Sir Elton John - Singer/Songwriter Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Sir Elton John - Singer/Songwriter

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Sir Elton John, pictured for BBC Radio 2's Electric Proms 2010
The great thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star.
- Sir Elton John

Elton John is a British institution. He is one of the UK's most successful singer/songwriters, with a string of hits spanning more than three decades. The flamboyant star has changed his image over the years from his outrageous outfits of the Seventies and Eighties to a more sedate look in the 1990s, but his distinctive voice remains one of the most recognisable in the pop world.

Reg Dwight

Reginald Kenneth Dwight was born on 25 March, 1947, in Pinner, Middlesex. His parents Sheila and Stanley were divorced when he was young and his mother remarried. He was accepted into the Royal Academy of Music when he was 11, having taken up playing the piano at the age of four. He dropped out just before the final exams, but continued doing what he loved most - making music. His first band, 'Bluesology', was formed in the early 1960s and he turned professional in 1965. Never happy with his given name, he borrowed a name each from fellow bandmembers - saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry, added Hercules - and Elton Hercules John was born.

Elton John

Elton's distinctive look, which seemed to epitomise the Seventies Glam Rock era, has evolved over the years; the BBC's retro music show TOTP2 often shows Elton's old hits where he's stood at the piano wearing his trademark glasses, platform shoes and outrageous outfits, belting out his songs. His nickname is the 'Rocket Man', which comes from his second hit of the same name, although Rod Stewart calls him 'Sharon'.

In 1973, Elton and his partners started their own record label, Rocket Records, signing artists such as Neil Sedaka, Colin Blunstone, Cliff Richard and Kiki Dee as well as using it to release his own material between 1976 and 1999.

Even though Elton had 13 Top Twenty hits between January 1971 and March 1976, including a number two position with 'Rocket Man', it took a duet with Bradford-born Kiki Dee (the first European Motown artist) on 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' to earn him a coveted number one spot in July 1976.

In 1975, Elton played the 'Pinball Wizard' in Ken Russell's big-screen adaptation of the rock opera Tommy, an impression which remains to this day.

In 1979 Elton became the first Western rock star to perform concerts in Israel and Russia. When gigging in Russia for the very first time, he was given strict instructions not to perform 'Back in the USSR' but he played it anyway, and the crowd loved it.

A recording of I Saw Her Standing There, a Lennon-McCartney song, by the Elton John Band (featuring John Lennon and the Muscle Shoals Horns) reached number 40 in the UK charts in March 1981. Other collaborations had been planned but were cruelly thwarted by John Lennon's murder1 in New York in December 19802.

In September 1988, seemingly going through a metamorphosis, Elton put over 2,000 items of his personal memorabilia up for sale at Sotheby's famous auction house, raising over £4m for his AIDS charity. These included his Pinball Wizard high-heeled boots, his feather boas and hundreds of pairs of spectacles which had been his trademark for many years.

I didn't want to go onstage looking like Tina Turner's grandmother anymore.

Elton has been true to his word and since then you only see him in suits tailored by the likes of Versace and Armani and designer glasses. In November 2000, he announced plans to sell a few items of clothing which had been sitting around his various homes (with proceeds donated to AIDS charities). How many is a few? Just 20,000, including his 50th birthday outfit.

Elton's true passion is for performing and if you have ever seen him perform live or even on the television, this shines through. He has an incredible and magical way of engaging and capturing the audience, and this is one of the reasons that he is such a huge success around the world. He is one of those rare artists who enjoys equal popularity both in the UK and the US, as shown by his seven consecutive number one records in the US album charts.

Elton was so impressed by the award-winning movie Billy Elliot, which is about a young boy who battles against his working class family to fulfil his ambition of becoming a ballet dancer, that he made it into a musical. The plot closely mirrored his own childhood struggle to realise his dream of becoming a star. At the preview performance in March 2005 at the Victoria Palace, London, Elton said:

I could barely watch it, I was crying so much. It moved me because I could see myself in Billy. It was like my own childhood and how I broke out into my dream. All those characters, like the dad, I recognised as people in my past. I've never connected so emotionally with anything like it before.

Today Sir Elton John is arguably one of Britain's most successful recording artists, rivalling The Beatles, Sir Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones, performing in world and nationwide tours, and making regular appearances at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, USA.

Professional Partnerships

In 1967 Elton met lyricist Bernie Taupin, who was born and raised in Lincolnshire. Taupin has been Elton's main writing partner on and off for many years. It is a partnership often considered to be almost as important as Lennon and McCartney, and has produced some of the most well-known songs in British pop music history. In addition to his work with Taupin, he has formed other partnerships with the likes of songwriters Gary Osborne and Tim Rice, with whom he created the music for the Broadway stage productions of The Lion King and Aida, as well as Disney's The Lion King.

Charity Work

Elton has had problems with alcohol abuse and addictions to drugs in the past and has suffered from bulimia. After being cured of his own demons he threw himself into charity work to make a difference.

