News & Politics

When the Beatles Came to Washington

The band had an unpleasant visit to a party at the British Embassy.

The niece of French ambassador Hervé Alphand; John Lennon; Donna Marshall; Darcy Fay; George Harrison; Kathy Fay, daughter of Navy under-secretary Paul Fay (no relation to Darcy). Photograph courtesy of Donna Constantinople.

“We always tried to get out of those crap things, but that time we got caught,” George Harrison recalled, referring to the Beatles’ visit to the British Embassy after their first US concert, held at the old Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964. Accustomed, after a year of Beatlemania in Britain, to the crush of official events, the Fab Four were dreading it. Then they caught a slight, if short-lived, break.

Earlier that night, Donna Constantinople, née Marshall, the daughter of a prominent DC businessman, had been whisked by official limousine to the concert with three friends—the daughter of the undersecretary of the Navy, the niece of the French ambassador, and another friend from her high school. Sometime past midnight, the girls found themselves in the British ambassador’s private living room on the top floor of the residence with ambassador David Ormsby-Gore, his wife, and Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Then it happened. “A door opened,” Constantinople recalls. “They came in, and no one else came in. It was an overwhelming feeling. No one was speaking at all. It was pregnant.”

Photograph of Beatles concert by Rowland Scherman/Getty Images.

A half hour of quiet drinks later, the Beatles ventured downstairs and immediately hundreds of diplomats and their wives swarmed them, demanding autographs. “It was horrifying. They were swept down into all this screaming and yelling, the flash of bulbs,” says Constantinople, a 66-year-old resident of DC’s Wesley Heights. “We were just numb.”

Later that night, a young woman who had crashed the party—later identified as 18-year-old National Institutes of Health worker Beverly Rubin—produced a pair of nail scissors and cut off a lock of Ringo Starr’s hair, near his collar. When she and her deejay date were evicted, Rubin wasn’t disappointed: She had already obtained the Beatles’ autographs.

The band was livid, and after dispensing with their “duty”—presenting charity raffle winners with signed copies of the album Meet the Beatles!—John, Paul, George, and Ringo stormed the exits. Lady Ormsby-Gore apologized: “I’m sorry about all that down there. It can’t have been much fun for you.”

“And what do you do?” Ringo shot back.

Six years later, in his landmark Rolling Stone interview, John Lennon would angrily remember being “touched and pawed like Hard Day’s Night, only a million more times, like at the . . . British Embassy in Washington . . . when some bloody animal cut Ringo’s hair. I walked out of that, swearing at all of them.”

Evidence of the quieter moment has been preserved in the above photograph. Constantinople is saving the whole story—and other photos—of the evening for a planned memoir of her life in Washington, but 50 years on, the sensation of Paul McCartney’s arm around her waist is palpable. “The physical closeness,” she says, “was lovely.”

James Rosen, chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, is working on a book about the Beatles. This article appears in the February 2014 issue of Washingtonian.