Schiaparelli jewellery for The Sunday Times Magazine, from the collection of Melanie Coe.

Melanie Coe ran away from home when a young teenager, and became the inspiration for 'She's Leaving Home' by the Beatles. Paul McCartney read the story in the Daily Mirror, and wrote the song practically verbatim. Although she wasn't 'meeting a man from the motor trade' her parents were quoted as saying 'We gave her everything money could buy' as they had recently inherited.

Another strange and spooky set of circumstances surround this shoot (see Frank Zappa portrait for another). This shoot was commissioned by The Sunday Times and the Schiaparelli jewellery was bought along by its owner, Melanie Coe (not modelling above!), who I later discovered was a friend of my friends Karen Cooley and Nicholas Hill. No big deal but a bit of a co.! Thought nothing more of it and around this time met up with all three of them in London a couple of times.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I was half listening to a radio programme, a series titled on the Carly Simon Song ‘I Bet You Think This Song Is About You’ about songs which were written or dedicated to the people. My ears pricked up when I heard the name Melanie Coe, and thought ‘that name rings a bell?’ They were talking about The Beatles ‘She's Leaving Home’ which I was trying to by now also concentrate on, and then remembered why I knew that name, but thought ‘no, it can’t be?!’ It was only when they mentioned that she was now living in Spain, but dealt in jewellery that I started to think it might be! I couldn’t believe if it was, that I’d spent all that time with her and our mutual friends and not discovered this little morsel!

I've since seen her a few times over the years, mostly down in Aldeburgh where Nic and Karen now both live, and Melanie and my visits have coincided. It still seems pretty weird that this song was written about her, and I don’t think she’s ever got over it either. She never met the Beatles, other than again coincidentally years before, when she won a dance contest on Ready Steady Go, and the prize was presented by Paul.

"He presented me with first prize for miming to Brenda Lee's Let's Jump The Broomstick, which meant I danced on the show for a year," says Melanie.
"We had spent a long day in the studio filming. John Lennon was aloof and unapproachable, Paul shook our hands but Ringo and George were sweethearts, chatting to us all day. "Something probably clicked in Paul's mind when he read the story about me running away from home three years later, as it was pretty unusual back then."

On February 27th 1967 the Daily Mirror newspaper headline read: A-level girl dumps car and vanishes. This was the inspiration for the song, and her father was quoted as saying I cannot imagine why she should run away, she has everything here. None of the Beatles played on this one although John and Paul sang. The first woman to play on a Beatles' track was Sheila Bromberg who played harp on this. Melanie Coe appeared on the front cover of the Mirror with long blond hair. She really had left home for her boyfriend, but he was a croupier in a gambling club, and not in the motor trade at all. At the time of her going missing, it was Paul's guess that she had left home to live with a boyfriend, and embellishment that he was working in 'the motor trade.' But more poignant, she said that the line ‘something inside that was always denied’ was an accurate description of her home life.

She told me that her parents had come into some money, inherited it or something, so they became a bit ostentatious as far as I can gather, summed up especially in the line ‘we gave her everything money can buy’ which was obviously adapted from her father’s quote in the article of 'We gave her everything, I don't know why she left home." She told me that her mother treated and dressed her like doll, and that her values had been influenced by this in how she bought up her own kids.

I later read an article about it which states: ‘A great example of how Paul and John's song-writing partnership worked. John adds a cutting emotional edge to Paul's tale of the girls flight from 'home' by voicing the parents reaction. The lines 'We sacrificed most of our lives', 'We gave you everything money could buy', were actually words he recalled his Aunt Mimi saying to him.

When Sgt Peppers was released some journalists suggested that George Martin was the talent behind the Beatles music, as all instruments on this track were played by classical session musicians conducted by Martin. This led to friction (especially from John) and the Beatles deliberately relied on George Martin less on their next three albums.

Actually Paul was listening to a lot of classical music from late 1966 to early 1967 and was for a while taking formal piano lessons. In the music here traces of Dvorak's 'New World Symphony' and Greig's 'Peer Gynt' can be detected.


