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17th May, 2019

I'm Looking Through You: John Lennon's spectacles

John Lennon’s younger sister, Julia Baird, visited the Royal Liverpool University Hospital recently to help launch St Paul’s Eye Unit’s latest campaign ‘View from the Stars’, taking a very special set of spectacles with her.

‘View from the Stars’ is a fundraising campaign for people affected by sight loss, asking stars to donate their glasses or sunglasses to be auctioned off to fund pioneering research that will transform the treatment and care of eye disease.

On her visit to St Paul’s, Julia took along an authentic pair of John’s orange tinted spectacles from The Beatles Story’s exhibition, the musical legend himself wore the glasses in 1971 whilst composing his classic song, ‘Imagine’.

 

 

John can be seen wearing the 14 carat gold spectacles, which use an early version of photo chromatic glass (a lens that reacts to light and dark surroundings), in the documentary ‘Imagine: John Lennon’ whilst sitting at his Steinway in the sound studio at Tittenhurst Park. The frames and nose clip are slightly bent as a result of an argument between John and Yoko in which the glasses were thrown into a bin. Later, the glasses were thankfully retrieved by an employee and are now on permanent display as part of The Beatles Story’s award-winning visitor attraction.

 

John Lennon was very short sighted and was embarrassed to wear glasses until much later in his career, when the iconic pair of round glasses became his signature look. John was one of the first, along with Buddy Holly, to use his glasses as a fashion statement. John first started to wear his 'granny' style glasses in September 1966, when he received a pair in preparation for his role in Richard Lester's film How I Won The War.

During the visit to St Paul’s Eye Unit, John’s glasses were passed through a machine that takes a measurement of the prescription called a focimeter, to see just how short sighted he was. The test revealed that aged 31, John would have been severely short sighted, or myopic, and also had astigmatism. His lenses read -8.25 from his right eye, and -7.50 from his left.

“Without his glasses the world would have been blurred and distorted for John. He would have been able to see the end of the guitar and the frets, but anything else beyond that would have been difficult for him,” said Professor Simon Harding, a consultant at St Paul’s Eye Unit. “His short sightedness was at a level such that it’s likely it would have worsened later in life and may have become a threat to his vision.”

 

Poor vision seemed to run in the family, as Julia explained: “I’m thrilled to be involved in View from the Stars. John, our mother and I all wore glasses because we were all very short-sighted. It wasn’t cool to wear glasses when The Beatles played the Cavern, and when The Beatles became famous John wore contact lenses.

“However, that later changed and the style of John’s glasses is one that is still instantly recognisable today; so we think it’s a great idea to use something as symbolic as them to kick start this amazing campaign to support St Paul’s Eye Unit’s work in Liverpool and around the world.

“It was fascinating to be given lenses that replicated what John would have seen without his glasses, and it wasn’t much at all. We want as many donations of glasses from stars as possible to ensure the auction raises an incredible amount for an incredible cause. I will be contacting friends to try and get the word out there and hopefully they will also encourage as many famous faces to join the cause. All we need is love!”

 

From its humble beginning in 1871, St Paul’s Eye Unit has grown to become an international centre of excellence, working with many countries around the world including Malawi, India, the USA and China.

Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss, a figure likely to rise to over four million by 2025. Many cases of blindness and impairment are preventable, and this is a driving factor for the St Paul’s teams to develop new diagnostic and pioneering treatments.

The Trust wants you to be a part of helping to fundraise toward their ground-breaking work. So, if you are a star and want to help tackle world blindness, or you know of someone famous who would love to get involved, or even a famous pair of glasses within your family, please get in touch.

 

“We are very grateful to Julia and The Beatles Story for getting behind this fundraising event. We certainly hope other celebrities can lend their support and help us to generate a lot of awareness of our work and money to fund our cutting-edge projects to prevent blindness,” added Professor Harding. “For us here, international recognition is fine but the smile on the face of a patient being able to see after treatment is the ultimate satisfaction.”

To find out more about ‘View from the Stars’ or to support St Paul’s Eye Unit, please visit: rlbuht.nhs.uk

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