Paul McCartney: Veganism has gone crazy
At 76, Paul McCartney headlined London's O2 last week and he has no plans to retire. He tells Craig McLean how 'mad captain' Trump inspired his latest political diatribe and why he will be carving a vegetable roast this Christmas
Sir Paul McCartney shouts: "Spider!" Where? I wonder, glancing around his candle-scented, comfortably furnished dressing room. Can it be that even in the well-appointed backstage areas of the world's highest-grossing concert tours - this one an army-on-the-march staffed by 120 musicians and crew - creepy-crawlies will upset the post-soundcheck calm?
But no. Ninety minutes before showtime at Liverpool's Echo Arena, Macca is watching the US version of Family Fortunes.
Having accompanied him on tour before, I know this is his pre-gig warm-up routine: trash TV. Two nights at Tokyo Dome wouldn't have been nearly as rockin' if the 700-million-album man hadn't got in the zone by settling down to You've Been Framed.
"Okay, answer this..." challenges McCartney. "Top thing: Spider... something. Man! It's got to be. Everybody's going to say Spider-Man," he tuts with an "obvs" register to his voice.
I drag the 76-year-old's attention away from the giant telly by complimenting him on a brilliant year - another one. Even a reported break-in at his St John's Wood home, five days previously, can't take the gloss off it. His 25th post-Beatles album, Egypt Station, earned his best reviews in yonks and gave him his first American number one in 36 years. His Carpool Karaoke with James Corden - a funny, heartwarming trip back to Liverpool - has 36 million YouTube views and is Facebook's most-viewed late-night TV clip ever.
In March his lifelong friend and fellow surviving Beatle Ringo Starr was, finally, knighted. Two months later, the Queen called her pop-star-in-chief back to Buckingham Palace to receive another gong - now Sir Paul is also a Companion of Honour.
Currently his Freshen Up tour - which stretches well into 2019 - is packing them in worldwide with a blockbuster, three-hour, classics-stuffed set.
"People ask: 'Why do you still do it?'," says McCartney, genuinely thrilled at this year's success. "It's just because I love it. As Ringo says, 'This is what we do'."
At the heart of Egypt Station is Despite Repeated Warnings. It's a seven-minute (gentle) political diatribe by music's most famous vegetarian against a leader he describes as a "mad, daft captain" who's dragging us head-on into an iceberg of environmental calamity.
"Normally I go along taking notice of politics but not really feeling I have to get involved," he admits.
"But when Trump said climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, I just thought, 'Woah, wait a minute. That's a leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world... That just sounds like a mad man. Just like mad talk'."
Speaking of which, at the very hour of our interview, Theresa May is enduring her vote of no-confidence. How sorry does Macca feel for the PM?
"I feel sorry for her because, you know, she's only a woman," he replies, meaning not that she's only a woman but that she's only human. "And I'd feel sorry for anyone going through that kind of, uh... c***.
"But, we've brought it on ourselves and she's left holding the can. From the sound of it, the deal she's brokered has a lot of faults. Nobody likes it. Not even her own people like it.
"I'm sure she doesn't like it, but then she does say, 'Well, it's the best we can get'. And I don't think that's why people voted for Brexit.
"As a human being, I feel sorry for her, but I think the whole thing's been brought on.
"I think David Cameron saying (McCartney puts on a breezy voice) 'Oh! You want a vote? You can have a vote!' - that was possibly a mistake. It's a cock-up. Let's leave it at that."
Promoting vegetarianism is the kind of soft-politicking preferred by McCartney. He and his late wife, Linda, were early champions of a meat-free diet, establishing Linda McCartney Foods in 1991. The recent explosion in popularity of veganism is, then, especially heartening.
"It's gone crazy," he marvels. "All those years ago, we used to think, 'Oh my God, this is taking for ever'. Linda and I would go to posh London restaurants and they'd give you a plate of vegetables. We'd ask, 'You got anything else?' They just couldn't think of anything, so we just dreamed of this day."
His Christmas dinner choice, of course, is an obvious one. "I'm having a family meal, which will be with all the stuff, but instead of a turkey it will be a Linda McCartney roast.
"When we first went veggie, I thought, 'I like the traditions'. It's a bit stereotyped, but I liked the carving the turkey, and that was my job. So, when we didn't have a turkey, it was carving the veggie roast, but at least it gave me something to do."
"I'll be in this country for that, then we're also going to New York to Nancy's family," he says of Nancy Shevell, the third wife he married in 2011. Tall, elegant and friendly, the American accompanies McCartney on most of his travels. "We do what a lot of people do: go to the families, catch up."
The McCartney clan, which includes photographer daughter Mary and fashion designer daughter Stella, is big and blooming, with grandchildren galore.
They're immortalised on a photograph on the back of the paterfamilias's iPhone case.
Gesturing to the cheery family snap, I ask what they thought of McCartney's recent revelation that, in the Beatles' early days, he and the boys enjoyed what we must describe as a group masturbation session.
"I haven't talked to them about the masturbation," he says brightly.
"So, I'm not sure they've seen it. But I know one person who's seen it: Wix's daughter."
'Wix' is Crouch End resident Paul Wickens, McCartney's long-standing keyboard player.
"She's in college. And he was trying to work out how to tell her: 'Now, Paul's done an article, and you may read it, and he's explaining...' And she goes, 'Oh that? Boys do that. It's called a communal!'"
McCartney snaps his fingers, delighted. "People know more than you think they do," he shrugs. "It's obviously not that rare."
Really? Moving on to a less sticky subject matter, I mention his old pal Elton John.
He's currently in the early stages of a 300-show, three-year final tour. Might McCartney fancy doing similar, embarking on a long and winding road into the sunset?
"Well, there's the title," he beams. "No, I don't think like that. People have done that, and then they come back. It's very embarrassing.
"So, no, I just intend to play on and enjoy it as long as I possibly can. And I really do like the touring. We recently had two days in Vienna. Then we were in Paris, Copenhagen, Krakow - and now here we are in Liverpool. We're bringing it back home."
And he also had the thrill of doing so again in London a few days later (his O2 guest list is a feast of A-listers).
"Everest!" he exclaims. What, but isn't the O2 his final conquest of 2018? No, it's the latest question on the quiz show.
"I haven't seen any of these answers," he frets. "Mind you, that's probably because I've been doing an interview. Probably more important," he allows (but only "probably").
"It's got to be Mount Everest," decides Sir Paul McCartney, a legend who's still, improbably but brilliantly, at his peak.
Egypt Station, Capitol Records, is out now
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