Did you know Paul sent a telegram to Margaret Thatcher in 1982? He did. It wasn’t friendly. He lost his temper over her treatment of health workers and fired off a long outraged message, comparing her to Ted Heath, the prime minister (tweaked in “Taxman”) felled by the 1974 coal strike. McCartney warned, “What the miners did to Ted Heath, the nurses will do to you.”
This controversy is a curiously obscure footnote to his life—it seldom gets mentioned in even the fattest biographies. He doesn’t discuss it in Many Years from Now. I only know about it because I read it as a Random Note in Rolling Stone, not exactly a hotbed of pro-Paul propaganda at the time. (The item began, “Reports that Paul McCartney is intellectually brain-dead appear to have been premature.”) But the telegram was a major U.K. scandal, with Tory politicians denouncing him. In October 1982, Thatcher was at the height of her power, in the wake of her Falkland Islands blitz. Many rock stars talked shit about Maggie—Elvis Costello, Morrissey, Paul Weller—but Paul was the one more famous than she was. He had something to lose by hitting send on this, and nothing to gain. What, you think he was trying for coolness points? This is Paul McCartney, remember? He was in the middle of making Give My Regards to Broad Street. He could have clawed Thatcher’s still-beating heart out of her rib cage, impaled it on his Hofner on live TV, and everybody would have said, “Yeah, but ‘Silly Love Songs’ though.”
Why did he feel so intensely about the nurses? He didn’t mention his mother in the telegram, but he must have been thinking of Mary McCartney’s life and death. So he snapped, even though it was off-message. (He was busy that week doing interviews for the twentieth anniversary of “Love Me Do”—the moment called for Cozy Lovable Paul, not Angry Paul.) He didn’t boast about it later, though fans today would be impressed that any English rock star of that generation—let alone Paul—had the gumption to send this. You can make a case that it was a braver, riskier, and more politically relevant move than John sending his MBE medal back to the Queen in 1970. Still, John’s gesture went down in history and Paul’s didn’t, though his fans would probably admire the move if they knew about it.
He couldn’t win. He was Paul. All he could do was piss people off.
— Rob Sheffield, Dreaming the Beatles. (2017)