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Former Sex Pistol John Lydon tells of his devotion to his wife Nora Forster

After almost 50 years in the music business, it’s heartening to know that John Lydon — aka Sex Pistols front-man Johnny Rotten — has lost none of his ability to shock.

In his latest book, a collection of musings and anecdotes from his life entitled I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right, we learn that the man who sang of being an Antichrist and anarchist, and who was once described as ‘the biggest threat to our youth since Hitler’, is, in fact, a huge Roxy Music fan.

He also rates Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak among his favourite singers and is rather partial to re-runs of Fifties’ sitcom I Love Lucy, which starred Lucille Ball and her real-life husband Desi Arnaz as a married couple who constantly found themselves in comedic scrapes.

‘And that’s me and my wife to a T,’ he says. ‘We get up very early and love sitting in bed with a cup of tea watching TV.’

John and his wife, Nora Forster, have been married for 41 years, and if his latest book tells us anything it’s how patently he adores her.

John and his wife, Nora Forster, (pictured together) have been married for 41 years, and if his latest book tells us anything it’s how patently he adores her

Now 78, Nora has been battling Alzheimer’s disease for several years, with John, 64, her full-time carer. It’s an undertaking he carries out with his customary zeal.

As he says: ‘She doesn’t remember faces or situations, but her personality is still there and that’s the person I loved over 40 years ago. That’s not going to change. Of course, there are issues, but there are issues with everything. I’m a long-term hauler and so is my Babbie.

‘She doesn’t forget who I am, but with the grandchildren the memory’s in and out. She can remember things extremely accurately from 25 years ago, yet things that happened ten minutes ago she can’t. Her memory is a permanent jigsaw puzzle that keeps getting wrecked just as you’re about to complete it.’

The couple have homes in England and California, from where John is now chatting, and while they have faced some challenging times recently, he remains his typically ebullient and vocal self.

He has even turned into a bit of a domestic god these days, doing all the cleaning and cooking (‘I love making soups and stews and mashed potatoes and curries’).

While occasionally he has to bathe and dress his wife, too, ‘it’s not gone into complete incapacity’, he says. ‘But I’ve been promised by the experts it will. Until then, this is how it is.’

He employs help only when he has to go away on tour with his band, Public Image Limited (PiL), ‘but I’ve got to earn the money to pay for all this because it’s damned expensive. You need all new appliances because you can’t have gas rings in the kitchen. You need ones with those awful glass tops which are impossible to clean.

‘She’s burnt the house down twice now! Once in England and once here, and I can’t take any more of that! The first one in London happened after she’d cancelled the bloody home insurance thinking “What a waste of money. I’ll help John out here” — and then the dryer exploded.

‘But Nora’s always been like that — a bit flipperty with her attention. Something will grab her attention, and then she’ll completely forget what she’s currently doing.

The Sex Pistols in concert. From left to right: Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) and Steve Jones

The Sex Pistols in concert. From left to right: Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) and Steve Jones 

‘Sometimes accidents will happen and she’ll pour tea accidentally down my head because she forgets the correct way to hold a cup and she’ll be distracted by the television or something.

‘From time to time, I’ll have my inward explosions because sometimes it’s like banging your head against a wall. But then there’ll be what you might call a heated situation and I’ll notice halfway through that she’s winking at me.

‘Moments like that are so genius and rewarding because something in her has clicked and she’ll be teasing me like she’s always done when I’m being a bit saucy!’

The thought of putting his wife into a care facility elicits a typically forthright response. ‘No, no, no!’ he says. ‘That would be horrid. I can’t do that. She’s not a difficult auntie — this is my significant other in life.

‘I have many friends who have gone through similar things with their parents, but that’s a different situation that requires a different response. And it’s not like Nora and me have got kids running around. We just have each other, and that makes it less of a problem.’

The first inkling that Nora might have memory loss issues came several years ago when she would repeatedly lose her keys. ‘But if I really look back on it,’ says John, ‘it began when her daughter, Arianna, died.’

Arianna, known as Ari Up from the British punk band The Slits, was Nora’s daughter from her first marriage to German singer Frank Forster. She died ten years ago, at the age of 48, after a long battle with breast cancer.

‘It’s an astounding tragedy for a mother to lose her daughter,’ John says. ‘That’s a huge, joyful part of your life that’s just stolen from you and you can go into self-pity or you can get lost in the minutiae of things. That’s where the trouble began for her, I think.’

Neil Ruddock, John Lydon and Lord Brocket at Currumbin Bird Sanctuary for 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here 2004'

Neil Ruddock, John Lydon and Lord Brocket at Currumbin Bird Sanctuary for ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here 2004’

Doctors, he says, insisted on medicating her, ‘and I really got fed up with the advice they were giving. A lot of them were suggesting narcotics of some kind to subdue her, but why would I want to do that?

‘When someone’s coming towards their last few years, to then deny them the freedom and fun of running, jumping, being in the sun, chatting — why would I take that all away and have her be a comatose victim? It would be easier for myself but not for her, and that’s where my first concern lies.’

John has always exhibited a touching devotion to his wife, as anyone who watched him on I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! in 2004 can attest. He walked off the show after the producers refused to let him know whether his wife’s flight had landed safely in Australia, where the show was being filmed. He also claims — somewhat incredibly for a doyen of the music industry — that he has never cheated on his wife. ‘And why would I?’ he asks, astounded. ‘I fought so hard to find something true and righteous in my life, why would I mess that up?’

