“People keep asking me, ‘what’s the secret of a long marriage?’” Olivia Harrison reflects with a watery smile. “Don’t get divorced!”
Olivia was George Harrison’s second wife and with him for 27 years, but there were moments when it was clearly “a challenge”. Not just because women found George irresistible, but because he was so universally charming – as a husband, hero, friend or father. Everyone he met fell under his spell.
The feeling you get at the end of Martin Scorsese’s new enthralling three-hour 40-minute documentary is that the band’s main songwriters, Lennon & McCartney, were so extravagantly gifted that the entire world was in awe of them. The younger Harrison, however, was always in their shadow (though he wrote Something and Here Comes The Sun), and thus posed no great threat to fellow celebrities. Living in the Material World is packed with his wide variety of famous friends - McCartney and Ringo Starr, producers George Martin and Phil Spector, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam of Monty Python, Eric Clapton, even racing driving Jackie Stewart – all rather sweetly hoping George had been as fond of them as they so touchingly were of him.
A fascinating portrait unfolds, much of it an amusing collision between the fleshpots and the faith. He was a devout believer in Eastern religion but liked to go racing at Brands Hatch. When not the life and soul of the party, he could be found meditating alone in his high-security gothic retreat in Henley. He was such a meticulous gardener he often worked by moonlight to avoid seeing any weeds he might have missed, yet he was such a relaxed father his son joined the school’s Combined Cadet Force “as it was the only way I could rebel”. He fought the taxman for every penny he earned but cheerfully dished out millions to any artistic cause he believed in - from religious movements to his sponsorship of the Monty Python film Life Of Brian.
All this is woven together with unseen and fascinating footage. Priceless newsreels of The Beatles at press conferences, their stage shows and rehearsals are intercut with Harrison’s own home-movies, all glowing with a wit and generosity of spirit that was often buried when he was with the rest of the band. Ringo is understandably in tears when he remembers seeing his old friend incapacitated the day before he passed away (in 2001 when only 58). The drummer’s daughter was also gravely ill, he told Harrison. He was seeing her in Boston the next day and was very concerned.
“Do you want me to come with you?” George had replied.
George Harrison: Living In The Material World is in cinemas from October 4, on DVD and Blu-ray from 10 October and on BBC in late November.