Writing about his childhood in Liverpool, McCartney recalled doing chores for local residents during the Scouts’ ‘Bob-a-job week’, during which he met an old lady who would go on to inspire the song.
“Eleanor Rigby is based on an old lady that I got on with very well,” McCartney wrote in an extract published by The New Yorker. “I found out that she lived on her own, so I would go around there and just chat, which is sort of crazy if you think about me being some young Liverpool guy.
“Later, I would offer to go and get her shopping. She’d give me a list and I’d bring the stuff back, and we’d sit in her kitchen. I still vividly remember the kitchen, because she had a little crystal-radio set […] So I would visit, and just hearing her stories enriched my soul and influenced the songs I would later write.”
McCartney also recounted the fact that his original name for Eleanor Rigby was Daisy Hawkins. “I can see that “Hawkins” is quite nice, but it wasn’t right. Jack Hawkins had played Quintus Arrius in Ben-Hur. Then, there was Jim Hawkins, from one of my favorite books, Treasure Island. But it wasn’t right.”
Although there is a grave attributed to an Eleanor Rigby in the graveyard of St Peter’s Parish Church in Woolton, Liverpool, where McCartney and John Lennon had spent time sunbathing as teenagers, it is believed to be a coincidence.
“I don’t remember seeing the grave there, but I suppose I might have registered it subliminally,” McCartney wrote.
He has previously said that the name Eleanor was inspired by the actress Eleanor Bron, who starred in the 1965 Beatles film Help!, while Rigby is based on a shop called Rigby & Evens Ltd, Wine & Spirit Shippers that he saw in Bristol.
McCartney’s two-volume book is published on November 2, and will recount the musician’s life through his earliest boyhood compositions, songs by The Beatles and Wings, and from his lengthy solo career. In August, he revealed the names of the 154 songs that are featured.
To accompany the release, the British Library has announced it will host a free display entitled Paul McCartney: The Lyrics between November 5, 2021 and March 13, 2022, while the musician himself will discuss the book live in conversation at the Royal Festival Hall next month.