The late John Lennon has a cousin in Levin who is always squeezed for memories of The Beatles tour of New Zealand. With a sense of humour not unlike his famous relative, Mark Parker couldn't resist a bit of fun with Horowhenua Chronicle reporter Paul Williams.

New Zealand was swept away by a pandemic in 1964 that caused young people to stamp their feet and scream uncontrollably, all classic symptoms of an affliction known as Beatlemania.

It might seem a long time ago for teenagers of today, who probably can't tell you who John, Paul, Ringo and George are. But for children of the 60s, it only feels like ... yesterday.

"So you went up to their hotel room?"

Mark Parker was being asked for the umpteenth time to share the story of how he met his famous cousin John Lennon in Wellington 56 years ago, when their farming family hung out with The Beatles for an afternoon.

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"Oh yes," he said, "past all the screaming fans. They weren't very happy about it either."

Mark Parker met his cousin John Lennon when he was just 12 years old at the a hotel in Wellington. From left, George Mathews, his father Winton Parker, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, his sisters Hellen and Susan, and his mother Anne Mathews.
Mark Parker met his cousin John Lennon when he was just 12 years old at the a hotel in Wellington. From left, George Mathews, his father Winton Parker, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, his sisters Hellen and Susan, and his mother Anne Mathews.

Parker was just 12 years old at the time. Of course he knew who John Lennon was, but if he was honest, he was more interested in rugby and cricket than pop music at that age.

Meeting their world-famous cousin meant far more to Parker's older sister Susan than it did to him. Two years his senior, she had Beatles posters on the walls of her room, had collected books and magazines and knew all the songs.

He knew some of the songs - they were all over the radio - but Susan was that much older and, like her entire generation, was in love with the music, while his younger sister Helen was just 9 at the time.

Mark Parker was just 12 years old when he met his famous cousin John Lennon during the 1964 Beatles tour.
Mark Parker was just 12 years old when he met his famous cousin John Lennon during the 1964 Beatles tour.

"Of course I knew who he was. But I was only 12 years old and like most boys at Koputaroa School was probably more interested in rugby and a bit of cricket," he said.

"I never liked to make a big thing of it. But then if some kids would say I wasn't John Lennon's cousin, I would bet them 10 cents and bring the photo to school to prove it. But that only happened a few times."

Their mother Annie Parker was a close cousin of Lennon's aunty Mimi Smith. They would often exchange letters.

Beatles memorabilia from the 1964 New Zealand Tour.
Beatles memorabilia from the 1964 New Zealand Tour.

"Aunt Mimi" had raised Lennon since the age of 5 and was looking forward to the New Zealand tour as it was a rare chance for her to meet her relatives again.

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She stayed at the Parkers' Koputaroa farm for a week prior to the Wellington concerts, and stayed on for months after the tour.

Aunt Mimi suggested they all ought to meet their cousin John, so the Parker family piled into their Holden station wagon that morning after milking the cows and arrived at the St George Hotel where the Fab Four were staying on the third floor.

They all dressed in their best attire. Mark Parker wore a shirt and tie, and combed the hair on top of his head perfectly to one side. His sisters Susan and Helen wore their best dresses too, while his mother wore a hat and his father a suit.

There was of throng of fans on the corner of Willis and Boulcott streets near the hotel. The country was in grip of Beatlemania - the tour and the popularity of The Beatles had whipped up a pop culture phenomenon, and New Zealand had never seen its like.

The Beatles on the balcony of the Hotel St George in Wellington during their 1964 tour of New Zealand.
The Beatles on the balcony of the Hotel St George in Wellington during their 1964 tour of New Zealand.

The family were escorted by police through a crowd that were jealous of their special attention and they were given resentful looks.

In all the pushing outside, two police motorbikes were damaged, and The Beatles' own car was shunted backwards, even though the handbrake was on.

"I don't know how we were able to push through to get to the door," he said.

They were ushered up several flights of stairs to the floor where the Fab Four were staying. The band, who were taking turns at showering, were one by one introduced to the Parker family by John Lennon.

Parker said he remembered George being quiet-natured and reserved, and Paul spent most of the afternoon in his room asleep. But he remembered Ringo being extremely warm and engaging, telling jokes and making time for the children.

"George was quiet, but I think that was just his personality. But what I remember of Ringo was he was so relaxed. He was just what I would call a normal person," he said.

Looking back, he thought John made a point of getting to know them as best he could in that short time, as he had very few relatives, and took time to talk and have photos taken.

He remembers John coming down and sitting next to him.

"And you sat down next to him? Did he, did he talk to you?"

He remembered he had the feeling his famous cousin genuinely wanted to get to know him. So they sat on the floor and chatted for a while.

"And what did he say?"

Parker said Lennon knelt down beside him and said "You know, imagine, just imagine..."

"Yes ... yes ...", by that point, the words were being wished from Parker's mouth.

"Just imagine all the people living life in peace."

At that point there was an few seconds of pure exhilaration, until Parker gave a wry smile and a wink, and the room erupted in laughter.

"Of course he didn't!" he said.

"He was really nice, but really, I don't remember that much about it."

"Before he left though he did give me this jersey that I'm wearing now."

"Did he?!! Did he really?!!!!"

'No," he said, laughing again.

Members of the New Zealand Meat board were outside the hotel room and gave The Beatles a lamb each for publicity purposes. It seemed strange to Parker at the time, and even more strange now.

"What were they supposed to do with a carcass?" he said.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week documentary, directed by Ron Howard, is in cinemas this September. Photos supplied by Studio Canal. NZH 08Sep16 - Historic footage of the Beatles from Eight Days A
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week documentary, directed by Ron Howard, is in cinemas this September. Photos supplied by Studio Canal. NZH 08Sep16 - Historic footage of the Beatles from Eight Days A

The entire family went to see The Beatles live at the Wellington Town Hall that night, one of four concerts staged at the venue. The band could hardly be heard for the screaming fans.

They were given very good seats on the balcony and Parker still has his ticket. Aunt Mimi saw to it that they were reimbursed.

"I remember going to the concert ... the screaming. It was an eye-opener," he said.

Parker has a photo that had seldom been seen, showing John, George and Ringo with the family at the hotel room that afternoon before the concert later that night. That was the last he saw of his famous cousin.

"People asked if they came and stayed with us and there was a magazines article that said they had stayed with us, but of course Aunt Mimi stayed on with us for quite a while," he said.

John Lennon with Kiwi relatives (from left) Sue, Helen and Mark Parker, of Levin, during the Beatles 1964 New Zealand tour. Photo / Alexander Turnbull LIbrary EP/1964/2089-F
John Lennon with Kiwi relatives (from left) Sue, Helen and Mark Parker, of Levin, during the Beatles 1964 New Zealand tour. Photo / Alexander Turnbull LIbrary EP/1964/2089-F

The Beatles played 12 gigs in seven days on their New Zealand tour with shows in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch.

Parker said his own children liked The Beatles music and had T-shirts and albums.

It begged the question, is he musical himself?

"I had a harmonica that I used to bring out at birthday parties for pass-the-parcel, but I couldn't hold a tune," he said.

One of the most iconic musicians of all time, John Lennon was shot five times in the back at short range by Mark Chapman outside his Manhattan apartment on December 8, 1980.

Mark Parker said it was difficult to mourn a cousin he hardly knew, but he remembered sharing with the world a grief at the senselessness of it all.