Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
I love LIPA graduations.
The end of three years of hard work, celebrations, congratulations, the difficult time to say goodbye (but not farewell) to my amazing students. Many of them good friends, some for life. A joyous day and night.
My first graduation, my own (2001), as a student at the tender age of 41, was emotional, I was the first in our family to achieve a university degree, graduation was a fantastic ending to three of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life.
I had decided to pursue a second career as a teacher. This required a qualification, a degree. I applied for the Enterprise Management degree at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, aged 39. I was absolutely thrilled to get in but totally afraid I would be completely out of my depth. I had left school with no qualifications to pursue a dream of becoming a rock superstar.
I loved every second at LIPA. The incredible buzz from those young, talented, optimistic artists. Most of all I loved the challenge. I had discovered education, knowledge, I began to realise that the more I learned the more I didn’t know and that excited me. I was like a sponge, I could not get enough. Once I learnt that I was good at it I threw everything into my studies, determined to get a first and I made some incredible friends for life along the way.
I graduated with first class honours along with my education buddy, a fellow Scouser, Vanessa. Two Scousers achieving firsts. The only two in the class of 2001, two of only seven in the entire year.
I received my LIPA Pin from Paul McCartney (not a Sir then), I took my chance and asked him ‘are you a red or a blue?’ He looked surprised and said something like ‘I can’t tell you that …..I’ll tell you afterwards’.
As a prise winner and first-class honours student we were invited to a private reception with Macca and the other graduation guest celebrities. Vanessa had provided ‘us’ with two copies of ‘The Face’ magazine with Paul on the front cover, the plan was to get him to sign them, apparently, signed, they would have been worth quite a bit.
I never made it to the private reception, instead I went home with my family and friends for a celebration party. I did not know I was supposed to return my hired Cap & Gown prior to leaving LIPA, instead every one of my friends and family was photographed in it. We all graduated that day. I had to post my gown to the hire company which cost a small fortune.
2001 Graduation. Macca was accompanied by his then (newish) girlfriend Heather Mills. She was charming, super friendly. After the ceremony they went off to the Lakes for a weekend break, where he asked her to marry him.
Graduation was the finale of three amazing years and to top everything I was presented with another award voted for by my fellow students, a total surprise. I was on stage for the second time, this time to receive an award from legendary manager Malcolm McLaren who was a hero of mine. As I hit the stage to receive my award, my family roared the house down, I found out later that he had been asleep all the way thru the ceremony but woke up, clapping to present me with my award. Apparently the only clap he made all afternoon.
My next graduation was 2008, as a teacher (staff), my first year of working for LIPA. Followed by every year up to 2019. I have attended two other graduations, my son and daughter (JMU and Leeds Universities) and another five at my former employers, Glyndwr University. Twenty Graduations, thirteen LIPA graduations and then the retched Covid pandemic hit us. No graduations during 2020 &,2021. This year was a triple graduation ceremony, over two days. To finally and formally present the classes of 2020, 2021 & 2022.
Normally, staff would be segregated from the celebrities and special guests. Two separate green rooms. The Stars and the Stripes (staff). Macca would work the room meeting the guests and celebrities, occasionally he would venture into the ‘staff’ (stripes) area.
Staff have strict instructions not to engage with him ‘unless he approaches you’. 2022 graduation (years 2020, 2021 & 2022), was held in the larger capacity Liverpool M&S arena, not the usual Royal Philharmonic Hall. The ‘Phil’, Paul’s favourite as it reminds him of his school speech days, which his parents would attend.
Monday, the first and second ceremonies, were lower key than usual, scaled down to fit two ceremonies into one long, sweaty, day (the classes of 2020 & 2021). There was just one reception area (a single green room). Sir Paul arrived alone (he would sometimes attend graduation with his youngest daughter, Beatrice). He slowly worked the room. I looked up and there he was, right in front of me. I took my chance and engaged.
He was not shaking hands just fist bumps. I said ‘hello boss’, we fist bumped, he seemed a little surprised, I asked him ‘if he enjoyed Glastonbury’? He replied ‘it was emotional’ I told him my son, Aubrey had married his, then 37 weeks pregnant, girlfriend Charlotte at Glastonbury on the same day as his set. Their baby son, was born just four days ago, named Jude, (Fennec Jude Warner-Reynolds). He told me ‘Jude Law’ was also named after the famous song, Hey Jude ‘his parents were a bit hippish and they named him after Hey Jude.’
Somehow, I bumped into him again, twice more, after the graduation ceremony, during the reception. It seemed everywhere I went he was just there! At the bar, he asked me ‘what have they got’? ‘White wine Red wine and beer’ (San Miguel). He said, ‘I’m going to a party later at our kids (Mike), I think I’ll wait.’ I asked him ‘what his tipple was’? he said ‘Margarita’, he asked for, and I got him, a glass of water.
I had heard about the legendary Macca Margaritas, a family tradition at McCartney celebrations, ‘A Maccaritta’ prepared by the man himself. I said, ‘I have heard about them, they are legendary and joked,….there is a song in there somewhere, ‘Hey Maccaritta’? He didn’t laugh, or reply. I got the feeling that he makes the jokes, not you. Our final encounter of the day was at the buffet, I arrived at the same time as him and again he asked, ‘what have we got’? It was more rhetorical than an actual question, him thinking out loud. He ate a couple of butties from the fully vegetarian buffet.
At the end of every graduation ceremony, he makes a short speech, they tend to be similar each time, him reminiscing about his own family watching him, his school, end of term speech day at the Philharmonic. As we were in the M&S arena, he had to adapt the theme. He talked about the importance of family, it was emotional heartfelt and funny. He always injects a little humour, he is a naturally funny guy, a very dry, black scouse, humour. Still with him despite being separated from Liverpool for over 60 years. He does amazing impressions, accents are his speciality.
He commented that this was his 26th Graduation and he had attended every graduation since the very outset even the year his beloved Linda had passed.
The guy is the most famous person on the planet, a billionaire. He could literally be anywhere in the world with whoever he pleases, yet he comes to Liverpool, sits for five hours on a sweaty stage, clapping till his hands are sore, genuinely pleased to be there. Time is precious. At 80 years of age time is the most precious of all gifts. I could not admire him more for what he gives us.
Sir Paul McCartney visits Liverpool for a double LIPA Graduation Celebration and to say thankyou and farewell to fellow LIPA Founder Mark Featherstone-Witty on his retirement, in what will be Mark Featherstone-Witty’s final LIPA Graduation, during the year of Pauls 80th Birthday, and his triumphant Glastonbury headline set that included two LIPA music graduates (Paul Burton, Mike Davis) playing live with the x Beatle to 150,000 fans, joined on stage by two US rock legends, Bruce Springsteen, and Dave Grohl, performing live on the iconic Glastonbury, Pyramid stage,
Sir Paul, along with former CEO Mark Featherstone-Witty, founded LIPA (1995) to resurrect Sir Paul’s, old, dilapidated grammar school, The Liverpool Institute for Boys which, two Beatles, Paul and George Harrison both attended together.
During the evening ‘party‘ at LIPA, for the graduates and their families, I found a yellow post-it note stuck on the inside of the LIPA lift wall. Written by a student-graduate.
‘We love Paul. We love LIPA’.
Thanks for Reading
Paul McCartney joins hundreds of LIPA pupils on graduation day – Liverpool Echo
Sir Paul McCartney awards honorary accolades at the LIPA graduation ceremony in Liverpool | Daily Mail Online