Paul McCartney Opens Up About Woman Who Inspired ‘Eleanor Rigby’

More than 50 years after The Beatles broke up, the music made by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr continues to inspire and intrigue fans old and new. And beyond the music, the stories behind many classic Beatles’ songs have drawn a lot of interest from fans.

In a recent edition of The New Yorker, McCartney shared behind-the-scenes stories about one of his most popular songs with The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby.”

In a personal essay entitled “Writing Eleanor Rigby,” published in the Oct. 18 edition of The New Yorker, McCartney opened up about the many facets of his world that came together in the beloved Beatles song.

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First, McCartney wrote about the haunting lyric that describes the song’s leading lady, who is “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.”

Would you believe it’s about a woman’s nightly moisturizing routine?

“My mum’s favorite cold cream was Nivea, and I love it to this day,” wrote McCartney in the opening paragraph of his essay. ” That’s the cold cream I was thinking of in the description of the face Eleanor keeps ‘in a jar by the door.’ I was always a little scared by how often women used cold cream.”

Is Eleanor Rigby a Real Person?

For years, fans have pointed to a grave marked “Eleanor Rigby” at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, as the source of McCartney’s inspiration. In the New Yorker essay, he wrote that “John and I certainly wandered around [there], endlessly talking about our future. I don’t remember seeing the grave there, but I suppose I might have registered it subliminally.”

But the idea for Eleanor Rigby came from his experience helping elderly women when he was a young scout in England.

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“Growing up, I knew a lot of old ladies — partly through what was called Bob-a-Job Week, when Scouts did chores for a shilling,” he wrote. “…Eleanor Rigby is based on an old lady that I got on with very well … I would visit, and just hearing her stories enriched my soul and influenced the songs I would later write.”

But this lady was not named Eleanor Rigby.

McCartney settled on the name Eleanor early on while writing the song because he knew a woman named Eleanor Bron while working on The Beatles’ movie “Help!”

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But he needed a last name to fit along with the tune.

“So my life is full of these happy accidents, and, coming back to where the name Eleanor Rigby comes from, my memory has me visiting Bristol, where Jane Asher was playing at the Old Vic,” the singer wrote. “I was wandering around, waiting for the play to finish, and saw a shop sign that read ‘Rigby,’ and I thought, That’s it! It really was as happenstance as that.”

Want to know the rest of the story? Read it in McCartney’s own words at The New Yorker.