Mary McCartney: ‘Finding my own path was overwhelming at times’

The photographer, 53, on handbag superstitions, hugging trees, TV presenting and touring the world with her famous parents

My earliest memory is standing alone in my cot, totally covered in instant coffee. Somehow I got hold of a jar, took off the lid, and spread it all over. Mum and Dad thought I’d slathered myself in the contents of my nappy.

Adventurous is how I’d describe my childhood. Our parents [Paul and Linda McCartney] toured the world, and we went, too. It was full of contrasts. In remote, quiet corners, we’d have nature-filled family time. Then we’d watch them fill stadiums, have our car chased and be stared at all the time. None of us kids found them particularly interesting.

Finding my own path was overwhelming at times. Working out how to make my own mark felt confusing. I loved taking pictures, but assumed everyone could. Then one day a friend showed me her awful holiday snaps and I realised maybe I did have something.

I think a lot about how my surname shaped my career. Yes, the name opened doors at the start, but that’s not sustainable. I wouldn’t have got gigs for so long, I don’t think, if people didn’t like what I delivered.

Hugging trees has become a pastime recently. I need to spend long periods in nature to feel less anxious. I was walking in Sussex the other week, found a tree and held on to it tightly.

We bumped into David Bowie on a family holiday in Switzerland. He invited us over for dinner. He was amazing, but I was an awkward 14-year-old, totally uncomfortable in my own skin, and had no idea how to handle it.

TV presenting didn’t come naturally to me. Fronting my own food show felt constantly embarrassing. But I know Mum would be so proud to see a meat-free cooking show on mainstream TV. Thinking about her got me through it.

In the midst of grief, remember you’re sad because of how special the person you’ve lost was. It’s only devastating because of how much love was there.

A fish gets caught by opening its mouth: that’s great advice. It means think before you speak, as there’s no taking it back. That said, I’m awful at following it. I speak over and interrupt people all the time. To all my friends: I’m truly sorry.

Allow your partner to be themselves; don’t give them a hard time for their character, or be judgmental. You blossom when you’re left to be yourself. Moaning is a real passion killer.

Parenthood has made me a total mess; there’s barely a film I can watch without crying. I also now appreciate even the smallest offers, like a cup of tea – the littlest things feel like pampering.

I can’t let my handbag touch the floor, I’m convinced it’ll bring me bad luck. At dinner once someone spent half an hour convincing me it would happen, so now wherever I go it stays off the ground. Still, I refrain from imposing my irrational superstition on others.

My siblings are still my best friends. Stella and I in particular have a real closeness. We’re two years apart, and shared a bedroom growing up. On the road we only had each other for entertainment. We check in with each other every morning.

If These Walls Could Sing is streaming on Friday, 6 January, exclusively on Disney+


Michael Segalov

The GuardianTramp

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