The couple never had children together but before Arianna’s death they helped to raise her twin sons, Pablo and Pedro.

‘They were already in their teens so they were challenging and declaring their own manhood,’ says John. ‘It was a chaotic time, but we’re all still friendly. It’s very difficult for them now, though [with Nora], because they don’t know what to say. They can’t handle it. Mentally, they’re still too young — 30 is too young for this.’ John and Nora also took in Arianna’s youngest son, Wilton, after her death. Now 25, he is, says John, ‘off in his own universe of genderless whatever they call it these days. It’s all too confusing! But he’s off on his own different way and that’s fine by me. It shows character and personality.’

There’s something rather endearing about a man, once deemed a peril to the nation’s youth for being at the forefront of the punk movement, sounding slightly baffled by current events.

There¿s something rather endearing about a man, once deemed a peril to the nation¿s youth for being at the forefront of the punk movement, sounding slightly baffled by current events.

There’s something rather endearing about a man, once deemed a peril to the nation’s youth for being at the forefront of the punk movement, sounding slightly baffled by current events.

Of the toppling of statues this summer and the defacing of the monument to Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, he says: ‘To view Churchill as offensive and racist is damned well ludicrous, and the hatred for British culture that’s creeping in really annoys me. There are certain aspects of British history I don’t like, but I’m certainly not going to try and erase them, because there’s no future without a past.’

And don’t even get him started on the BBC. Their attempts to cancel the singing of Land Of Hope And Glory and Rule, Britannia! at this year’s Last Night Of The Proms were, he says, ‘outrageous. There’s not one nasty word in there’.

John’s childhood, growing up in a two-room flat in North London with his parents, Eileen and John, and his three younger brothers, was largely overshadowed by his contracting meningitis at the age of seven. After emerging from a seven-month coma, he found that he had lost his memory, could not recognise his own parents and had to re-learn his identity.

‘Recovering from meningitis, I felt this deep sadness,’ he says. ‘I thought: “Why am I bothering? I’ll never know anyone or anything again.” ’ Such profound loneliness imbued him at the time with suicidal thoughts.

So when it came to his wife’s memory loss, ‘I understood that she needs a bit of help when she gets stuck like that. Sometimes, she’ll run across the room at high speed and she’ll suddenly forget where she is or why. But then I’ll give her a gentle reminder and we’ll have a big burst of laughter together. My joy was that I did have a recovery,’ he says. ‘I don’t know if that’s possible here.’

He doesn’t think about how much time he may have left with his wife. ‘One of my friend’s mothers was ill and that went on for 12 years, and I’d like longer, thank you!’ he says. ‘But I’d die of sadness without Nora.

‘You just can’t think of things like that, though. You’ve got to be bright. My mum and dad taught me not to have self-pity. Just take life as it comes.’

He plans to visit Britain next year for his first ever spoken-word tour to promote his book, ‘and it’s going to be heartbreaking and very, very hard to leave Nora,’ he says, ‘but I can’t bring her with me. We went back to England last year, and it was hell at every airport. She couldn’t cope with the noise, and the endless images popping in her head really confused and frightened her.’

While staying in the English countryside with John, Nora was so disoriented that on occasion she would run around screaming: ‘They’re trying to murder me.’

‘Being in strange hotels every night would terrify her,’ says John, ‘and I can’t inflict that on her. I’m introducing nurses to her to see who she finds a good and worthy friend, and I also need one who’s computer-friendly so that me and Babbie can FaceTime with each other while I’m away. She needs the safety of an environment she finds familiar.’

For the Lydons, home this year has been California, which is now also home to Harry and Meghan. Their split from royal duties has recently seen them controversially encourage Americans to vote, appear in assorted video chats and, in Meghan’s case, make a surprise appearance on the America’s Got Talent finale.

‘I don’t get it at all,’ says John. ‘If they don’t want to be part of that [royal] institution, then why don’t they completely give up their titles and get a council flat and a job? Making guest appearances on trashy TV shows and expounding their virtuous opinions — there’s nothing virtuous in it at all. They’ve decided not to do something, so why don’t they move on and leave it alone?

‘It’s a shame about Harry. He didn’t have to go that way. He had the promise of being quite a hardy fella, but I’ve seen a few interviews and he seems really depressed. Not at all happy in whatever it is he’s got himself into.’

Does he think that Harry perhaps didn’t marry the right woman? ‘I don’t think she’s the right person for anyone. She seems like a narcissist to me and they’re very destructive.’

Moreover, he says, the couple ‘aren’t considering the hurt and damage they’re doing to his family just as regular people, without the throne bit.’ The royals, he adds with a twinkle, ‘are human beings after all’.

Can it be true? Has Johnny Rotten, who once sang ‘God save the queen/The fascist regime’, softened on Her Maj? It appears he has, though not without certain reservations.

A few years ago there was ‘a hilarious situation’ where the idea was mooted that John should be knighted by the Queen. He grins. ‘Do you think I’m going to kneel to her,’ he says, ‘when she’s got a sword in her hand?’

  • See johnlydon.com for publishing information regarding John Lydon’s new book, I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right, as well as a list of dates and ticket links for his autumn 2021 Q&A tour of the UK. The Public Image Is Rotten documentary will be available on major streaming services from October 27 this year.

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