33-year-old Florence Barrett was working as a sugar packer in Liverpool at the local sugar rifinery owned by Tate & Lyle’s (where her father George also worked as a labourer) when 34-year-old merchant navy ship steward Joseph Cox asked her to be his wife. Joe lived at 4 Barmouth Street following the death of his father - Dock Labourer John Cox - and had become very fond of the girl who lived round the corner whom friends and family knew as “Flo”.
The Catholic couple were married on the 23rd of February 1946 at St Alban’s Church on Athol Street. The bride only had a short journey up the road from her family’s home at 63 New Hedley Street to reach the church, and after the ceremony travelled back down the same road with her husband to their marital home.
On the 4th of August 1946 Florence gave birth to their only child, a daughter Mary, at Walton Hospital on Rice Lane. The child was brought up on Barmouth Street before moving to number 56a at nearby Boundary Street, and was educated at Ursuline Convent School in an area of Liverpool called Blundellsands. Mary loved music and had a passion for Frank Sinatra records. When older she would frequent Liverpool’s numerous music clubs such as The Cavern in Matthew Street and The Iron Door. Her boyfriend - who went by the stage name of “Johnny Guitar” - was even in a band who played at The Cavern called Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, but her favourite band was an up and coming group named The Beatles. Another later boyfirend of hers was also into the music scene. His name was Peter Hepworth, and he went on to become the co-director of Cavern Sounds Ltd, the Cavern Club’s record making section.
Mary’s real ambitions weren’t within the music scene like the aspirations of her many suitors. She wanted to be a hairdresser and manicurist and dreamed of one day running her own salon. She managed to secure herself a job as a junior apprentice at a well respected salon called Ashley Dupre Continental Hair and Beauty Salon in Liverpool and attended frequent training classes after work. As she progressed with her training Mary did what many hairdressers did at that time when salon work was a glamourous profession, and changed her name, chosing Maureen, and becomming known to her friends as Mo.
One day on the way to a hairdressing class Maureen spotted her favourite musician “Ringo Starr” in his car and ran to catch up with him to get an autograph on her excercise book. Ringo, whose real name was Richard Starkey, was the new drummer in her favourite band, but had previously played in The Hurricanes with her boyfriend Johnny Guitar. Before carrying on to her class that evening, she wrote down the registration number of Ringo’s car - NWM 466 - so she could memorise it to identify the car if she ever saw it again, and remembered it til the day she died.
Hairdresser Maureen’s fate was sealed that day and her dreams of one day owning her own salon would never be fulfilled as her life too became taken over by the music world.
Falling In Love
During one of her visits to The Cavern to see The Beatles play, a friend of Maureen’s who liked their bass player Paul McCartney dared Maureen to kiss Paul when he came out of the dressing room. Not one to chicken out on a dare, she went over and kissed him and the friend burst into jealous tears. Maureen would rather have kissed Ringo, so she waited around the dressing room entrance until Ringo came out and kissed him too.
Three weeks later Ringo noticed Maureen stood outside the Cavern queuing to get in and went over to chat her up. He danced with her later on in the club and then offered to take her home, but ended up having to take her friend home as well. Whenever he saw her he would have to entertain both her and her friend as Maureen was really too kind to tell anyone she wanted to be alone with him for a while no matter how much she wished it would happen.
In an attempt to finally get to spend some time alone with her, Richard contacted her at work and asked her if she would go out on a date with him, just the two of them. Knowing of her early curfew and the fact that most of his evening time was filled up with drumming engagements he suggested they spend the whole of the day together instead of grabbing just a few moments in the evening. Maureen readily agreed but became so excited and nervous about their date that when the big time finally arrived her friends at work sent her out shopping. She’d been winding them and herself up so as the time grew closer that none of them could get their work done properly so it was better if she went out of the salon and tried to take her mind off her date.
When she returned from the shopping trip and began to make her way up the stairs towards the salon’s reception she became quite giddy at the sight of a pair of Beatle Boots from under the reception door. Richard had arrived early for their date and had to sit self-consciously in the salon waiting for Maureen while being fussed over, flirted with and giggled at by all the ladies waiting to be attended to by Maureen’s work mates. Their long and eventful first date was spent strolling in Liverpool’s city parks, catching a film at the cinema, attending a concert by Frank Ifield and then going for a drink and a dance at the Blue Angel club before walking down to the Cavern together for Richard to start work. The whole day had been a roaring success and the pair became quite an item.
