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The reason why John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married in Gibraltar

The legendary Beatle, John Lennon, was no stranger to struggle.

The long climb he made to artistic success and immortalised stardom had plenty of hurdles. Admittedly, however, the hardest challenges that Lennon faced in his life came from within. Lennon never really had a father figure, instead, he had two strong women as role models – his aunt and mother. Tragically though, he lost them at an early age and, as a consequence, was thrown into the world with a broken wing. Lennon dealt with this pain by turning it into the songs that we have come to know and love. Lennon was a fierce foe to all the non-believers and media figures who dared to try and pigeonhole him into a ‘silly little pop-star.’ His pain was a blessing and a curse; while it was fuel for his incredible songwriting which helped others with similar kinds of pain – he himself, ran away from it for most of his life.

It is no wonder then that things began to change for Lennon after he met Yoko Ono. Paul McCartney once observed that Lennon “liked strong women.” As an artist, Ono challenged Lennon to become not just a better artist, but in turn, a better human being by exposing his inner-anguish and fully facing his demons head-on. This transformation came to manifest itself in a few ways; in 1970, when Lennon recorded his debut solo record, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band with Ono, ‘Mother’ featured sounds of Lennon screaming, as the two were undergoing a primal form of therapy at the time. With Yoko by his side and the inner dragon – as it were – slightly tamed, Lennon would now have to endure newer challenges set by society’s judgemental eye constantly cast upon their marriage.

In March of 1969, as a show of their undeniable and undying love, the two decided to get married immediately. John Lennon’s song ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ is essentially Lennon’s account of the events surrounding their seemingly never-ending struggles. “It was very romantic. It’s all in the song, ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko.’ If you want to know how it happened, it’s in there. Gibraltar was like a little sunny dream,” he once said. “I couldn’t find a white suit – I had off-white corduroy trousers and a white jacket. Yoko had all white on,” Lennon added on this time, that was seemingly charged with tension and passion.

So considering his position as one of the most famous figures in popular culture, one might imagine that Lennon and Ono could have easily married anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the fact that Lennon was that famous only proved to be extremely problematic. As one may also suspect, paparazzi are not a new thing. Another issue was that the two could only marry in Britain; Lennon was British, and while Yoko is Japanese, she had a British visa. As expressed in Lennon’s own words: “We chose Gibraltar because it is quiet, British and friendly. We tried everywhere else first. I set out to get married on the car ferry and we would have arrived in France married, but they wouldn’t do it. We were no more successful with cruise ships. We tried embassies, but three weeks’ residence in Germany or two weeks in France were required.”

The question also arises why the two wanted to get married so quickly. It is easy, when looking back at this event, to under-appreciate just how often both Lennon and Ono were under the microscopic eye of the media. If it were an event that was planned in the long-term, the media would not have let them be. As Lennon said, it’s all in the song, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko.’

“Christ, you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me”

A friend and an employee of the record label, Peter Brown, rang the two when they were in Paris to tell them that Gibraltar was their best bet. Lennon elaborates on this: “‘We want to get married. Where can we go?’ And he called back and said, ‘Gibraltar’s the only place.’ So – ‘OK, let’s go!’ And we went there and it was beautiful. It’s the Pillar of Hercules, and also symbolically they called it the End of the World at one period. There’s some name beside Pillar of Hercules – but they thought the world outside was a mystery from there, so it was like the Gateway to the World. So we liked it in the symbolic sense, and the Rock foundation of our relationship.”

In 1999, Gibraltar issued postage stamps to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their marriage which happened, by the way, in less than 10 minutes at Gibraltar’s Consulate’s office. The stamps contained a picture of Lennon and Ono dressed in their white wedding attire standing in front of the famous rock.