The former Beatle tells how he astonished 63,000 fans – and the Piano Man – at Shea

By Brian Orloff
Updated July 28, 2008 02:30 PM
Credit: Matt Dunham/AP

It took more than 40 years, but Paul McCartney finally made it back to New York’s Shea Stadium – and just in time.

The music legendary delighted surprised fans during Billy Joel’s July 18 concert at the vast venue with “I Saw Her Standing There” – part of the final gig at the usual home to baseball’s Mets. (McCartney played Shea Stadium with the Beatles back on Aug. 15, 1965, and the ballpark is slated to be replaced with a new playing field.)

But McCartney – tipped in advance to be a special guest – needed a police escort and a little luck to make it to the concert.

As he tells it, the former Beatle was invited by Joel but originally declined the offer, thinking his schedule was already booked with a scheduled weekend show in Quebec City.

“I really wanted to do it as Billy is a mate and I have such special memories of Shea,” McCartney, 66, said in a release from his rep on Monday. “I had to fly to New York to get to Quebec, and it dawned on me that as I was flying Friday evening I might just be able to make it to Shea by the end of the show. So I made a few calls and the rest was to be left to fate.”

Fate – and some helpful customs officials.

After his flight from London landed, two hours after Joel’s show began, McCartney was met plane-side by airport officials, fast-tracked through security and sped to the stadium with a police escort. He arrived in 11 minutes.

‘Everything Happened Quickly’

“Everything happened so quickly,” McCartney said. “Billy had no idea I was there. We had just about enough time to find me a guitar strap as I walked on to the stage.

“I heard the band count the song in and, bang, there I was, in front of thousands of people,” he said. “I just about managed to get to the microphone for the opening line of the song. It then hit me that it was 4:30 a.m., my time, and I thought what am I doing here! But it was great.”

The experience was great for the fans, too.

“Seeing Paul again on Friday night was destiny,” one fan, Rosalia Rosen, who had seen the Beatles’ famous show and was in Joel’s audience, said. “I ve come full circle. I barely breathed, I just stood there and absorbed him.”

Also in the crowd: Joel’s ex-wife, Christie Brinkley, who watched the concert with their daughter, Alexa Ray Joel.