Sometimes the peace-and-love message has to be celebrated in near-drive-by status, at least when there’s still a pandemic going on and you’re a Beatle trying not to draw a crowd. And so Ringo Starr’s annual birthday celebration happened in somewhat furtive fashion Wednesday, as he met with press and posed for photos in front of his peace-sign statue in the park at the corner of Santa Monica and Canon in Beverly Hills.

Starr’s birthday gatherings are usually bigger, pre-announced affairs, with a lot more than the 20 fans who had sussed out the location and were watching from behind a barricade Wednesday. Probably more fans were staking out the Capitol tower in Hollywood, where the star(r) led global “peace and love” shouts at noon Pacific time in 2014-17 and 2019. (Last year, the event was online-only, and in other years, it’d been based at Hard Rock Cafes around the world.)

He was turning 81 Wednesday, but said he didn’t pay any mind whether it was an odd number like that or last year’s major round number. “Birthdays are birthdays, you know — you’ve got to live with it, you know?” he told Variety before posing with guests including in-law Joe Walsh and Toto guitarist Steve Lukather. “I mean, emotionally, sometimes I’m 18. We were laughing in the car saying I’m 18 today because it’s 81 in reverse.”

As it turned out, Starr and his wife Barbara Bach had stopped by the statue last year at this time, but without any fans or press in attendance, as attention turned toward the streaming special he presented in lieu of a live countdown. “Actually, last year, at the height of the pandemic,” Starr said, “because we live here, just Barbara and I ran down here to do it, to keep the tradition up, by the hand. And today we’ve got quite a few more. I do have a mask here if anyone’s complaining,” he joked, pretending to reach inside his jacket for complimentary faceguards. “It is what it is today. Two years ago we were at Capitol Records with a lot of guests playing for me and hundreds of people outside. But things have changed.”

What had he been doing to celebrate turning 81? “I woke up this morning,” he said, drawing laughs.

He had, in fact, heard from Paul McCartney already: “He just called me. We still say hi to each other. I’m still waiting for the gift.”

And how does he look better at 81 than most of the attendees decades younger, someone asked? “I don’t know,” he said at first, before deciding to reveal his secret: “I don’t wear a hat, that’s why.”

Starr, who recently released an EP, “Zoom In,” is expected to put out a follow-up EP later this year, and will be seen in Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” Beatles TV docu-epic this fall.

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Ringo Starr in Beverly Hills Chris Willman / Variety


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Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach in Beverly Hills