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'Birthday greetings' to McCartney at 64

Lyrics to ex-Beatle's song provide bittersweet note 40 years on

By CNN's Peter Wilkinson

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Heather Mills and Paul McCartney were married in 2002.
start quoteWill you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?end quote
-- "When I'm Sixty-Four" by The Beatles

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" sang Paul McCartney in one of his best-loved songs.

But when he wrote those lyrics as a teenager, he had no idea just how prescient they would be nearly half a century on.

The song, "When I'm Sixty-Four," released on the 1967 Beatles album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," continues: "You'll be older too. And if you say the word I could stay with you."

Despite hopes of "birthday greetings, bottle of wine," the former Beatle's feelings when he reached that landmark age Sunday were likely bittersweet. Just one month ago, he announced he would separate from Heather Mills, his second wife of four years and the mother of his youngest daughter.

The couple blamed media intrusion for the marriage breakdown, but Mills, a charity campaigner against land mines and seal hunting, now finds herself the target of a barrage of criticism and lurid allegations in Britain's tabloid newspapers.

The 38-year-old is recovering slowly from revision surgery on her leg that was amputated below the knee after a collision with a police motorcycle in 1993.

Mills has launched legal action against one paper that printed allegations she was once a prostitute. She dismissed the claims as "untrue and highly defamatory." (Full story)

McCartney says he is equally confused by the bad publicity. "One of the worst aspects of going through what Heather and I are currently going through is the malicious spreading of rumors and made-up facts that is happening in some areas of the media," he complained on his official Web site. (Full story)

Publicist Max Clifford said the pressures on the couple would be immense. "If you're reading these terrible things anyone is going to be absolutely heartbroken," he told CNN.

"The public perception is he's been taken for a fool ... he's been taken for a ride. He obviously loved her and showed that so we feel very sorry for him. So the crueler ones will say there's no fool like an old fool."

And when McCartney first sang, "we shall scrimp and save," he could not have anticipated quite how much the lyrics would ring true.

Although the singer has denied Mills married him for his money, legal experts say if the couple does divorce, Mills could gain as much as a quarter of McCartney's £825 million ($1.5 billion) fortune in a settlement.

Lawyer Ian Caplin commented: "Even in the case when there's been a short marriage -- say, three to five years -- the courts can and still make a substantial award of the husband's assets in favor of the wife." ( Watch the good and bad times in Beatle marriage -- 2:00)

As media watchers have pointed out, the main problem facing Mills, just as McCartney's first wife Linda found out, is that many fans are simply envious. Linda McCartney died of cancer in 1998.

"He is like a saint to the British and in America," Chris Rojek, Professor of Sociology and Culture at London's Brunel University and author of a book on celebrity, told Reuters.

And as McCartney, now a grandfather, prepares for what is said to be a quiet birthday at his country retreat this weekend, one fan outside Abbey Road studios in north-west London -- where the Beatles recorded most of their music -- offered some advice for the future.

Referring to the lyrics of the famous song, he said: "Just change it to 84 ... when I'm 84, yes."

CNN Senior International Correspondent Paula Newton contributed to this report.

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