20 March 1969: John Lennon and Yoko Ono wed on the Rock

John Lennon, left, with wife Yoko Ono.
John Lennon, left, with wife Yoko Ono. / AFP
  • The Beatle later recalled that the idea of marrying oin Gibraltar was sold to him because it was "quiet, British and friendly"

Fifty-one years ago today, John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married in Gibraltar: it was 20 March 1969.

After a ten-minute ceremony performed by registrar Cecil Wheeler at the British Consulate Office, the newlyweds headed to the airport where the now iconic images of the couple holding their marriage certificate with the Rock as the backdrop were taken.

Getting married in Gibraltar wasn't always the plan, though. For the couple, who first met in November 1966, when Lennon was still married to wife Cynthia, "We wanted to get married on a cross-channel ferry. That was the romantic part," Lennon said in The Beatles' Anthology documentary. "We went to Southampton, and then we couldn't get on because she wasn't English, and she couldn't get the day visa to go across."

They decided to try their luck in Paris, but were unable to tie the knot there because they hadn't been in the country long enough. Finally, their friend Peter Brown suggested they head to Gibraltar as it was a British protectorate. The Beatle later recalled that it was sold to him as "quiet, British and friendly" and because they could go ahead at short notice.

"We went there and it was beautiful," he said in a 1980 interview. "Symbolically they called it the End of the World at one period. [...] It was like the Gateway to the World. So we liked it in the symbolic sense."

The lyrics in his song, The Ballad of John and Yoko (the Beatles' last UK number one single), captures the lead-up to the big day:

Finally made the plane into Paris / Honeymooning down by the Seine / Peter Brown called to say / You can make it OK / You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain.

After the ceremony, the two flew to Amsterdam and set up a "bed-in" as a call for peace in the presidential suite of the Hilton hotel. International media outlets were invited to cover the event, which lasted seven days.

In 1999, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the wedding, Gibraltar issued postage stamps of the couple on the runway, holding their marriage certificate.