John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met in November of 1966 at the Indica gallery in London, the day before she was set to exhibit her work in a show titled Unfinished Paintings and Objects. Lennon had apparently become quite taken with one of the experimental artist’s pieces, which required visitors to climb up a ladder and read tiny print on a canvas with a magnifying glass that said “yes.” Intrigued by this, he later asked to interact with another one of her pieces. “Then I went up to this thing that said, ‘Hammer a nail in.’ I said, ‘Can I hammer a nail in?’ and she said no, because the gallery was actually opening the next day,” Lennon explained in an interview. “So there was this little conference and she finally said, ‘OK, you can hammer a nail in for five shillings.’ So smart-ass here says, ‘Well, I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings and hammer an imaginary nail in.’ And that’s when we really met. That’s when we locked eyes and she got it and I got it and that was it.”
Shortly after that initial meeting, the two started corresponding with one another for months and later became an inseparable couple. Since Ono met Lennon while he was still married to his first wife, Cynthia, the couple first had to wait until his divorce was finalized to tie the knot. Then, the two initially planned on getting married while onboard a cross-channel ferry from England to France, but had to ditch those plans because of passport issues.
“We wanted to get married on a cross-channel ferry. That was the romantic part,” Lennon says in The Beatles’ Anthology documentary. “We went to Southampton, and then we couldn’t get on because she wasn’t English, and she couldn’t get the day visa to go across. They said, ‘Anyway, you can’t get married. The captain’s not allowed to do it any more,’” he explained.
They decided to try their luck in Paris, but again were told they wouldn’t be able to tie the knot there since they hadn’t been in the country long enough. Finally, their friend Peter Brown suggested they head to Gibraltar. “We chose Gibraltar because it is quiet, British and friendly. We tried everywhere else first. I set out to get married on the car ferry and we would have arrived in France married, but they wouldn’t do it. We were no more successful with cruise ships. We tried embassies, but three weeks’ residence in Germany or two weeks’ in France were required,” Lennon explained. His song “The Ballad of John and Yoko” captures the lead-up to the big day: 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.
They chartered a plane to Gibraltar on March 20th, 1969. For the event, Ono wore a white, tiered miniskirt and top, small floppy hat, knee-high socks, plimsolls, and of course, round, black sunglasses. The groom wore a white high-neck top, a blazer, and jacket. The ceremony was 10 minutes long and performed by registrar Cecil Wheeler. David Nutter, the Beatles’s photographer, was in attendance, but he unfortunately lost the negatives from the entire wedding after he gave them to someone hired by Lennon to put a book together.
After the ceremony, the two flew to Amsterdam and set up a “bed-in” as a call for peace in the presidential suite of the Hilton hotel. International media outlets were invited to cover the event, which lasted seven days.
“I was very aware that we were ruining each other’s careers and I was hated and John was hated because of me. We did everything together and we did everything publicly together. The Bed-In was our work for peace but we weren’t liked for it,” Ono shared with The Telegraph.
On March 22 of this year, the couple’s third LP, Unfinished Music No. 3: Wedding Album, will be re-released via Secretly Canadian in partnership with Chimera Music. In the original packaging, fans will receive photos, a copy of their marriage certificate, and drawings to commemorate John and Yoko’s nuptials.