From his home in New Windsor, Joseph Gatt recalls many events that took place years ago when he was a young man growing up in England.
Born in Liverpool in 1941, it was just shortly afterward that the city was bombed during the Blitz in World War II and his family took refuge “upstate” in Huyton. “My mother’s sister had a fish and chips shop” there, Gatt says.
By age 15, he had to help support the family and soon found a job working on a farm, “doing the spuds and stuff.”
Over time, he worked in more glamorous positions in mansions and estates, in the service of titled lords and ladies, and ultimately came to New York to work for a wealthy family here. His working life taught him many skills: gardening – how to splice carnations, grow figs in a greenhouse – marksmanship - how to load and operate guns - and how to work with horses, drive tractors, Rolls Royces and Jaguars – as his employers needed.
Now, as a retiree, these many skills come in handy. Gatt spends his time at home cooking, gardening, hunting and fishing.
Surely, though, one of his fondest memories involves a brush with fame. And he has the proof, too.
Gatt tells the story of when, as a young man, a chance encounter led him to meet the then-not so famous Paul McCartney, and to procure for him a set of guitar strings.
It was in the early ‘60s, when Gatt, on a night off, went with a co-worker to Liverpool. Friends and acquaintances were meeting up at a club, and Gatt found himself waiting around a bit.
“This guy comes up and says, ‘Hey mate, do you have a guitar?’ I said, ’Yeah, I have a Hofner at home.’ And he says, ‘I have a Hofner bass guitar. Do you have an extra string?’ ”
Gatt did not. But, “I asked around … got some strings for him, and I went round, said, ‘Hey mate, here’s your strings.’ He says, ‘Thanks. My name’s Paul McCartney.’ And I said, ’Oh, my name’s Joe Gatt.’ ”
He soon learned that McCartney and his band, The Beatles – not yet a household name – played at a nearby club, The Cavern, and on the advice of his cousin, who told him they were an “up and coming” act – Gatt made a point of getting an autograph next time he had the chance.
That opportunity came about a couple of years later, Gatt says, when on an errand for his employer and staying at a fine hotel, he chanced to meet the Beatles coming in the back door to their rooms. All he had on him was a receipt, but he secured both Paul’s and Ringo Starr’s signatures, Gatt says.
“I never did see them play.”
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life so far?
To work hard and enjoy life. It will pass you before you know it.
What’s your fondest memory?
It’s when I was working for Lord Darby, I met the Beatles in Liverpool and I got their autographs.
Tell us a risk you took that was worth taking?
Learning to fly.
What are you looking forward to?
Doing parties and meeting new people.
What have you done or thought recently that surprised you?
I went to a friend’s house for supper over the holidays and his kids were doing Christmas crackers (a type of party favor common in Great Britain) which brought back good childhood memories.
What gives you strength?
Guinness and freedom and my Irish heritage.
What don’t you waste your time on?
TV. I’d rather be cooking or enjoying the outdoors or socializing.
Do you have a motto to live by?
Hunt, fish, cook, travel and live life.
What’s your comfort food?
What was your favorite car?
Rolls Royce. I had to go to school to drive that for work.
Do you have any regrets?
I married the wrong woman.
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