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George Harrison of The Beatles and Eric Clapton of The Yardbirds and Cream consistently rank high on any list for the greatest musicians of all time. But few people know that they share more things in common. Three of their best songs were inspired by the same muse, who was also the love of their lives.
The beloved of two prominent artists was a leading model and beauty icon for young British women in the 1960s and 1970s. Harper's Bazaar described her as someone who "stood at the intersection of fashion, rock 'n' roll, art and fame." She was the regular model for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Elle and worked with the most prestigious photographers, including Jeanloup Sieff. Her name was Pattie Boyd, and she first met George Harrison on a set.
In the prime of her modeling career, Boyd's agent sent her to the casting of a Beatles film, A Hard Day's Night. When "Britain and most of Europe was in the grip of Beatlemania," as Boyd said, she took the chance to co-star with the hit band. She described her first sight of Harrison in her memoir, "George, with velvet-brown eyes and dark chestnut hair, was the best-looking man I had ever seen."
Thanks to the film, the duo became close friends. On one special day, Boyd was just excited to sit next to Harrison at a break for lunch, and the first thing he said took her by surprise, "Will you marry me?" Though it was half-joking, the model and the guitarist soon fell in love and they got hitched two years later, on January 21, 1966. At that time, Boyd was 21, and Harrison was 22. Their marriage inspired one of Harrison's most popular works.
Harrison wrote Something three years after his wedding. He later told his wife that he wrote a love song for her. Out of over 150 cover versions, Harrison favored the one by James Brown. However, Boyd revealed her choice in her book Wonderful Tonight, "Mine was the one by George Harrison, which he played to me in our kitchen." Yet, the songwriter's new beliefs changed everything.
Their married life seemed delightful, while their chasm started to grow because of George's new beliefs. After his visit to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India in 1968, "the quiet Beatle" made a fetish of meditation and became more withdrawn. Harrison's negative attitude also led to his wife's suicidal moods. What's worse, she learned that he had been unfaithful in the past.
Harrison had dreamt of becoming the god Krishna, who had dozens of young mistresses around him. He later hooked up with his friend Eric Clapton's ex, which nearly broke Boyd's heart. Unexpectedly, the affair didn't affect Harrison's friendship with Clapton, and they even went on to make more songs together. But what if Clapton stole Harrison's partner?
While Clapton was working with Harrison, he also spent more time with Boyd. Gradually, Clapton took the place of Harrison to comfort her broken heart. This shy and reserved man always complimented Boyd's outfits and food and told jokes to make her laugh. Clapton was apparently in love with her, but Boyd was still uncertain of her feelings for him. A love song changed it all.
One day, Boyd and Clapton secretly met at an apartment in South Kensington, where Clapton played her a song that was "the most powerful, moving song" she had ever heard. It was named "Layla," "about a man who falls hopelessly in love with a woman who loves him but is unavailable," as Boyd described. What would she say to such a bold expression of love?
Clapton played the tape three times and stared at Boyd to wait for her reaction. Boyd's first thought was, "Oh God, everyone's going to know this is about me." The married woman was still hesitant to ruin her marriage but could hardly resist the passionate melody. She wasn't alone in reveling in the song.
"Layla" was put on the only album of Clapton's post-Cream band Derek and the Dominos. The 1970 collection consists of Layla and other touching love songs, and critics believed it was his most remarkable work. Just as Boyd commented in 2005, "He's able to put his emotions into music in such a way that the audience can feel it instinctively. It goes right through you."
Having been overwhelmed by Layla, Boyd couldn't help but fall in love with him. That same evening, she left her husband behind and went with Clapton to a party at Cream manager Robert Stigwood's home. Unfortunately, an unexpected guest showed up.
George Harrison appeared at the party during the early hours. Surrounded by ecstatic revellers, he seemed not to enjoy the party at all without his wife's company. Unfortunately, just before he left, Harrison ran into Boyd and Clapton in the garden.
Referring to Boyd's autobiography, Harrison came up and asked, "What's going on?" Boyd panicked whilst Clapton confessed directly, "I have to tell you, man, that I'm in love with your wife." Harrison went nuts and turned to his wife, "Well, are you going with him or coming with me?" Boyd still returned home with Harrison that night, and the couple didn't divorce until 1974.
Boyd was still with Harrison, and that broke Clapton's heart. He squandered $16,000 per week and remained intoxicated all day alone in his Surrey mansion. During this period, the artist rarely performed in public. Finally, Boyd's divorce in 1974 cheered him up. After that, they started living together.
A life of just two became a source of Clapton's inspiration, and he penned another classic song for Boyd in 1976. One evening, the pair were about to present at Paul and Linda McCartney's get-together, but Boyd was still busy dressing up. When she finally got downstairs, Clapton seemed excited rather than impatient. He said, "Listen to this!" and played "Wonderful Tonight" to his girlfriend.
Clapton and Boyd tied the knot in 1979. However, their married life was not as perfect as it was supposed to be. For most of the marriage, the rock star was intoxicated with alcohol and cheated on her frequently. They finally split in 1989.
In 2008, Boyd spoke out about her two intertwined relationships to The Observer. She said, "I think both of the men I married were so unfaithful and destructive because they were adored by hundreds and thousands of people." The rock stars' ex also revealed her favorite husband, "I'd say I had the greatest passion and chemistry of my life with George."
Boyd seemed not to enjoy being a muse to her rocker husbands, "I think I was a romantic inspiration to Eric and George because I gave as much as I could to them both to the detriment of myself...I was always there for them, which I think is really what a muse is."
A decade later, the muse of two songwriters took an interview for Harper's Bazaar by Taylor Swift, who was also not afraid to get inspiration from her love life. This time she chose a different perspective, "I think in my case, both George and Eric had an inability to communicate their feelings through normal conversation. I became a reflection for them."
Apart from Boyd's husbands' infidelity, her infertility also speeded up her break-ups. Boyd and Clapton even tried in vitro fertilization, but it didn't work. The cruel reality was a terrible blow to her, but she tried to be positive and said in her Daily Mail interview, "you come to the realization that you've got great friends [and] life is fabulous. I believe that we can't force nature. Whatever happens in life is meant to happen."
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