Shirley Ann Watts, a former art student and prominent breeder of Arabian horses who met drummer Charlie Watts before joining the Rolling Stones and formed one of rock’s most enduring marriages, has died. She was 84. “Shirley passed away peacefully in Devon on Friday 16th December surrounded by her family after a short illness,” her family announced on Monday (December 19).
Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones was among her mourners. While Wood, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards all had multiple wives and girlfriends, Charlie and Shirley Watts were together for more than 50 years until Charlie’s death in 2021. It was only in the mid-1980s when Charlie Watts fought that the crisis they knew occurred. Heroin addiction, he said at one point, almost cost him his marriage.
He was considered so devoted to his wife and daughter Serafina that journalists left him alone. “I’ve always wanted to be a drummer [and] as long as I’m comfortable with my wife, I’ll keep doing it,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1996. When Charlie wasn’t touring or recording, he and his family lived on a 600-acre 16th-century estate in Devon, where they were better known for their Polish Arabian horses and animal rescue than the drummer’s singular place in rock history.
Articles about Watts appear in Arabian Horse World as they appear in music publications. According to Charlie, his wife is on good terms with Jagger and Richards and, unlike him, plays Stones music around the house. But Shirley herself expressed ambivalence, telling Vanity Fair in 1989 that the band’s drug use had affected her life “very, very deeply” and that she had little use for the rock star world.
“Walking into the Rolling Stones’ life was terrifying,” she says. “I really lost almost 25 years and I couldn’t handle it. There was a lot of anger, very, very deep. I liked the people in the group — up to a point. But I always hated the way rock music and its world treated women, and especially the attitude of the Rolling Stones. There was no respect.
Shirley Ann Shepherd was born in London in 1938 and was studying sculpture at the Royal College of Art in the early 60s when she first met her future husband, at a time when England also had a thriving blues and jazz scene. Jagger and Richards. They met when Watts joined the Stones in early 1963 and married the following year.
Already dating, the band was second only to The Beatles in local popularity. “She was very funny and intelligent, and had the most contagious laugh you’ll ever hear,” Charlie Watts said of her in an interview with The Guardian in 2000. “And I loved the world she was in, the world of art and sculpture. I admired Shirley very, very much. The biggest scandal about their marriage was that they decided to marry.
Rock star marriages were considered bad business at the time, a turn-on for young female fans – Beatles John Lennon reporters about his home life One of those who hedged when asked. Without informing the other Stones, Watts married in Bradford and had a quiet meal in a nearby pub. According to Paul Sexton’s Charlie’s Good Tonight, a 2022 biography of the late drummer co-authored by his family, Charlie Watts initially denied reports that he was married, He told the Daily Express.
“It’s going to hurt my career a lot when the story comes out.” But Shirley happily confirmed the news, saying they “couldn’t bear to live apart any longer”. Neither Charlie nor Shirley liked to draw attention to themselves, but at times they did. In 1971 Shirley Watts was arrested at Nice Airport for assaulting customs officers who reportedly had her husband in mind.
In 2016, she threatened to sue Polish government officials for allegedly abusing two Arabian mares at a state-run farm. Shirley Watts also faced a battle with alcoholism, which helped her shape horses and dogs into sculptures. Watts…