Back to Melanie again, she’s recently been back in the press again via an article entitled: ‘She's leaving home (again)’ about ‘the woman who inspired a Beatles classic has had to quit the Spanish house she built illegally.’

The article continues: ‘Four decades on, Melanie, now 58, is on the move again, and this time it's not by choice. Caught up in Spain's complex rural planning laws, she has been forced to demolish her home that was built illegally on protected park land. "I've always lived life to the hilt. I have never played safe," says Melanie. "But having to demolish my house is the most stressful thing I've ever known." At one point she faced a £140,000 fine, at another an 18-month prison sentence, experiences she has put to use by becoming an expert on planning in Spain and setting up her own estate agency.

After lots more about the song and everything that happened in the interim under the sub-heading of ‘There have been a fair number of ups and downs in the life of Melanie Coe’ -the article continues: "Then in 2002, we bought a farm in Sala Vieja, ten miles from Tarifa, for £40,000, with an old farmhouse and two large stables.

"We had seen a neighbour put up several wooden houses to rent out, so we decided we would build something similar," she says. The three-bedroom wood-panelled house would have cost about £30,000 but Melanie insisted on building on more solid foundations and spent a further £20,000 reinforcing the structure.

The idea was that she and Anthony would live in the house while they set about making the farmhouse habitable. But making it more solid meant the wooden house was no longer a movable structure, which raised controversies over planning.

She also failed to realise that her 22,000sq m plot was in a natural park. Before long, the police made a call. "The title deeds didn't show the farm was on park land. Even the lawyer didn't realise. "I wouldn't have bought the place if I'd known," says Melanie. "But I didn't think it was important. Back then, everyone was getting away with putting up illegal buildings and the maximum fine was only £5,000."

Nothing happened for four years. Then, in the summer of 2006, she was arrested. "I was fingerprinted and had mug-shots taken. There was mention of an 18-month prison sentence and a £30,000 fine. "I was also told I would have to demolish the house as it was not built in traditional Andalusian style." The case went to court but all charges were dropped. "I thought that was the end of it. I heard nothing more for another year until a prospective buyer offered me £300,000 for the farm. "But their lawyer discovered there was a £140,000 fine on the house because it did not have planning permission. "I had a week to pay, otherwise the courts had the right to freeze my bank accounts. I didn't have the money."

Melanie came to an agreement with the town hall that if she demolished the house, it would overlook the fine. In February this year, she gave the structure to a local English teacher so that he could use the materials to rebuild a house for himself elsewhere.

Out of the woods: Rather than pay a £140,000 fine for illegally building her wood-panelled home Melanie agreed to dismantle it. "Now there's just a great big hole in the garden," says Melanie, who still owns the farmhouse.

In Tarifa, properties are in short supply - prices have risen threefold in the past five years. In its present state Melanie's farmhouse is worth £250,000. "There are hundreds of illegally built homes in Tarifa, many of them now worth a lot of money as wealthier Spaniards bought second homes here," says Melanie.

As a result of her experiences in confronting the planners, the police and facing jail, Melanie has become something of an expert on Spanish planning law and lawyers approach her for advice. During a lull in her court case, she began buying and converting old townhouses in Olvera, further inland to Ronda, which is one of the so-called "white towns' of Andalusia because of the whitewashed architecture. This led to her setting up Olvera Properties.

"Five years ago houses here could be bought for £10,000. I sold several to friends, then friends of friends, then realised I should go into business," says Melanie. "Olvera is the Spain that was. It's the image we have before tourism took over. It's still cheap, friendly and neighbourly." But when it comes to advising on property, her honesty gets the better of her. "Because of what I've been through, I always ask clients who want to buy rural properties, 'Are you sure you want to do this? I warn them that to do it legally, they will need plenty of money."

There is, at least, a ray of hope for Melanie's renovation project, as she has been told she will get permission at last to convert her farmhouse in Sala Vieja. That means she may be leaving home one more time - to move into a house that's here to stay.