The Unusual Backstage Rituals Paul McCartney Likes To Do

Anyone who's ever stepped onto a stage to perform music, drama, poetry, or to give a speech, presentation, or talk knows how staggeringly nerve-wracking it can be. Some people get physically ill, and even develop high-temperature fevers called "psychogenic fevers" as an acute, intense stress response. Coping methods vary, but some folks might exercise to release tension. Others might take the not-too-healthy route and drink till loopy. Meditation is an option, as is doing an activity to try and distract the mind. It makes sense that those new to the stage get worse stage fright than veterans. But someone with a musical pedigree like gifted songwriter and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney? Surely not, right? 

McCartney might not get full-on, petrified stage fright anymore, but he does get jitters that he describes as "not too bad," according to his response in a Q&A on his website. In the early days of the Beatles, he realized that stage fright came from a fear of rejection — from not being convinced that the audience would like him or respond to him well. But even though McCartney's fears have subsided, he's developed pre-show rituals to get him into the proper state of mind and body. On the Paul McCartney website, McCartney says that he learned his regimen from Little Richard back "when we were kids," one that consists of a very common sense solution to loosening the vocal cords: breathing in hot, steaming water with a towel over his head, and then gargling with salt water.

A little pre-show nose and throat cleanse

Steam inhalation — as it's called — isn't exactly some new solution to clean out the body's airways. There are loads of benefits for both children and adults, especially the sick. For those with bronchial and sinus infections, allergies (especially related to foreign substances), and even the plain old common cold: Breathing in moist, hot air is an excellent aid. On top of this, singers know that dry vocal cords are the bane of any voice. Steam inhalation makes the vocal cords more flexible, less irritated, and reduces overall swelling. In short, if you don't have your own personal sauna, the next best thing is to hold your face over a steaming bowl of hot water and put a towel over your head to trap in the steam.

On the Paul McCartney website, McCartney says that he learned about the benefits of steam inhalation way back when The Beatles first hit Hamburg, Germany in the 1960s. Acclaimed singer and pianist Little Richard used to do it before going on stage, and we all know how easily he hit high notes. Specifically, McCartney does his mini-steam bath an hour before going on stage, and then does that classic, mom's solution for cleansing the throat: He gargles with salt water. 

As a side note, McCartney said in the Q&A that he also tackles stage fright by checking to see how quickly his shows sell out. If tickets sell faster it "gives you a confidence and I think I can probably relax, they probably like me."

Family Feud, a performance, and a post-show margarita

Aside from steam inhalation and checking how quickly his tickets sell, Paul McCartney also watches a bit of TV sometimes to loosen up. During his 2019 "Freshen Up" tour McCartney said that he likes to watch "Family Feud," per The Paul McCartney Project. This doesn't mean that he intensely focuses on the show for its entire length, but sometimes gets up, leaves the dressing room, pokes around backstage, heads back, takes a stab at an answer, etc. In other words, it doesn't matter if he misses something. "I don't like to watch anything too serious before a show," he says, "I like to keep it light."

In that same interview, McCartney also discusses what he does while touring in the hours leading up to a show. He likes exercising and getting outside because touring involves staying cooped up in buses, planes, and so forth. Also, he likes "a bit of pampering" in the form of massages. As it gets closer to showtime, there's the usual shower, getting dressed, going to the venue, doing soundchecks, and so forth.

And speaking of pampering, Paul McCartney's daughter Mary McCartney described in a GQ interview how her father has not only has a pre-stage ritual but also a post-stage one. When all is said and done and McCartney's waved goodbye to a crowd he has his signature meal backstage: a sandwich and a margarita. And yes, this means that McCartney doesn't perform on a full stomach, which like steam inhalation is an excellent idea for singers. Afterwards, we're guessing he just sleeps.