I met Paul, and then we got together months later as a couple. And I kept quiet, not knowing that he was doing interviews and saying wonderful things about me. And then I looked like this bitch that wouldn't talk at all and was saying 'Screw you' to the media that I'd had a relationship with. So they got the knives out, not understanding for a second the predicament that I was in, that there wouldn't be a relationship if I did what they wanted, which was a kiss-and-tell story."
What is her favorite Beatles song?
"Oh, She's Leaving Home, Michelle, Here, There and Everywhere,"and my favorite Paul song would be Here Today, the one he wrote for John Lennon. That is one of the most moving songs I heard. And the only reason I know them is 'cause I've just been on tour whilst doing my work with him around America."
Please visit the NPR audio archives to hear the interview in its entirety.


(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)


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