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"We used to go on long plane journeys, rent huge villas, stock up the bars, hide and get deranged," they write with admirable bluntness.

Virtually every photo of the time shows Ringo with impenetrable dark glasses seemingly welded to his head to protect bloodshot eyes.

Even when the Beatles started to make it big, Ringo still demanded his wages in cash in a brown envelope at the end of every week.

Now he may be worth as much as pounds 30 million, and has a web of companies disappearing into the Virgin Islands to protect his interests, but it has been a hell of a ride getting there.

To his friends, "Ringo was still Ringo, a lovely man"; to outsiders, particularly the journalists he had once amused, he could be prickly and defensive.

Eventually, in 1988, "Rich" and "Barb", as they prefer to be called, dried out in a clinic. After one typical binge, he awoke to find his house in chaos: "I came to one Friday afternoon," he later recalled, "and was told by the staff that I had trashed the house so badly they thought there had been burglars, and I'd trashed Barbara so badly they thought she was dead." Teetotallers now, they have ceased to be the typical tabloid couple, and their visits to Britain and their house in Knightsbridge are now infrequent.

Nor has he fulfilled the acting promise he showed in A Hard Day's Night, where his performance was hailed by some critics as "Chaplinesque": one movie, Blindman, a spaghetti Western filmed in southern Spain, closed barely weeks after opening in New York.

"Don't worry about me" is his usual response to interviewers who wonder how on earth he has continued to fund his transatlantic lifestyle.

He can be so confident because he has a quartet of trusted aides running his life: his long-term personal assistant, Joan Woodgate; a financial adviser, Hilary Gerrard, who sits on the Apple board for him; and the two lawyers who help Gerrard run Starr's interests, Bruce Grakal in Los Angeles and John Hemingway in London.

Perhaps not surprisingly, his private life suffered.

By now, he had three children - Zak, Jason and Lee - none of whom were prospering at their expensive schools.

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