In 1990 he began fighting for a cause which he felt very strongly about - AIDS. He founded the Elton John Aids Foundation, which has raised over 13 million dollars for AIDS and AIDS-related problems. His collaboration on the cover version of 'That's What Friends Are For'3 raised millions of dollars for AIDS charities and won Grammies for the four performers. Recently he teamed up with Alessandro Safina and re-recorded his smash hit 'Your Song' raising money for Sport Relief and the Elton John Aids Foundation. Also in 1990 Elton pledged to donate the royalties from all his future UK singles to combat AIDS. Two years later, he made a similar statement donating the royalties from his USA singles.

Awards and Honours

  • Elton and Bernie Taupin were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992, and Elton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

  • Elton John was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1995, the same year he was awarded the Polar Music Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music Award.

  • At the end of 1997 Elton was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for services to charity and music.

  • Elton has won Grammy Awards and an 'Oscar' - 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight?', from The Lion King, won Best Original Song and the film's soundtrack won Best Original Score. He has written many other songs for films that have gone on to become smash hits. The full list is here: IMDb - Elton John.

  • Elton John was honoured at the 42nd Grammy Awards as 2000's MusiCares Person of the Year.

  • He was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor in 2004.

Personal Life

On 14 February, 1984, Elton married German sound engineer Renate Blauel in Sydney, Australia, stating that he wanted to start a family. Unfortunately the marriage didn't last although they remain friends; the divorce settlement reportedly cost Elton around £10m. After their divorce in 1988, Elton admitted to being bi-sexual but later 'came out' as being gay.

I think people should be free to engage in any sexual practices they choose; they should draw the line at goats though.

He has had other partners but is now with David Furnish, a film-maker who made the documentary about Elton entitled Tantrums and Tiaras. The couple had a joint stag party and on 21 December, 20054, Elton and his long-time partner exchanged vows5 and rings in a civil partnership ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, the same place that Prince Charles married Camilla eight months before. Elton had already turned down an offer of £5.7m from a US television channel for the exclusive rights to cover his civil union, and the ceremony took place in private. The couple said they wanted donations to be made to various AIDS charities, rather than for people to buy them presents.

Elton doesn't do things by halves and the invitations to the post-ceremony celebration produced a guest-list to die for, making it easily the celebrity party of the year, if not the decade. Graham Norton said on his BBC 'topical comedy discussion' The Bigger Picture afterwards that it was as if 'fairy dust had been sprinkled over Madame Tussauds'.

Victoria Beckham and Elizabeth Hurley tried to out-bling Elton in the dripping-diamonds stakes. The queue of limousines and Rolls-Royces to Elton's Windsor mansion caused a two-mile tail-back with excited locals celebrity-spotting through the windows of the crawling cars.

Those celebrities attending Elton's civil partnership party included: Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York, director Tim Burton and his fianceé Helena Bonham Carter, George Michael and his partner Kenny Goss, Ringo Starr, Cilla Black, Lulu, Sting and his wife Trudi Styler, Dame Shirley Bassey, Bryan Ferry, Bryan Adams, Des O'Connor, James Blunt, Jamie Cullum, Elvis Costello, Ronan Keating, The Osbournes - Ozzy, Sharon, Jack and Kelly, Joss Stone, Gary Barlow, actors Sir Ian McKellen, James Nesbitt, Sir Michael Caine and his wife Shakira, actresses Sharon Stone and Joan Collins, TV make-over queens Trinny and Susannah, BBC TV host Graham Norton, TV chef Gordon Ramsay, designer Donatella Versace, model Claudia Schiffer and her director husband Matthew Vaughn, UNICEF UK Ambassador Jemima Khan and her actor boyfriend Hugh Grant, Little Britain stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas, England cricket captain Michael Vaughan, footballer Frank Lampard, golfer Nick Faldo and tennis stars Greg Rusedski and Boris Becker. The lavish reception following the ceremony cost an estimated £1m.

Elton's Friends

She's a hoot. She's funny. She has an incredible sense of humour.
- Elton talking about Prince Charles' wife, Camilla.
  • Elton was partly responsible for bringing John Lennon and Yoko Ono back together again, following the Madison Square Garden concert on 28 November, 1974, and was asked to be godfather to their son Sean Lennon who was born on his father's birthday, 9 October, in 1975.

  • During 1985 he appeared at Wham!'s farewell concert, for his friend George Michael. He appeared as himself in the film Spice World for his friends the Spice Girls. 'Posh Spice' Victoria Beckham and her husband England captain David Beckham are close friends with Elton, as is Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

  • Elton is good friends with model and actress Elizabeth 'Liz' Hurley and he is one of her son Damian's godfathers. He also played host to his friends Elvis Costello and Diana Krall when they married at his mansion in December 2003.

Elton and the Princess

At the funeral of Gianni Versace in July 1996, it was Princess Diana who comforted Elton, who had been a close friend of the murdered fashion designer. Diana and Elton had previously fallen out over references to Prince William and Prince Harry in a foreword Elton had written for a book which contained homoerotic pictures.

