I was only 14 when I first met Elvis and my father was not happy. But no one in the family expected things to turn out the way they did. A married couple with two children who were friends with Elvis took me to meet him on that first occasion and I couldn’t not go, as it was an amazing opportunity. It was the equivalent of a 14-year-old today being given the chance to meet Justin Bieber. The second time I met him, Elvis played the piano and we listened to records and it was all really, really innocent. When he invited me back again my father said, “Why does he want to see you?”
At that point, Elvis and his father came round for a very official meeting with my father about the situation. Elvis was in full military uniform and they talked for two hours and Elvis’s father assured my parents that I would be in safe hands. Eventually, my father agreed with a handshake.
I met Elvis at a time when he was lonely and he’d just lost his mother. He was still grieving and our relationship was based on bonding through his sorrow; bonding through his fears of what it was going to be like when he went back to the States and whether he would be accepted or not. Because I’d just come from the States and knew how popular he still was, I encouraged him. He went back to America in March 1960, and I stayed in Germany as I was only in ninth grade. We stayed in touch through letters and long phone calls but I didn’t see him again until the summer of 1962.
After we got married in May 1967, when I was 21, I got pregnant straight away. Initially I was devastated. I thought, “Oh my gosh, here I am married and now I’m pregnant and I’m not going to look attractive any more.” It was certainly a rocky time. It was hard for Elvis too because he was a sex symbol — the most wanted sexual specimen in the world. And he was apprehensive about what his fans would think about him being a dad and how that would affect his status as a sex symbol.
Elvis wasn’t a hands-on dad. And living at Graceland was difficult but I knew when I got married that he was going to have his guys around all the time. I could not domesticate Elvis, and I accepted that. He didn’t really have that much to do with the practical stuff but I took naturally to becoming a mother. I thought, “My God, this is a product of Elvis and me and I’m going to be there for her.”
The moment you have the child, everything changes. It is terrifying and it is beautiful and it changed my life and it brought Elvis and me closer together.
I was the disciplinarian and there were times when Lisa didn’t like it but you can’t live life without boundaries. I was very subtle and very calm, and she knows this now. Lisa was four when Elvis and I divorced and we were very civil and we really wanted him to stay in her life and they spent plenty of time together. Elvis and I didn’t suddenly not like each other.
When Elvis died, family life changed and I took Lisa to Italy to escape the attention. It was an extraordinary situation and I don’t know too many other families that have gone through what we have gone through.
Lisa knew I wasn’t happy about her marrying Michael Jackson. We had issues over it because of my experience of marrying somebody with that same iconic status and in a strange way maybe history was repeating itself. It’s true she grew up in Graceland and then lived with Michael Jackson in Neverland and Michael was like a child and just wanted to have fun all the time. How do you not gravitate to that? But it’s not the real world. And maybe she saw something of Elvis in Michael. As her mom though I was concerned as I could see it could be a disaster. At that point, the right thing to do would have been to bite my tongue, but I didn’t bite my tongue.
My son Navarone [who was born in March 1987 from her relationship with Marco Garibaldi] is his own person. He wants to do his own thing and I’m really proud of him. He doesn’t want to step into the spotlight, and he’s always been that way. He’s not riding on Elvis and he’s not riding on Lisa. We have never been, “Elvis this, Elvis that,” to our children because otherwise you’re building up something that is almost unreachable for them.
Lisa is now the disciplinarian with her kids. She sort of did the same thing as me with her kids in that she had her first child when she was 21, had a second three years later and then there was a 16-year gap before the twins came along. The twins have to help clean up. They have to take their own clothes off and neatly put them away after they’ve folded them. They have to learn to take care of themselves and have some responsibility.
Family means a lot to me because I have a big family. My father and mother are sill here, I have my children and my grandchildren and we love doing things together. Sometimes things go really, really well and sometimes they don’t but I think it’s important for children to have family that are close, present and to know that they have that support. Children should be validated for when they do good deeds but they should understand the consequences when they don’t.