When the Beatles Snubbed Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos
It caused an uproar when the Beatles didn't attend a reception with Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos on July 4, 1966 at the Presidential Palace in Manila. Local media incited the outrage, and the snub almost caused the band to be injured when they left the country the next day.
The Beatles were greeted by thousands of screaming fans when they arrived at Manila Airport on July 3, but they remained uneasy. "I hated the Philippines," said Ringo Starr in Anthology. "We arrived there with thousands and thousands of kids, with hundreds and hundreds of policemen – and it was a little dodgy. Everyone had guns."
The Beatles were whisked away from the airport by military police and brought to a private yacht for a party with well-heeled locals. By the time the Beatles returned to their rooms at the Hotel Manila in the early hours of July 4, they were exhausted. The group was scheduled to play afternoon and evening shows later that day at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
The Beatles were unaware that the promoter of the shows had promised that the group would first attend a breakfast reception with the First Lady – whose husband, Ferdinand Marcos, had been elected President the previous November – and top government officials, along with 300 of their children. Manager Brian Epstein had told the promoter that the group would not attend, as the Beatles wanted nothing to do with politics.
"The next morning we were woken up by bangs on the door of the hotel, and there was a lot of panic going on outside," recalled George Harrison. "Somebody came into the room and said, 'Come on! You're supposed to be at the palace.' We said, 'What are you talking about? We're not going to any palace.'"
"They were starting to bang on the door," said Paul McCartney. "'They will come! They must come!' But we were saying, 'Look, just lock the bloody door.' We were used to it: 'It's our day off.'"
Watch the Beatles Perform Live in Manila
The band first realized they had a problem when their room service calls went unanswered. "We put the TV on, and there was a horrific TV show of Madame Marcos screaming, 'They've let me down!'" Starr said. "There were all these shots with the cameraman focusing on empty plates and up into the little kids' faces, all crying because the Beatles hadn't turned up."
More than 80,000 fans enjoyed the two shows, which featured many Filipino acts. But by the time the Beatles were ready to leave the Philippines the next day, the media had made them into the country's enemies. "It was 'BEATLES SNUB FIRST FAMILY' – that's how they decided to present it," Harrison remembered. "The whole place turned on us."
Police protection of the group vanished. The band endured a frightening ride to the airport, where porters refused to help with their equipment. Band members were jostled and road manager Mal Evans was beaten. Upon arriving at London's Heathrow Airport, the Beatles described their trip to the British press.
"We got to the airport and our road managers had a lot of trouble trying to get the equipment in because the escalators had been turned off," McCartney said. "So we got there, and we got put into the transit lounge. And then we got pushed around from one corner of the lounge to another. And so they started knocking over our road managers and things, and everyone was falling all over the place."
Asked if he had been kicked, John Lennon joked: "No, I was very delicate and moved every time they touched me. But I was petrified."
The Beatles vowed that day to never return to the Philippines, a pledge that they have kept despite local efforts to get Starr to return.