40th Anniversary Reflection: Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon's Special Visit to Strawberry Field

In honour of the 40th anniversary of the noteworthy visit of Yoko and Sean Ono Lennon to Strawberry Field on 24th January 1984, we had the privilege of talking with Major David Botting, a prominent figure in the legacy of our iconic Liverpool site.  David, who was a Salvation Army Captain and Officer in Charge at Strawberry Field at the time, delves into his unique memories of their visit to Strawberry Field and his ongoing connection with Yoko Ono.

Four years after the passing of John Lennon, Yoko brought Sean to the place that had inspired his father to write the timeless Beatles hit, 'Strawberry Fields Forever.' The visit was part of a poignant journey back to the roots of John's childhood, and strengthened the connection between the Ono Lennon family and Strawberry Field. 

Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon Visit Strawberry Field

“I was told about the visit the day before and I said “Of course they’re welcome, but I’m sorry the children won’t be here!’.  I was concerned about the children being there with the press. So, they went to school as normal. But, I was more than happy to show Yoko and Sean the place that was so special to John.”

“She arrived, snow on the ground, with little Sean. There were a lot of photographers and media, and they came with bodyguards to keep them safe. I showed them around the house and as she was due to leave, Yoko said they would love to meet the children. She asked if she could come back later, but with no media. We agreed to that -  I knew the children would be excited!”

“At about 6pm that evening, a plain car pulled up - Yoko and Sean had returned. Sean spent some time with the youngsters, and he really liked our boxer dog! We had photographs taken, and it was a lovely, happy, family occasion.“

“Yoko told me that she had promised Sean to take him to see the place where his father grew up. Strawberry Field was an obvious place to stop off. Aunt Mimi and John lived very close to the back gate. In fact, as John was growing up, as well as him playing in the grounds, Mimi and John always used to come to the garden parties, which John loved.“

Ongoing friendship

“The visit, and Strawberry Field, meant a lot to Yoko, and for several years we kept up correspondence, and Yoko would kindly send cards and the youngsters a Christmas present.“

“At one point, I was asked to take part in a documentary called ‘Strawberry Field Forever’. The production company flew me out to New York, and we took shots on the Staten Island Ferry, going past the statue of liberty. We then met Yoko outside the Dakota building - she threw her arms around me when she spotted me!“

“We went to Strawberry Fields in Central Park and were both interviewed. Afterward, she said “I’ve been to your house, you come to mine.“ All the cameras left, we went over to the Dakota building, had a cup of tea and she showed me around the flat. It was very homely.“

“Yoko Ono and Sean were open, loving, warm people. She’d lost the love of her life and she was trying to do the best she could for Sean. I could relate to that - it was just what the parents with children at Strawberry Field were trying to do.“

Strawberry Field then and now

“When the children’s home closed, my worry was that the place would be sold. I feared that someone with no links to Strawberry Field would buy it, not honour its special legacy, and make money for themselves. Instead, I’m thrilled that we never lost the spirit of the place, and the wonderful work we had done with youngsters there. It continues now with the programmes for young people at Strawberry Field.”

“I’m also delighted to help mark this moment in Strawberry Field’s history, and to commemorate the legacy of the Ono Lennon family and the Salvation Army at Strawberry Field. Strawberry Field really meant something to Yoko and Sean, just as it did to John, and it's a privilege to share my knowledge of that connection.”

Commemorative Stone

Visitors to Strawberry Field today can find an engraved stone commemorating Yoko and Sean's visit in the garden on the Path of Peace which runs around the Strawberry Field Bandstand.

“The plan to open Strawberry Field to the public for the first time - so people can see a unique exhibition about the home, how and why the song was written by John, and allow visitors to explore the grounds as John did as a child - is very exciting.”

Lady Judy Martin OBE