“(The girls) used to hang around the Cavern all day long, just on the off chance of seeing them. They’d come out of the lunchtime session and just stand outside all afternoon, queuing up for the evening. Ritchie and I once went past at midnight and they were already queuing up for the next day….The object was to get as near the front row as possible, so that they could see the Beatles, and be seen. I never joined the queue till about two or three hours before the Cavern opened. It frightened me. There would be fights and rows among the girls. When the doors opened the first ones would tear in, knocking each other over. They’d keep their rollers in and jeans on for the first groups. Then when it got near the time for the Beatles to come on, if there was a gang of four say, they would go off in turns to the lavatory with their little cases to get changed and made up. So when the Beatles came on they’d look smashing, as if they’d just arrived. I suppose it was partly sex and partly the music. That was the attraction… They were obviously dying to be noticed and get to know one of them. But no, it was really just everything about being there. It was terrible, the mad screams when they came on…. “
None of the Beatles’ fans took very kindly to their musician’s dating other girls and Maureen soon discovered how determined these girls were to keep their heroes to themselves. Maureen made attempts to hide the fact she was Ringo’s girlfriend but the fans never believed her. At one gig she walked out early and went to wait for Richard in his car so the fans wouldn’t see them walking out together, but one of the fans followed her to the car. When asked if she was Ringo’s girlfriend she denyed it and said he was just a friend of her (fictional) brother’s. The girl didn’t believe her and reached out into the car to attack Maureen. She frantically wound the window up, fearing for her life, and survived the experiance with just a few scratches on her face.
The problem became much worse. When fans discovered her place of work they would book hair appointments with her and then threaten and curse her while she tried to stay professional and carry on dressing their hair. This became so common place that Maureen would soon have to choose between the job she had always dreamed of, and her boyfriend.
Absence Makes The heart Grow Fonder
Maureen and Richard’s times together were becomming more rare and far between as he moved down to London to work and spent a lot of time touring. He phoned her often and on his occasional days off would rush up to Liverpool to spend as much time with her as he could. In their early days together they both indulged their mutual love of dancing til the early hours of the morning in clubs, but when their time together became so precious and rare they realised they enjoyed spending a quiet night in just sat infront of the television, curled up together in the same armchair.
When the Beatles were booked at the last minute to fly into Paris and perform concerts over there, Ringo refused to go with the others, saying he didn’t want to be sight seeing around France with his band mates, he’d rather be at home with Maureen. The other three flew over without him and took part in photo shoots and interviews with the Press, and eventually Ringo was persuaded onto on aeroplane bound for Paris in time for the concert.
At times when such visits to Liverpool weren’t possible, Maureen would plead with her parents to let her travel down to London and see him as often as she could. She took a holiday to Greece with him in September of 1963 along with Paul McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher. This was a time before Beatlemania was a worldwide obsession and the couples were able to spend some quality time together.
In May of 1964 Maureen again took a holiday to the Virgin Islands of the West Indies with the same group of friends, but times were different and the trip recieved news coverage all over the world - wth Maureen as the focus of it. There were objections to the seventeen year old Maureen spending a month on holiday with her twenty-three year old Beatle boyfriend, especially when it was discovered that Maureen’s parents did not know she was 5000 miles away until they read the newspaper reports. But Maureen’s kind and loving father Joe made an announcement to the press that despite being told by his daughter she would be spending a few days in London with Ringo, he and his wife were not surprised to discover she was half-way across the world and it made no difference to them as they would have given her their permission for her to go on holiday with Ringo anyway. He put it all down to the fact that “Maureen is a sensible girl and well able to take care of herself.”
The trip came at just the right time for Maureen. She was finding the stress of working at the salon so upsetting that she took time off sick and fled down to London to spend time with the boyfriend whose fans were causing her all of the trouble. The time had come to choose between Richard and her beloved job at Ashley Duprez. While away on holiday, everything began to fall into place. The Beatles were becomming very popular and Ringo’s mum and step-dad - Harry and Elsie Greaves - were constantly inundated with fanmail that they couldn’t possibly deal with. Maureen had helped out with the Liverpool Fan Club in the early days and was now spending increasing amounts of time at the Graves household helping them with the mail, so it seemed sensible to make the job official. The hairdressing also continued as she found herself constantly required to dress hair for Elsie and her friends. Whenever any of the girls connected with The Beatles, such as Cynthia Lennon or Freda Kelly who ran the fanclub, were going out somewhere special in Liverpool they would pop into Elsie and Harry’s home and break Maureen off from her fanmail duties to do their hair for them. So when the press camne to interview the newly famous Maureen on her return from holiday with Ringo she had already decided to hand in her notice and said “If Mrs. Giles, the lady I worked for, wants to sack me she is wasting her time. I am not going back there anyway.
