As a mate and muse to rock 'n' roll royalty, Pattie Boyd captivated the most desirable men of her time. Despite a successful modeling career, she never appreciated her own beauty.
"I was maybe pretty, but beautiful is something else," Boyd said.
Her recently published best-selling memoir, "Wonderful Tonight," chronicles Boyd's life and loves — including the one that began in March 1964, when she was cast in the Beatles movie "A Hard Day's Night."
Her speaking role consisted of one word: "Prisoners." When she met the Beatles on set, they introduced themselves to her, as though she didn't know who they were. It was during this charming encounter that she found herself drawn to George Harrison, who was then 21 years old.
"He was incredibly good looking. Very, very attractive. But also he was … he seemed quite shy. And me being rather shy, I sort of felt … an affinity with him," Boyd said.
They clicked on their first date, a meeting chaperoned by Beatles manager Brian Epstein. It wasn't long before Harrison proposed.
"One day he said, 'I think we should really get married. I'm going to go and speak to Brian,'" Boyd said. "And then he came back, gave me a big kiss and said, 'Brian says we can get married in January.'"
Boyd settled into cozy domesticity, but Harrison went on with the Beatles to make the greatest music of his career, including "Something," a song he told Boyd he'd written for her.
"I thought it was an incredibly beautiful song," Boyd said.
It turned out Harrison wasn't the only one who thought Boyd was something else. She had attracted the attentions of another man, Harrison's close friend Eric Clapton.
A Courtship Begins
"One day I got a little letter, beautifully written. And singing my praises, and saying that, you know, this person really loved me. And I had no idea who it was from," Boyd said. "It was just signed 'E.'. So I … I showed it to George, and said, 'Aha, look, I've got a great fan here.'"
That evening Clapton showed up to ask whether she had received the letter. Soon, they were spending a lot of time together.
"I hardly ever saw George," Boyd said. "He seemed to be in the office or in the studio all the time. So I was pretty much left on my own. I suppose it was exciting because, you know, quite frankly, he was outrageous. And me … silly me … being sort of swayed by flattery."
Clapton let her know she was beautiful and desirable, sentiments Boyd said she had been missing.
"It's pathetic, isn't it, to think that, you know, one relies on that," she said.
Then, one tumultuous day in 1970, Boyd came to know the true depth of Clapton's feelings. He told her he wanted to play some music for her, so she went to his home. He popped a tape in his cassette machine, and that was the first time she heard the song "Layla."
"It was absolutely, staggeringly beautiful and powerful. And he played it a couple of more times, and I sort of realized it was about me," Boyd said. "I panicked slightly, because I thought, 'I think it's getting a bit too hot for me. A bit too hot to handle.'"
That night, she and Harrison attended a party at Clapton's manager's house.
"I remember being out in the garden with Eric at one point," Boyd said. "And then George appeared from nowhere and said to Eric, 'What are you doing? What's happening?' And then that's when Eric said, 'I'm in love with your wife.'"
Boyd felt she was being forced into making a decision that would stay with her for the rest of her life.
"I just wanted the earth to swallow me up," she said.
Harrison asked who she was going home with. Boyd chose her husband.
"You see, I'm a Pisces," Boyd said. "In astrology that's two fishes swimming in different directions. So I am typical, being pulled one way or the other. It's a really bad sign to be in this situation."
Clapton didn't let her decision phase him. The next time he saw Boyd, he held up a vial of heroin, vowing to take it if she didn't run off with him. Again, she refused.
"The result of that was that he sunk into a sort of heroin addiction for about four years … three, four years," Boyd said. "And that was it."
Meanwhile, Harrison began to withdraw. After the Beatles broke up, Boyd said he became distant and distracted.
"We were just really unhappy with each other. And I think when you're unhappy … you behave badly," she said.
According to Boyd, "badly" meant infidelity, drinking and drugs, not to mention one particularly hideous scene, when Harrison was caught having an affair with Ringo Starr's then-wife Maureen.
"Maybe he was reacting against what Eric had said to him," she said. "The whole thing was a mess."
Clapton kicked heroin, but he couldn't let go of Boyd. He continued his pursuit, and in the summer of 1974, Boyd decided to split with Harrison.
"I'd sort of had enough. I couldn't see any way out of this situation. It was an untenable time. And I just didn't want any more of it," Boyd said. "At the end of the day, I just had to take the bull by the horns and say, 'Right, I'm making a decision. Am I gonna stick to it?' And that's what I did."
Boyd stayed with Clapton for 14 tumultuous years. They married in 1979 and divorced in 1988 after Clapton revealed another woman was pregnant with his child.
"That relationship I think was all about extremes. Loads of heartache, and loads of fun, and you know, joyous times," she said.
Their happier times inspired another song that Clapton wrote as Boyd dressed for an evening out. He called it "Wonderful Tonight."
"It makes me feel flattered that songs … beautiful songs were written for me. I can't take it on board personally," she said. "I'm trying to receive it in a gracious manner, but it's kind of too overwhelming."
Remarkably, up to his death in 2001, Harrison remained on good terms with Clapton. They even spent Christmas together on the very year Boyd left Harrison.
"George was actually horrified, really, because I was eating turkey, and we were vegetarians," Boyd said. "So I'd changed."
So who, in the end, was the great love of her life? "I feel that George is with me forever," Boyd said. "So I suppose I'll have to say that George is the love of my life."
Pattie Boyd's long-lived love affair with photography provided a one-of-a-kind peek into an unforgettable era. You can view her photographs at the Morrison Hotel Gallery.