Julian Lennon Interview: White Feather Flier Takes Kids of All Ages on an Earth-Saving Magical Mystery Tour
Image attributed to Drew Gurian
Julian Lennon is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, photographer, documentarian and philanthropist. Born in Liverpool, England, Lennon is an observer of life in all its forms, developing his personal expression through his artistic endeavors. In 2007, he founded the global environmental and humanitarian organization the White Feather Foundation whose key initiatives are education, health, conservation and the protection of indigenous culture.
Lennon, along with New York Times bestselling author Bart Davis, has co-authored Touch the Earth, an inspiring and lyrical story and the first in a planned trilogy of books designed to educate children on how they can change the world and make it a better place. In this picture book, readers will jump aboard the White Feather Flier, a magical plane that can go wherever you want by "pointing" it in the air or down in the water. Its mission is to take children all over the world, to engage them in helping to save the environment and to teach them how to keep it clean for future generations. Lennon's share of proceeds from book sales will go to the White Feather Foundation.
"My dad once told me that when he passed, the way that he would let me know he was okay or that we were going to be okay would be in the form of a white feather."
He, the son of John Lennon and his first wife, Cynthia, has a younger half-brother, Sean Lennon, and a stepsister, Kyoko Chan Cox.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I always believe that good writing is difficult no matter what the reader’s age, but did you find it tough to write a children’s book?
Julian Lennon: Yeah. Obviously, I had help from a great writer, Bart Davis. But, yeah. I realized early on that one has to be extremely careful in how one writes for children. You have to be in the right mindset in order not to be in a position of preaching even at that level. I mean, I’ve never done that in my musical work or photography or charity, but it was important to keep the flow of my passions and my dreams and my connections with everything that I do alive.
So, you know, it was a tricky one, but I felt that we got the message that we wanted to get across. It was about telling a beautiful and very simple, interactive kind of story. I remember the days with my mother and grandmother weaving these stories and having the same interaction with a book like this and just loving these kinds of stories and being engrossed in them.
For me, it was about delivering that same kind of feel where you bonded, and that relationship could be nurtured with their own child. I wanted it to be educational as well because the kids from about the age of three onward say, “But, why? But, why?” It was about putting things on the table, but also for opening this sort of discussion up about the good and the bad issues the next generation will face and what we’ve left them behind.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s just a beautiful book, and the poem you wrote touched me.
Julian Lennon: Well, thank you very much.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): From the poem: “To change the world for better days we’ve got to learn to change our ways.” If a little child asked you how or what they could do to help at such a young age, what would you say or hope their parents would say?
Julian Lennon: It’s funny. I was just on radio recently, and one of the discussions was, “Where does this enter? With what’s going on with the government and arts and culture being cut from moving forward in today’s world, who is responsible for children’s education in regards to environmental and humanitarian issues and all that’s connected in that regard?”
To be honest with you, although school is very important in that regard, it has to start at home. It really does have to start at home with parents and their influence and appreciation for what’s needed moving forward. I think that parents might find this kind of picture book a ready discussion about the bad and the good things, the clean and the dirty water, what their child should know about what’s going on and how, if you do certain things like trashing the ocean, as shown in the book, then you see the consequences.
Again, it’s about opening up the discussion on that level for the kids to talk with their parents about that. I think and I hope and I pray that it’s doing its job and it will do its job in that regard.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you learn to really care and become compassionate about these world issues at an early age from your parents?
Julian Lennon: Well, no, because dad left mum and I when I was about four years old, so he was nowhere to be found to ask about humanitarian or environmental issues. I mean, apart from what I saw in the newspapers, any compassion came from my mother’s side. Mum’s the one that inspired me. My mother was the instigation for me being, I think, a compassionate person and an understanding person in many respects of how mum had been treated. Obviously, that had an incredible impact on how I would feel about environmental and humanitarian issues forever. It all stems from that really and it all grew, especially stemming from the White Feather Foundation.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Please tell me about the White Feather Foundation and the actual work that goes on.
Julian Lennon: First and foremost, as related in the children’s book, it’s about clean water. It affects us all in every way, shape or form. We also deal with health and education for kids all over the world, but especially in Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya, bringing help to schools.
One of my other causes is looking after indigenous tribes and keeping those cultures alive and funding projects relieving poverty in Kenya, in the Amazon Basin and Peru. We work with organizations like ACT (Amazon Conservation Team), which works to protect the forestlands of some of the rarest tribes in the world in South America. I also started a scholarship in my mum's name, Cynthia Lennon, in which we try to provide funding for girls from the schools in Kenya to go to colleges or universities.
Those are the sort of things I’m deeply compassionate about and have dealt with firsthand, and I think you can only feel too much about those situations or be passionate about them, understand them and be able to help if you’re there. You can’t do it if you’re not there, you know? You have to witness it. TV and film’s great, but you really need to be there in person to feel the real situation of what people are dealing with.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your dad was instrumental in naming the White Feather Foundation?
Julian Lennon: Well, on one of the rare occasions when we met, my dad once told me that when he passed, the way that he would let me know he was okay, or that we were going to be okay, would be in the form of a white feather. Then, when I was on tour about 20 years ago in Australia, I was presented a white feather from an Aboriginal tribal elder woman who came up to me and said, “You have a voice. Can you help us?"
Obviously, that was a major goosebumps moment, and I made a documentary about their lives called Whaledreamers. I wanted to give them the money from the film, so I founded the White Feather Foundation. So, initially it started that way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You mentioned the budget cuts to the arts. President Trump has also proposed that certain EPA programs and grants be slashed.
Julian Lennon: I know. Terrific.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would reducing some of those programs have an effect on the White Feather Foundation’s work?
Julian Lennon: Fortunately, the environmental and humanitarian issues we embrace are in conjunction with partners from around the world, so most of the work we do is outside the arms of the government. But, I find it deeply saddening for future generations. I don’t understand. It’s beyond my logic why any person who should have a much broader and greater understanding of environmental and humanitarian issues in our culture would do something like this. It makes no sense to me at all.
It’s a very sad state of affairs when you’ve got science that shows you what real climate change is and a government that denies it. How is that possible? I’m flabbergasted really.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you begun work on the next book in the trilogy?
Julian Lennon: Yes. In fact, the next book is mostly written. We’re presently editing. Obviously, you have to illustrate to continue the feel and flow and look of the book. Then, number three is around the corner. But, the first one's only just released, and we're already on the road kicking butts as they say. We've had a great response so far. Of course, the portion of my share of whatever profit we make goes directly into the White Feather foundation so it can continue doing the work we do in the best way possible.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will we hear new music from you in the near future, Julian?
Julian Lennon: I’ve just refurbished my little home studio, so that means I will get around to it. I’m not sure I’ll do another album, but I’ll certainly release an EP or singles in the future. Photography and the work with the foundation has certainly taken up a great deal of my time over the past five or six years and continues to do so.
So, it’s just balancing it all out and finding the right time and what feels organic to get back in the studio and do some more music. But, it’s in the cards, for sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When we last spoke three years ago, you had just returned from Colombia, and you said that was where you felt absolutely happy and at peace. How’s the work going there, and is it still your happy place?
Julian Lennon: The work’s going great. We’re managing to buy back the land of the original Kogi tribe. So, slowly but surely. But, it’s good. And, yeah. Anywhere without a computer or a cell phone is a good place to be.
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