The Secret Love
After the scandal of that holiday The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein made attempts to cover up the relationship between his band’s drummer Richard and his new love Maureen. Statements were made to the press that the pair were nothing more than friends, including statements by Maureen’s father Joe, and Ringo’s mother Elsie. The knocking articles in the young people’s magazines were counter acted with new supplies of information on Ringo’s home life with his parents and small bits of information about Ringo’s previous fiance Geraldine McGovern (who was also persuaded into giving interviews with the press) and Ringo’s new ‘friend’ Maureen. Maureen herself was sent to be professionally photographed for photos to accompany these articles.
To further clarify to the world that the pair were not really as close as in reality they were, Mr. Epstein concocted a story about Maureen being a girl Ringo knew in Liverpool who he had employed to help his parents with his fan mail. Interviews were carried out with the couple going along with this story, and new sets of photos of them taken together. After all of this media involvement Richard and Maureen had to slow their relationship down and act out the part of occasional aquaintances and mere friends for the good of The Beatles.
The story hadn’t even been circulating for a full week before Richard became seriously ill and had to pull out of his planned European and Australian tour with The Beatles. He spent time in hospital having his tonsils removed and recovering while his band went on the tour with Jimmy Nichol as his replacement. Richard’s mother Elsie flew down to London with Maureen at her side to spend time with him in hospital, and both of them stayed together in the London flat at 7 Whaddon House that Richard shared with George Harrison.
Maureen was pictured by the Press entering the hospital to visit him, but by the time the pictures and articles arrived the couple had decided they’d had enough of denying thier true feelings and no longer went along with a huge charade of pretending otherwise. On Richard’s recovery he contacted his relieved friends in The Beatles to say he could join them in Australia to finish off the tour, and then spent the night before his flight at dinner with his girl Maureen and the doctor who had taken care of him.
The Demure Beatle Bride
The couple spent that Christmas holiday together down in London, and in January while out at the Ad Lib club in the early hours of the morning, Richard proposed marriage. Maureen accepted straight away but they both decided to keep their plans secret so as not to have their day spoilt by the Press. It was all kept so secret that when the big day came on 11 February 1965, only two of the other Beatles were in attendance because Paul had gone away on holiday without knowing of the big event.
The ceremony was carried out at 8am - hours before Caxton Hall Registry Office usually opened - in order to further fool the media. Despite the couple’s names having to be put up on the marriages board (thankfully their real names Richard Starkey and Mary Cox fooled the world who knew tham only as Beatle Ringo Starr and hairdresser Maureen) the whole event was carried out happily and with dignity without the invasion of the world’s Press and millions of fans. Parents Joseph and Florence beamed with joy after the service while the marriage register was witnessed by their new son-in-law’s friends George and John as well as his step dad Harry.
Unfortunately the honeymoon didn’t end up as quiet and private as the wedding. The couple only had two days to honeymoon due to Richard’s previous engagements filming “Help!” with the other Beatles, and due to the short notice and secrecy needed they had to spend it at the home of a business aquaintance of The Beatles in Hove. The world’s Press as well as a collection of fans had their honeymoon hideaway surrounded by their first morning as a married couple, and they could do nothing but agree to hold a press conference and photo shoot in the crowded garden in the hope that once the Press had their story they would leave the couple alone.
Maureen was very shy and clung to her husband for support as the Press descended on them, and said as little as possible in a very quiet voice. Her new husband took most of the barrage of questions while holding her hand tight and placing an arm around her for comfort. He tried to be as polite and welcomming to the press as possible but couldn’t help showing his slight disgust at one point when the reporters began to question him as to whether or not his holidaying bandmate Paul knew of his marriage. The reporters asked where Paul was spending his holiday and Ringo refused to say, commenting that one of the Beatles might as well get some peace as he sure wasn’t getting any.
A Change Of Lifestyle
The invasion by the press, coupled with her early experiences of being displayed as a scandal and then dismissed as a nobody did nothing to endear Maureen to the world of fame. She was a down-to-earth and relatively shy girl around strangers and had made a definate decision that the limelight would stay entirely on her husband and not reach very far towards her position in the background, making a home for him and bringing up his children. She had given up her career to be with him, and had no intention of forging a new one by displaying herself glamorously in the public eye.
