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Having Tea with Freda Kelly

Freda Kelly was the secretary of the Beatles, alright. At VI’s Close-up event we wanted her to talk about exactly that. But what else is it about the woman taking the job as their fan club manager with just 17? We arranged a tea party with our team assistances Ulli and Sara. This is how it went.

If you don’t know Freda Kelly, you’d probably just see an English lady stepping outside a taxi on this sunny afternoon in Munich, holding on to a walking stick, with a smile that just doesn’t tell her age. If you’ve never even heard about Freda Kelly, you probably never heard of the girl that worked as the secretary of the Beatles, as their fan club manager and fan magazine editor when she was just 17.

Chances are that you already passed Ulli in our Vienna office, a woman about whom people at VI say that if you can’t get through her, you might as well just turn around and leave. Or Sara who is running the back office in Freiburg, who gets the job done, real hands on, rarely without her phone.

And if you pass these three women today, sitting in the sun, enjoying pink-coloured raspberry chocolate cake on a light-green sofa, you wouldn’t believe that these are the ones holding the company together in the back.

Plates get distributed and switched around, what cake do you want, can we share? Do we have enough spoons, do we need forks? Things are getting messy at the table; Freda wants raspberry cake and English tea with a hint of milk. “I am a chocaholic.” She smiles. And Ulli can’t hold in her dirty laughter any longer.

“You know, we already came here yesterday,” Sara explains. “But it is so empty here. With most people working remotely now.”

“I couldn’t work like that anymore”, says Freda, who is now retired. “We had a big floor in my company, we had like 30 people there, now there are probably two.”

Sara says:

I know, it’s so sad. I miss the people. I miss the social side of it all.

Ulli has too much chocolate cake in her mouth, she explains with a bright Viennese accent. The raspberry cake is loosening up the conversation, the women begin to talk about their children – and how important it is to be able to sit with yourself.

“Why was Ringo Starr looking so sad all the time?” Sara asks.

“Oh, really? But he was a happy Beatle,” Freda says.

“Actually, my mother wanted to know that, because she was in love with him.”

“Well, I like that she’s asking that, because people always want to know everything about Paul, you know. But Ringo, he is the jolly one, the dancer in the group. He was a good jiver.”

Freda asks:

Well, do you like the Beatles?

“Of course,” says Ulli, like, what a question, she even grew up with them. Although she never had a favourite. It’s just that she really liked the Rolling Stones too, a taboo during that time, when you could only go for one band.

“I was in love with all of them,” Freda says. “But I changed it every week.”

For her, the best time of the Beatles were when they were playing in a small club called Cavern, when they were not yet that big. Once they sold all these million records, for her, they were not the real Beatles anymore.

“Paul always needed the other Beatles to bounce ideas off. I think, he misses John or George for that,” Freda explains.

“We also need each other sometimes as sparring partners.” Sara looks over to Ulli.

Ulli laughs:

But not in writing songs, I am sorry.

The light grows darker, it becomes chillier. You hear the birds. You hear a phone ring– “It’s not a Beatles song!” – and Freda Kelly explaining to someone on the other end she’s having tea and cake.

“It’s getting a little bit cold outside, isn’t it? Do you need some help with the plates?” Freda wants to be helpful, but Sara and Ulli are having none of that.

The three back office ladies laughed, they talked about business, about life and music. But if you’d listened closely, you’d understand that they know the world, they understand the logistics of running a company: It’s just that people so rarely ask them.

“It’s funny how music connects you with your memories,” Sara says in the end.

Freda is about to tell a room full of people the best of hers.