Ringo Starr, who turns 80 on July 7, pictured last year © REUTERS

In 2008 Ringo Starr was asked by an interviewer what he would like for his upcoming birthday. “I don’t know where it came from, but I said, 'I’d like them all at noon to go “Peace and Love”’. So a week later was my birthday and we organised it, and they made little cakes, there were 100 people and we had the Peace and Love moment at noon. I counted down . . . 3, 2, 1 . . . Peace and Love.”

The tradition began in Chicago and has since been celebrated in cities including Nice and the Beatles’ old haunt Hamburg. It has now grown to 27 countries, all of which mark Starr’s birthday with Peace and Love moments. “When we’re in LA, which I am now,” he says, “we have a big stage put up by the Capitol Records building in Hollywood and we have bands playing, friends come and play for the audience and we have a big brunch.”

This year will of course be different. To ring in his 80th birthday tomorrow, Starr has planned an online celebration to benefit Black Lives Matter, the David Lynch Foundation, the charity MusiCares and other organisations. For “Ringo's Big Birthday Show” he has summoned musicians including fellow Beatle Paul McCartney, All Starr Band guitarist Joe Walsh, Gary Clark Jr, Sheryl Crow, Sheila E and Ben Harper to give performances from home, and the show will also contain new concert footage.

“We were planning it [for LA] but things have changed. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world as there’s a virus everywhere. So I’ve asked my friends [to play at home], or send me footage from a show they’ve done. I’m using some of mine from the Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band tour last year, and I’ll be introducing. ”

Starr has taken a keen interest in the Black Lives Matter protests and has voiced his “continuous support to everyone marching and speaking up for justice and a better world”. Looking back to the 1960s, he is proud of the Beatles’ stance at the time. “We refused to play in Mississippi, we didn’t dig segregation . . . So everywhere we went we said, 'we play to all people, and people are people’. And they said ‘OK’. In the South, that was a first for us, and a first for them.”

Starr says it was African American performers who inspired him to get into music in the first place. “All of our heroes were black, from Ray Charles to Lightnin’ Hopkins, any way you want to go. Stevie Wonder was one of them . . . When I was 19 I tried to emigrate to Houston, Texas. I wanted to be where Lightnin’ Hopkins was, my all-time favourite blues player.”

However, his pursuit of the American dream was undone by bureaucracy. “We went to the embassy and filled in all these forms. We even had a list of factories where we could apply for jobs because I was working in a factory then. We took them back down to the embassy and they gave us more paperwork, more sheets, so we turned back into teenagers and just ripped them up.”

Ringo Starr (second from left) with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes in 1960 © Alamy Stock Photo

Instead the young Richard Starkey began honing his skills closer to home in Liverpool. “I just started playing in bands in the factory I worked in. I played with Rory Storm and then I went to the best band in the land, the Beatles.” He is reluctant to discuss which drummers influenced him. “It’s always the same question, 'what drummers did you like?' and I would say, I was listening to records as records, I wasn’t listening for the drummers.” But he does name one. “My hero is [American jazz drummer] Cozy Cole; I just love what he did because he did tom-tom stuff.”

Has not being able to play in public during the pandemic been difficult for him? “I just love to play,” he says. “I should have been playing right now and in the first tour of two this year, then having a break for my birthday, then September and October tour. I really miss that.” And he has no plans to give touring because of the latest milestone. “We’re in a great business and we can just go on as long as we can go on. And I plan to go on a lot longer than 80.”

Beyond music, he says his greatest joy in life is being the head of a big and growing family. “My wife Barbara's a blessing [actress Barbara Bach], my children are blessings, I’ve got eight grandkids now and a great grandson.” As an only child, he says “The only thing I ever wanted was an older brother. But I look around the table now and I go, 'What? All these people are related to me?' It's far out.'"

Reflecting on his life, Starr says, “I don’t look back at it too seriously, I’m here, the road I’ve taken had many good choices and some other choices, but here I am now.” Even so, he marvels at how it all began. “I’m still blown away that I was 13, in hospital [with tuberculosis], and the music teacher came round to keep us busy, and he gave me a little drum. And from that minute on, I only wanted to be a drummer. And I’m still doing it. That’s far out.”

Starr is conscious of the importance of not just talent but luck and timing in a musician's success and how the business has changed over the years. “It's hard to say who's gonna last. Nobody knew we were going to last, we were rejected by record labels. But now, where do you start? There’s few clubs you can go and play. It’s much harder now, everyone’s streaming, including the Beatles, that’s the new way. It’s so far out now.”

The Beatles rooftop concert in 1969 © Getty Images

One of his current projects is The Beatles: Get Back, a documentary put together by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. “We began it a long time ago from a live show on the roof of the Apple building,” Starr says. “We found 56 hours of unused footage. We asked Peter Jackson to help us, and he put the concert together and it’s incredible. In the first version, there wasn’t a lot of joy, too many down moments, and in this one, we’re all laughing and having fun. It’s got a joyous outlook.”

The film is due for release by Disney in September but that date is now in doubt because of the pandemic. “We’re all sort of in limbo,” he says. “I even heard that James Bond’s not coming out, so it really must be hell out there.”

But, always upbeat, he adds, “Look, I was in the best band in the world, and I loved those guys, they were brothers to me, I had three brothers. Life has been very kind to me.” And, lest we forget, he reminds us of the big event that is looming. “July 7 is my birthday, and at noon I hope you’ll spread Peace and Love wherever you are. That’s the deal, OK? We’re still on the road!”

 ‘Ringo's Big Birthday Show’ is on YouTube at 8pm EST on July 7

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