From Stella McCartney’s perspective, spending a weekend in her famous father’s hometown of Liverpool seems as unremarkable as Northern England’s weather—and as normal as any what’s-on-the-telly family gathering. “It’s just catching up, really,” is the way she nonchalantly describes the typical goings-on at Sir Paul McCartney’s house on the Wirral Peninsula, where assorted relatives gather. “You take the fame element out, it’s where my family grew up,” she says. But the fabulousness of what might seem routine to her was amplified to a spine-tingling degree recently when Liverpool, dubbed the European Capital of Culture 2008, hosted a McCartney doubleheader: a Stella fashion show at her father’s old high school, now the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, followed by a Sir Paul concert at the Anfield soccer stadium—his first performance in five years in a city with as many reminders of him and the Beatles as there are traffic signs. (Penny Lane, hello!) “I wouldn’t say I’m double-billing. I think I’m the supporting act,” demurs the designing daughter.
Considering the context, she’s got a point. Stella utters these remarks on the stage at Anfield as Dad does a sound check, only hours before some 36,000 fans will flood in for the Liverpool Sound concert. But even this is a family affair. Stella and her husband, furniture manufacturer and dealer Alasdhair Willis, came in a van loaded with their three kids, a nanny and three sets of fluorescent yellow child-size ear protectors still in their packages.
Swaying on a speaker in a cream blazer, black jeans and leopard-print flats (synthetic, of course, in accordance with her staunch animal-rights beliefs), Stella has her older son, three-year-old Miller, perched on her knee, as Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl helps pound out “Back in the U.S.S.R.” while scenes of Communist-era parades play out behind him on a giant screen. “You should definitely work two drummers into the next tour,” Stella suggests to her dad during a break. While Paul’s young daughter Beatrice (with ex-wife Heather Mills) chases a pink balloon around the stage, Miller, dressed in a navy peacoat, calls out, “Granddad, ‘Yellow Submarine’!” And, of course, Granddad obliges. “We’ve got a request here,” he says into the mic, looking at his grandson. Stella pulls out a small video camera and records the moment as Paul and company start singing, “In the town where I was born…”
Not wanting to leave her younger ones out of the action, Stella returns to the van, where she straps on a forward-facing baby carrier for five-month-old Beckett and clamps a pair of earphones on his head, saying, “Rock on, baby.” Backstage, with his wide-eyed stare and protective gear, Beckett looks like a Cabbage Patch roadie. While few people can imagine casually minding the kiddies only steps away from a bona fide living music legend, it’s old hat to Stella. “When you’re a kid, that’s just what Dad does,” she says, toying with Beckett’s tiny fingers while the nanny comforts his 16-month-old sister, Bailey. “But now, when you get older, you realize how cool he is. I’m very proud of him, obviously.”
And vice versa. Sir Paul, a frequent front-row fixture at Stella’s shows in Paris, confesses that he has been nervous on her behalf—though not much anymore. “I know she’s got it,” he says, his affection and pride as plain as hers. “She’s the biz. She has a natural chic, which I think a lot of girls in Liverpool have, and I think probably Stella in some way has inherited it, and it’s mixed with New York chic from her mom [the late photographer and Wings band member, Linda].” And Sir Paul is certainly less coy about the import of the McCartney double feature in Liverpool. “It’s the center of the universe, and we gravitate toward the center of the universe fashion- and music-wise, and we have a lock on the city today,” he declares.
Although she flirted with the idea of a musical career in her youth, Stella says she has no regrets about forgoing the world of stadiums full of screaming fans. “This would freak me out,” she says, swinging Beckett on her belly toward the endless rows of seats at Anfield. “Can you imagine? I don’t like everyone looking at me. I love music, but I love doing it in my own way. I don’t regret not getting into this. There’s so much music in my life, I don’t need to do it.”
In Liverpool, where rock music thrums from many basement bars, even in the afternoon, traces of the Beatles’ legacy are everywhere—from city buses wrapped in images of the Fab Four to the brand-new Hard Days Night Hotel, right around the corner from the Cavern Club, where the band first performed in 1961. There are Beatles tours, a museum and even life-size topiaries in the shape of the band members. On the morning before Stella’s event, a small, multigenerational crowd mills outside the Hope Street Hotel, where the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, can be seen having brunch.
Sixteen-year-old Michael Scrutton is after a photo of himself with Ono, should she oblige, while other fans clutch vintage Beatles 45s ready for autographs. “We’re Beatles fans, born and bred,” says Pat Johnson, a Liverpudlian who has pretty much done it all, from recently checking in to the Hard Days Night with her husband for their 35th wedding anniversary to participating in one of Ono’s performance art pieces. “We all danced to ‘Give Peace a Chance’ with her. She was hugging me and everything.”
Stella says she considers her fame a sliver of her father’s and notes that she could easily walk down the streets of Liverpool unnoticed. For all her modesty, however, Stella is quite the showman too. When the 380 guests who shelled out from 50 to 500 British pounds each for her presentation and brunch—with all proceeds going to the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts—arrive at the school, they are greeted by an organic ice cream truck parked outside and a one-man band covered in stella ❤ l’pool badges. During rehearsals, Stella proves herself to be as hands-on with the event as she is with her young family. She tweaks the fashion lineup right up until the last minute, mulling the right moment to break from the Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name” to Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” for the frisky program, which has models playing musical chairs in lieu of the standard walk down the runway. Sir Paul’s brother Michael, aka Uncle Mike, snaps photos as his niece supervises final fittings backstage. “It’s so funny seeing Stella here in this building where we spent seven or eight years looking at that,” he says, referring to the backdrop of high windows smudged with rain.
Out in the theater, guests starts trickling in, from Japanese fashion fanatics to the wives of professional footballers and all the famous folk who have earned Liverpool the World Capital of Pop title. “I think it’s beautiful they’re finally coming together; that is family power,” says Ono from under her white fedora, peering over her ever present sunglasses. “I think that Liverpool has always been very forward and very avant-garde, and I think [Stella’s] got the blood and the DNA of Liverpool. I’m very interested in Stella’s passion. I think she’s a very good designer.”
And entertainer. Flanking her fashion display are performances by velvet-voiced singer Candie Payne, frenetic and so-hip-it-hurts band Palladium, and Flava, a raucous hip-hop dance crew from Cornwall. By the time a truckload of pink and silver heart- and star-shaped balloons float down from the ceiling for Stella’s bow, the crowd is roaring.
The excitement reaches yet another zenith as dusk descends on Anfield and the opening bands wrap up their sets. “Is everyone looking forward to Paul McCartney?” Ricky Wilson, lead singer of Leeds band Kaiser Chiefs, calls out to the crowd. In response, Stella shrieks so loudly that an elderly lady in front of her turns around to shoot her an incredulous glance, but—seeing that the shout came from the pop star’s daughter—her expression morphs into a sweet smile. When her father comes on, Stella can be seen stage right in her cream blazer, right up until the final encore number, “I Saw Her Standing There.”