John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who would have thought they would get married in Gibraltar? It was not meant to happen but it did.
It was close to mid-morning – a day just like today – when Slim Simpson, the Chronicle’s photographer at the time, out of the blue received a phone call that would link his name forever to the famous Beatle.
In the Chronicle’s special Bicentenary edition book he called it “the big international picture of March 20”.
It had been his old friend Trevor Coplestone, whom he had not heard from for a long time, who tipped him off and called him to say he had landed at the Gibraltar Airport that morning from Paris bringing John Lennon and Yoko Ono to get married on the Rock.
Well, the rest is history. Slim wasted no time. With camera in hand he quickly headed for the airfield.
Now, 50 years later the iconic image of John Lennon holding up the marriage certificate standing next to his wife Yoko Ono with the Rock as the backdrop has travelled the world several times over.
It remains one of the most important scoops in the paper’s 218 year history.
Gibraltar and that special day will forever live on in the words of Lennon’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, a song he recorded shortly after the wedding with Paul McCartney – Ringo and George were not in the studio that day – but the song was released by the Beatle’s as a single in May that year.
Autobiographical, it followed the events of the day and the short time spent in Gibraltar… “Finally made the plane into Paris, honeymooning down by the Seine, Peter Brown called to say, you can make it OK, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain”. The song would be the Beatles’ 17th and last UK No. 1.
The couple had not been able to marry in Paris so decided to charter a private plane to Gibraltar. It was Apple employee and personal assistant Peter Brown who made all the arrangements and confirmed it could all happen in Gibraltar.
Lennon is known to have said they had tried every else but chose “Gibraltar because it is quiet, British and friendly.”
So the story goes, Lennon had wanted to get married on the car ferry to France but it did not happen. They could not be married in France either so Gibraltar was seen as the best alternative and place where they could obtain a special licence.
The visit was kept a secret. Only a handful of people knew and one of them was the Clerk in the Supreme Court, Charlie Galliano. He received a phone call in the early hours on the day of the wedding – at home. He did not even tell his wife. By then everything had been arranged.
In fact Paula Galliano recalls that morning very clearly.
“Charlie received a call very early in the morning and I asked him, when he put the phone down, what was that? He said it was just somebody who wanted to get married in Gibraltar and they did not want any publicity but wanted it to remain hush, hush,” she says.
She was curious and asked him who it was but he simply replied “I can’t divulge it”.
Paula then turned to him and said without knowing who it was – “probably one of the Beatles, they were very big and popular at the time. And it was?”
But Charlie kept the secret the whole time.
He then worked in the Supreme Court and was responsible for both the Company and Marriage Registries.
As the Clerk in Charge all calls related to marriages ended up on his desk.
“I had this call from Peter Brown. At first he did not divulge which of the four Beatles was getting married and just told me that one of the Beatles wanted to get married in Gibraltar but they wanted to avoid publicity.”
It was after making and sorting out all the marriage arrangements that Peter Brown asked if getting a taxi could be avoided so could be less of a chance of the news being leaked.
“He then asked if I would take them in my car, and of course I said, yes. By then he had disclosed that the Beatle getting married was John Lennon.”
It was then arranged that Charlie would use his own car to pick up the couple, Peter Brown and the photographer D. Nutter. At the time Charlie had a grey Volkswagen Beetle – G21501.
“The day of the wedding I got a call at around 7am. On the phone was John Lennon himself who told me he was in Paris from where they would be leaving imminently and would be touching down in at the Gibraltar airport at around 9am… and would I pick him up.”
On arrival the party made their way through the cargo corridor in order to avoid being seen and got straight into the car.
Charlie remembers John and Yoko got into the back of the car. They were fairly silent.
“Sitting next to me was their personal photographer who must have shot 100 photographs between their arrival and the entrance to the Supreme Court.”
Of Lennon, he says, “he did not say much, he was a very normal down to earth person but I remember he turned to Yoko and told her he could not believe they were in Gibraltar and that in a few minutes they were going to be married. ‘You will be my wife’, he told her and he got very excited at the thought of it.”
The marriage took place where the Supreme Court is today and was performed by the Marriage Registrar Cecil Wheeler. It was a short 10 minute ceremony.
John Lennon was dressed in a suit and Yoko Ono wore a short mini-skirt, gym shoes and sunglasses.
Charlie was present during the ceremony throughout all this time. The marriage witnesses were Peter Brown and D. Nutter.
“Once married I recall John Lennon jumping up and down like a little boy saying ‘you are Mrs Lennon now’. He was full of joy.”
Later Lennon recalling the ceremony described the Rock as a very romantic place.
“Gibraltar was like a sunny dream,” he said.
Not being able to find a white suit he wore off-white corduroy trousers and white jacket. Yoko was dressed in white.
In the 1980 John Lennon Anthology (4 CD Box set) he refers to the Rock and says: “And we went there and it was beautiful. It’s the Pillars of Hercules, and also symbolically they called it ‘The End of the World’ at one period.”
He then adds: “So we liked it in the symbolic sense, and the Rock foundation of our relationship.”
The marriage certificates were soon completed and it was quickly back into the Volkswagen Beetle as they headed back to the airport.
Although they had managed to keep it away from the press the word had got out and both Slim Simpson and John Shepherd arrived just in time to capture the fairytale story and one of the most iconic images of the sixties.
After the wedding, the newlyweds flew to Amsterdam. There they had reserved the Presidential Suite, and invited the press to join them in their room… by then the world through the pages of the Gibraltar Chronicle had got to know about the wedding of the year.
*The interview with Charlie Galliano is based on the GBC television series ‘I Was There’.