The Beatles in New Zealand

Page 3 – Wellington

The Beatles' first stop in New Zealand was Wellington. Seven thousand screaming fans – nearly all young women – waited as the band touched down on 21 June 1964. One girl badly slashed her thigh trying to climb a wire fence, and two others were forced through the fence because of pushing from behind.

A team of 30 police officers, some in plain clothes, was on hand. Bill Brien, in charge of the operation, later said that:

We underestimated the whole thing badly. The crowd was so big we had to … keep all the people behind a wire fence. At one stage it looked like the fence would collapse, which would have been a disaster.

As the band stepped off the plane, the shrieks of fans drowned out the noise of the turbo prop engines. Te Pataka concert party performed a haka, before doing a hongi (pressing noses) and presenting the band members with tiki. Ringo Starr feigned alarm at the greeting: ‘Hey fook! We come in peace!’

From the back of a Holden utility, The Beatles waved to fans who lined the roads from the airport to town. The crowds outside their hotel, the St George, were so large that the Beatles had to be taken in secretly through the bottle shop entrance of the hotel. Management rushed the band up to the third floor balcony so fans could see them and not crash the hotel.

It was mayhem. 'Girls were screaming uncontrollably, quite out of their tree,' people remembered. Police used dogs to clear crowds from verandahs and other vantage points. Teenagers pushed over and damaged two police motorbikes; there was so much pushing that one of The Beatles’ cars was shunted backwards, even with the handbrake on.

The band played two shows back to back in the Wellington Town Hall on 22 and 23 June. Before their idols appeared, fans had to endure two bands and three male singers. One of them, 1950s rock 'n' roll superstar Johnny Devlin, complained about the appalling sound facilities. The Beatles were angry too. After the 6 p.m. show, John Lennon reportedly stormed backstage shouting, ‘What the fucking hell is going on?’

He didn't need to worry: most people in the audience heard only the screams, not the music. Dozens of leather seats were pierced by girls stamping with stiletto heels.

Fans trekked back to The Beatles' hotel after the concert. The band was stuck inside as crowds gathered outside. Some kept up a late-night vigil on the hill behind the hotel. Others tried to get round the strict security; four girls strolled onto the sixth floor into the arms of Ringo Starr. His response was, ‘Now girls, no nonsense or else I’ll leave.’

Scandal nearly engulfed the tour when a 20-year-old slashed her wrists in the room of a member of the band’s entourage after he refused an introduction to the band. The drama came to light when a policeman saw her through the window; the door was broken down with a battering ram. Headlines the following day said ‘Girl tries to die for Beatles’, but reporters later made a hastily concocted disclaimer.

Away from all the fuss, two of the band members took the chance to catch up with family. Police whisked John Lennon away to Levin to meet his second cousins, while Ringo Starr (formerly Starkey) met a group of Starkeys from the Wellington suburb of Karori.