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Mills: Sir Paul is Sir Cheap when it comes to charity

In an exclusive interview, Paul McCartney's estranged wife discusses their breakup and her campaign to leash the British tabloid press because of stories that led the former model to contemplate suicide.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

On the offensive after 18 months of relative silence following the breakup of her marriage to Sir Paul McCartney, Heather Mills said in an interview Thursday that the union broke up in part over the ex-Beatle’s refusal to spend more of his fortune on charity.

“I’m not perfect. There’s lots of things in our marriage that I could have done different,” Mills told co-host Matt Lauer via satellite from London.

But, the former model said, the biggest source of contention in the marriage was over what to do with McCartney’s estimated $1.6-billion nest egg and power as a darling of the British people.

“How can anybody have that kind of money and not do more for charity?” she asked. “That’s what we argued about all the time.”

Mills, who married McCartney in 2002 when she was 34 and he was 60, has been hounded by paparazzi and vilified by the British tabloid press since she and her famous husband announced their intention to divorce in May 2006.

She says that because of the negative stories written about her, she has received death threats, worries for the life of her and McCartney’s daughter, 4-year-old Beatrice, and has even contemplated suicide. She is now campaigning for tougher laws governing the media in the European Union.

“They’ve called me a whore, a gold digger — the most unbelievably hateful things,” she said of the tabloids. “I’ve had worse press than a pedophile or a murderer, and I’ve done nothing but charity for 20 years. They’ve put my life and my daughter’s life at risk.”

She pointed to the media’s pursuit of other celebrities, and asked, “What are we doing as a nation? What did they do to Diana? They chased her and killed her.”

Mills said she tried to keep a low profile for 18 months, but the paparazzi never went away. “They followed me to the supermarkets, they pursued me. I never spoke and I never said a word for months and months and months and months. And they never went away,” she said.

She said that she and McCartney could have had a quick and painless divorce and said she didn’t want any of his money, if only he had agreed to take the blame for the marriage’s failure.

“When we first split, I said to Paul, ‘I’m going to be crucified. I’m going to have a modern-day stoning. You know why we split, you know the truth,” she told Lauer. She said she told him to stand up and say, “‘I’m responsible for the breakup of this marriage.’”

If he had done that, she said, she’d have walked away with nothing, but he didn’t.

“I insist on being cleared,” she said. “Money — that’s the least of my interests. I have to clear my name.”

Mills, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, was engaged to be married when she met McCartney. She broke up with her fiancé to start dating the knighted rock icon. Active in charities dedicated to clearing minefields and providing prostheses to people who have lost limbs in armed conflicts, she also became active in animal rights campaigns after meeting McCartney, who is active in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

A vegan, Mills also campaigns against the harvesting of fur from dogs for use in clothing.

Blizzard of bad pressMills said that she’s counted more than 4,000 articles in the media critical of her, most of them containing what she called “rubbish.” To document her claims about the paparazzi, she’s taken to filming them as they photograph her and is pursuing several libel suits against various newspapers in Great Britain.

Lauer asked Mills if she’s asked McCartney to use his power and influence to make some phone calls and ask that the media stop pursuing and vilifying his wife.

“Nobody will believe me,” she said. “I have pleaded. I have begged. He knows I was at a suicide point, and he has done nothing.”

She said she talks to McCartney daily because of their mutual concern for their daughter.

“I pleaded with him for 18 months,” she said. “I said, ‘You’ve never had any bad press. How do you think Beatrice is going to feel about this when she’s 12 or 13, reading that you allowed this to continue? How do you think she’s going to feel about that?’”

When Mills met McCartney, he was still grieving the loss of his first wife, Linda, who died of breast cancer in 1998. Lauer reminded her that she had to know getting involved with one of the Fab Four was going to make her life very public.

“I fell in love with a man, not a Beatle,” Mills replied. “I fell in love with a man who chased me for three months. He was a broken man when I met him. I was a huge support for Paul.”

She said the media is too obsessed with celebrities and pays too little attention to important issues.

“Why are we so obsessed with celebrity culture?” she asked. “We have front-page news about divorces instead of front-page news about global warming, about women being abused, about children being abused. We’re going on a downward spiral.”