On 6 September, 1997 Elton gave the most famous live performance of his career to his largest audience ever, at the funeral of probably the most famous woman on the planet at that time. Bernie Taupin re-wrote the lyrics for 'Candle In The Wind' to suit the occasion: Elton played the piano and sang the new words 'Goodbye England's Rose' during the service to commemorate the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. The single was released to raise funds for the Princess Diana Memorial Fund and it went on to become the biggest-selling record of all time with worldwide sales of around 37 million copies. It is now consigned to history as Elton has vowed never to perform it again.

Outspoken Elton

If there is a better singer in England than Craig David, then I am Margaret Thatcher.

Elton is well known for speaking his mind, his sense of humour and caustic wit:

  • When Madonna won an award for 'Best Live Act' he made a comment about lip-synching (miming) - although he later apologized, saying he 'shouldn't have singled her out'.

  • Elton said that Prince Charles should have fought to marry Camilla, instead of going through with the mismatch that was Charles and Diana.

  • Elton compared the music of the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Britney Spears and S Club 7 to 'packets of cereal'.

  • He reckoned Hear'Say were the 'ugliest band in pop', saying singer Danny Foster was a dead ringer of (cartoon film star) Shrek. Hear'Say blame Elton for the demise of their group.

  • Elton was a guest judge on American Idol and described the public vote as 'incredibly racist'. His comments followed the shock exit of Jennifer Hudson - a black singer who was one of the favourites to win.

On cocaine:

It's great for sex but really it's an a******e's drug.

What They Say About Him

It could only happen for Elton.
- Lulu, remarking on the two-mile traffic jam of celebrities after Elton's nuptials.
For Elton, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
- A close friend.
That night [6 December, 2000] I saw an amazing man that I never knew existed. I saw a rocker and a ballad maker, a man who could send shivers up my spine with his music.
- Sonia G, webmaster of Elton John's Dark Diamond fansite.

Elton's Spending Power

Elton loves to shop, and he once spent nearly £40m in just under two years, which included £100,000 on flowers. He owns a 37-acre estate in Windsor, a house in London's exclusive Holland Park and homes in the south of France, Los Angeles and New York. Oh, and Watford Football Club.

His fortune is conservatively estimated at £150m. He is very proud to be British and continues to live in the country even though he pays tax at the higher rate of 40%. Generously, he also buys Cartier watches for his staff, and he also spent £120,000 on catering for his 50th birthday party in 1997.

Elton's Hair - Or Lack Of It

Elton's hair started to recede when he was quite young. Absolutely hating this state of affairs he set out to do something about this permanent bad hair day. He tried hair transplants, producing some quite horrific pictures in the media when it went wrong. Nowadays he wears a wig - but he still insists it's a hair transplant.

Elton and the Press

Elton issued a lawsuit against The Sun newspaper when they printed a story about him approaching a 'rent boy' for sex, and eventually proved the allegations to be totally false. He received £1m in damages which he donated to charity.

At an airport in Taiwan in 2004, Elton was besieged by photographers and TV crews when he arrived for a gig. He got upset and reportedly started shouting Rude, vile pigs at them. Elton was distressed that security measures had failed to protect him but he went through with his performance so as not to disappoint his fans.

Elton Trivia

  • Most of Elton John's LPs weren't made from black vinyl. They might look black, but if you find certain old, original pressings and hold one up to the light you'll see that it's actually a shade of deep, dark red and it is translucent.

  • Elton enjoys playing tennis and his favourite food is Indian.

  • In 1985 Elton performed at the historic Live Aid concert.

  • Elton loves to do something different. He turned up for his 50th birthday bash dressed as King Louis XIV in full regalia.

  • When asked to take part in Live 8 by Bob Geldof, he performed his song then introduced Pete Doherty of the Babyshambles. Elton kissed Doherty's hand - then accompanied his rendition of 'Children of the Revolution' on the piano.

  • Elton is 5'7" tall.

  • After a heart health-scare, Elton was fitted with a pacemaker.

  • There is a wax model of Elton in London's 'Madame Tussauds' exhibition.

  • Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez has admitted there's a bit of mutual appreciation between her and Elton. She says Elton likes her music and they've spoken about possibly doing a duet together. Elton's spokesperson cannot be reached.

  • One of his favourite artists is Country singer Jim Reeves (1923 - 1964).

  • On 18 November, 2004, Elton appeared on the Richard and Judy show and talked candidly about his life, including tantrums, the press and flowers. Other notable guest appearances include Ally McBeal, Will & Grace, The Simpsons, South Park, The Nanny and The Muppet Show.

  • Elton is planning a movie based on his life. He is hoping Justin Timberlake will play him as a young man.


People who have duetted with Elton include: Eric Clapton, Kiki Dee, Pete Doherty, Eminem, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, kd Lang, John Lennon, George Michael, Luciano Pavarotti, Bonnie Raitt, Sir Cliff Richard, Little Richard, RuPaul, Jennifer Rush, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Young.

1Elton's song 'Empty Garden' is a tribute to John Lennon, who in 1974 had made his last stage performance at one of Elton's concerts.2This was a posthumous Lennon release.3Performed with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.4The date that same-sex union ceremonies became legal in England.5With Janet Street-Porter performing the duty of 'best man'.

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