This decison meant that the well dressed, perfectly groomed, party-loving Maureen who adored staying out until the early hours of the morning dancing like it was going out of fashion would always be hidden to the outside world behind the appearance of a demure young lady who appeared only at public occasions such as premieres, gently holding the hand of her famous husband as he led her away from the press. She wouldn’t make appearances and interviews, but at that first enforced public appearance during her honeymoon when asked if she intended to stay out of the limlight like Mrs. Lennon and whether she enjoyed her honeymoon she replied “yes, but I don’t like the publicity… I don’t like reporters and things” proving her point straight away.
After a couple of days honeymoon the newlyweds moved into Richard’s apartment in the fashionable and expensive Montague Square. One of their new neighbours, Lord Mancroft, was asked by the press what he thought of the new celebrity couple moving in and replied “We’re a very distinguished square and I’m sure we’ll welcome such a distinguished gentleman and his lady”. There Maureen spent hours in the kitchen experimenting as she had never before been given the chance to get into cooking, but now wanted to teach herself how to provide good home cooked food for her new husband. She stuck firmly to the simple home cooking that he loved rather than making fancy meals he would never eat, but made her own rules about meal times. Despite him being a famous star all over the world she strictly refused to let him lounge around in bed at breakfast, he had to sit at the kitchen table like a regular Liverpool husband. His work schedule on the other hand meant that he returned home from the recording studio or a tour at all hours, and Maureen thought it important to make sure he had a decent meal when he arrived, staying up for hours waiting for him so that she could prepare something for him.
The Starkey Family
Soon after they settled into their new home, Richard flew to the Bahamas to begin work on the Beatles’ new film “Help!” and found himself deeply missing his new bride. “…We had been told to travel light. Leave wives and girlfriends at home. We let ourselves be talked into it, and as a result I spent two of the lonliest weeks of my life in the lush paradise of the Bahamas.”
When the time came for the Beatles to leave the country again for further filming in Austria, Richard went to to their producer Walter Shenson ready for a fight and told him he was not prepared to go alone. Shenson immediately told him that it was fine to take Maureen along with him, and as a result of the discussion The Beatles set off for Obertauern in the Austrain Alps along with John’s wife Cynthia and George’s girlfriend Pattie Boyd. Paul’s girlfriend Jane Asher had work commitments and wasn’t able to accompany him. That trip taught Ringo that his home was now wherever his wife Maureen was. When he was alone he felt nothing but loneliness, yet if she was with him as soon as they arrived at any destination in the world he felt completely at home. As a result he began a life of jet setting and has never lost his love for travel.
Their first child, Zak was born at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London on the thirteenth of September, weighing 8lb. Richard chose the name for his new son, deciding on a name from one of his beloved Western films that couldn’t be shortened as his name had always been, much to his irritation.
Maureen had occupied her time during her pregnancy by continuing on her quest to keep up with Ringo’s fanmail. Many of the fans were not fond of her, but due to remembering what it was like to be a fan herself she decided that anyone who had taken the time to write to her husband deserved to get a personal reply rather than a form letter sent from the fanclub. She often found herself so snowed under that the fanclub had to take care of some of the work, but settling down to her pregnancy gave her some time to catch up. Many of the parents of children she had replied to sent very warm thankful letters to her for taking this time to reply, and after the pregnancy she found herself personally recieving many kind letters and gifts. Finally it seemed she had been accepted as a part of Ringo Starr’s life.
A Lonely Home In The Country
The Starkey family moved from their city-centre apartment into a beautiful house in the countryside named Sunny Heights where Zak could have a huge garden to play in and the family could get some privacy away from the constant prying eyes and over enthusiastic strangers. Their friends the Lennon’s had always feared that an over-enthusiastic fan would pick up their child and take him away as a rather extreme Beatle souvenir, and the Starkey’s began to share this fear, surrounding their property with high walls within which they could live a relatively normal life.
In her big country house in the south of England, Maureen was completely isolated from the friends and family she had gathered around her back in Liverpool and became very lonely when her husband was away touring abroad with The Beatles for long periods of time. During her London visits before her marriage she had befriended Cynthia, the wife of her husband’s bandmate John Lennon. Cynthia was in a similar position to Maureen, having only her husband and child as companions due to her previous life being back in Liverpool, and the two women clung to each other as sole companions during their husbands’ absences
Now that The Beatles were rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams, it was hard to work out who was a true friend and who was a hanger on, so mainly they kept to themselves. During these times together the two young women forged a very strong friendship which lasted them throughout their lives, across great distances and despite the break-up of their marriages and the change in their environments