Page last updated at 08:43 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 09:43 UK

Lennon's first wife on life with John

John and Cynthia Lennon in 1965
Cynthia spent 10 years with John Lennon, from art school to global fame

John Lennon's first wife Cynthia and son Julian have opened an exhibition of photos, letters and personal mementoes from their life with the late Beatle.

Cynthia met John when they were at art college in Liverpool in 1958, and they married in 1962 after discovering she had become pregnant with Julian.

Cynthia witnessed the Beatles' rise to global fame but the couple divorced in 1968, after Lennon met Yoko Ono.

Items in the exhibition in Liverpool include an electric guitar inscribed with the message "To Julian from Daddy, Christmas 1973", and Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Hey Jude, originally Hey Jules, written for Julian during his parents' split.

Here, Cynthia gives an insight into the John Lennon she knew, her mixed feelings about the "naughty boy", and why she finds another Lennon exhibition run by Yoko Ono offensive.

Why have you decided to hold this exhibition now?

Julian and Cynthia Lennon
Julian and Cynthia Lennon have remained close since John's death

We've been working on it for about two years. When John died, Julian received nothing in terms of any his treasures. They all went on sale - they were at Christie's and Sotheby's.

Julian has spent a lot - a lot - of money buying back things, beautiful things, that were important to John in our lives, for the family. They've been stuck in a bank vault for too long and we thought, this is cruel, we really should put them on show.

There are postcards, there are photographs, it's a very family orientated exhibition. It's explaining to those who are interested that there was life before John went to America.

You've said many people consigned you to a "brief walk-on part" in John's life - are you trying to set the story straight?

John's personality? He was not to be confronted, let's put it that way

It's not even that. My son said I was treated like a puff of smoke, she doesn't exist. We love each other very dearly, we've gone through a hell of a lot, and we just want to say that we're here, we have no doubts now, we have no angst.

We're not being bitter about anybody, but we just want to state a fact about who we are and what we are, and let the fans enjoy it.

John's story fascinates a lot of people - is the John that the world knows the same John that you knew?

Coming back to Liverpool [to launch the exhibition] and meeting all the old mates that knew John and were part of his life was wonderful.

Even though John was a bit of a naughty boy - I could say a stronger word than that - on the odd occasion, he has so much love surrounding him, whether he's here or not here.

The Beatles at London Airport in 1965
It's a little bit like the Bible - there are so many different ways of looking at this story and very few actually live it

That is something Julian and I are very lucky to have experienced, and that's what we're trying to express.

How would you describe John to someone who didn't know him?

John's personality? He was not to be confronted, let's put it that way. You either loved him or you hated him, and that's still the same now, even though he's not here. You either loved him or you hated him, but you could not ignore him.

Have you deliberately shunned the limelight since your time with John?

I have done a lot of Beatles conventions that a lot of people never knew about. I didn't have any money, so I used to go off and do these conventions and support the Beatles. I would get a pittance of payment.

I would never denigrate any of them, truly, because I think their talent was just magical. And it will go on forever. I've dipped in and out of the limelight, but mainly to earn a living.

Have you avoided the films and books that have included you?

The film about Brian Epstein (The Hours and Times) - absolute load of rubbish. Done in America.

John Lennon with his young son Julian
Snaps of Julian and John are on show. Photo: Cynthia Lennon Collection

It's a little bit like the Bible. There are so many different ways of looking at this story and so many ways of writing about it. And very few actually live it. And the ones that live it are the ones that say least about it.

How did it feel going back to Liverpool with Julian?

It was the first time the two of us have been in Liverpool together since he was born. He doesn't even know Liverpool but he's got the best Liverpool accent.

I had to learn a Liverpool accent when I was thrown in the deep end at art college, and all the Liverpudlians said I was posh. He's only been in Liverpool for five minutes and he's got the best Liverpool accent.

How did you feel about the exhibition staged by Yoko Ono with the clothes from day John died?

I can't even comment on that because that would never cross my mind. Any exhibition that shows blood-stained glasses and blood-stained clothes has nothing to do with me and I think it's offensive so that's all I can say. I don't understand that, I really don't.

White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon is open at the Beatles Story Pier Head in Liverpool until 31 December. Cynthia Lennon was speaking to BBC News music reporter Ian Youngs.

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