Olivia Harrison was talking about her new book Came the Lightning at the Henley Literary Festival which includes 20 poems dedicated to her late Beatles husband, George Harrison marking 20 years since his passing. As well poems, the book contains photos, personal letters and mementos.
Having arrived to live in Friar Park in Henley in the late 1970s from California, Olivia said, “Henley has only changed in the last 15-20 years with a younger demographic and so many creative people. I’m connecting more and made more friends this year than ever before.” Interviewer, Andy Miller said he wished he lived here to which Olivia replied, “There’s nothing left, it’s all taken.”
Came the Lightening sees Olivia reflect upon her life with George, examining the intimacy of the emotional bond in their relationship. She delves into the phenomenon of losing a partner and the passage of time. Olivia commented, “The book is set in the garden. My life is set in the garden. The garden is a marker of life. I started by looking at the trees in the garden who have been my witness over the last 45 years.”
Olivia read three of the poems from the book, the first, How will life be measured which starts “Beautiful incarnation scattered on this ground.”
Talking about when she first met George, Olivia commented, “We had similar working class backgrounds. He was just a humble and welcoming person and he had holes in his socks. He would ask if I had yarn and sock egg (I didn’t know what one was!) When we came to live in Henley George just wanted peace after a he had a tumultuous decade. He lived there as a refuge to find a semblance of life. I learnt from George never to hold back. He didn’t save things for that day to do something which was good as he didn’t know he was going to die young.”
Asked, why did you want to do a biography in poetry? Olivia replied, “I wanted to make it more personal. People who knew him out there, they were so focused on the huge whirlpool. I wanted to bring it back into here (touching her heart). To bring and distil my thoughts as personal as I could get them. I wanted people to know what his physicality was like and express how he was.”
Olivia wrote a 1 or 2 poems after losing George and in the last 3 years she wrote all the others. Olivia explained, “It became a crazy obsession. I think it happened after I had 7 hours of amnesia and my good friend neurologist suggested I read poetry for the next 3 days. I think something shifted in me and I was thrilled it was happening and they all poured out.”
Another poignant poem from the book Her or Me, describes George’s love of guitars which ends, “I wondered if he loved her more than me.”
Olivia was a big music fan and she spoke about the incredible musicians that arrived at Friar Park including Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. She commented, “People gravitated towards George.” Bob Dylan, a wonderful wrought iron artist, who makes unusual things out of flywheels etc. out of the blue offered Olivia a gate for the Friar Park garden. The packed marquee on Sunday night also attracted big names in the audience too; Jeremy Irons and Jerry Hall.
Talking about John Lennon’s murder, Olivia recounted the incident that happened to her and George when a crazed attacker broke into Friar Park. She said, “We were a heroic couple, it nearly happened to us. We were very lucky. Defiant George didn’t want to die that way. The guy was deluded. It takes courage to put yourself back into that situation. I am detached from it now… it is just a rustle in the pages.”
The final poem Olivia read which moved the whole audience Death is good for the Garden. It starts, “The day of his death, gravity reigned, Grass at attention to soften my fall” and ends, “I lost track of time, finally, lost track of grief, Death is good for the garden.”
Afterwards the audience got the chance to ask Olivia questions. One lady who had gone to school at Friar Park asked whether the Cedar trees, Matterhorn and underground caves were still there which they are. Olivia told the lady that she had a film clip of children at sports day with the nuns. Asked whether it feels like 20 years since George’s passing, Olivia replied “It does and it doesn’t. I’ve had a great last 20 years, it’s my journey too. It’s important to live in the moment and George wrote that in his songs. Olivia told the audience her favourite George songs were Let it Down and Run of the Mill – she particular liked Run of the Mill because it has a good message at the end… “you decide.”
There’s more opportunities to see other local Henley residents at this year’s Henley Literary Festival, catch Mary Berry and Irvine Welsh this Friday plus other big names like Sarah Ferguson, Mel C, Fern Britton, David Dimbleby, Tim Peake and Lenny Henry. To book tickets go to https://henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk/