By George Matlock
Elton on Parkinson, BBC 1 TV, November 12, 2000
In this 1 hour and 10 minutes interview Elton took centre stage, and was only interrupted at various points by duet partners coming to sing songs with him.
Veteran presenter Michael Parkinson, the David Letterman of British TV, began with: “A BBC tribunal once said of my guest tonight ‘we don’t think this singer doing weird material is right for radio at present.’ Little did they know they were interviewing a legend.”
To the orchestral strains of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me Elton John came on stage, and launched straight into Your Song with Ronan Keating.
Afterwards, Parkinson embellished the BBC tribunal comments: “They also called you ‘a thin piercing voice, and dreary songs’.”
They talked about MSG show. Elton confirmed he was frustrated technically when he said he’d quit. But that’s all it was.
They talked about the pacemaker operation. “I had three days of tests, and the baby came out fine!” Elton said.
They talked about Elton’s background. Here are the lesser-known nuggets:
Elton said he was a musical child aged 3 years. The Skater’s Waltz was his first song at 3 years. Music was also a form of escapism from domestic life. But Elton added that he made peace with his father, and did not want to open up that issue again on tv.
They talked again about MSG. Parkinson recounted the Lennon 1974 concert. Elton said: “I came on stage with a (revealing) chocolate box outfit.”
Elton recounted meeting the glitterati of America, including Groucho Marx and Mae West.
Parkinson then blundered. He said he remembers Elton dressed as Marie Antoinette in Australia (it later transpired Parky was thinking about the Louis the 14th outfit for Elton’s 50th birthday party in London!).
Elton looked glumly and said: “I was dressed as Chopin” [EJW.com: and we all thought he was trying to imitate Mozart!!].
Robbie Williams was on stage next, to sing a tribute to Elton, solo: his new single A Love Supreme.
Parkinson and Elton then talked about Elton’s shopping addiction. Elton remarked: “Well, let’s put it this way, I bought your house this afternoon. Ha! I collect watches, neckties, photographs, art, cars…”
Elton said although he auctioned his house contents in 1989 (he meant 1988), he re-commenced collecting in 1990 after he had sobered up “and my taste changed too”.
They talked about Elton’s drugs problem. He started aged 28 years. “I wasn’t an early starter. I had sex when I was 23!”
He said Gianni Versace, Graham Taylor and Bernie Taupin had the greatest impact on his life and were “like the brothers I never had.”
Bulimia was the next vice on parade. “I would get up in the middle of the night and eat Sainsbury’s (retailer) cockles (laughter), Ice Cream and bacon sandwiches, and then throw up.”
A friend, Mark Hewitson wrote to Elton pleading him to stop doing drugs “stop putting that stuff up your nose”, but Elton ignored his best advisers. He later said he put a fortune up his nose. “It’s surprising it hasn’t fallen off. It’s a delicate little nose.”
So what made Elton change? A partner of Elton’s went into re-habilitation in USA. Elton went to meet him, and the partner challenged Elton. “He read me a long list of what was wrong with me. It went on for ages. Said I was bulimic, alcoholic, drug addict, a liar.”
Then Elton had to write a list for his partner. “And I could only think of ‘does not put CDs back in their boxes’!”
Elton also wrote a farewell letter to cocaine and a history of drugs. The letter said: “Cocaine was my mistress, and I could not see her anymore…I treated it as a person. Addiction, of any kind, is horrible.”
Elton said that 10 years on he’s happy. The said he misses a glass of red wine. “But I have to have two bottles, so I avoid it. I don’t miss it that much.”
Elton said that previous to David Furnish, his partners were on a “conveyer belt. They came out with Cartier watches, Versace suits and Louis Vuitton luggage. I’ve ruined a few people’s lives. David (was different). He had a 9-to-5 career. David was adamant he wanted to have his career.”
They talked about the Tantrums video, which was Elton’s idea to record.
Then they talked about ex-wife Renate.
Parkinson: “I went to the wedding.”
Elton: “You were a bridesmaid, ha!”
Elton said the marriage was doomed because he continued to take drugs. Said Renate remains a very special person, they now communicate, and she’s seen Elton once since the divorce in 1988.
She loved Elton, he said. “I loved her too. But I was a gay man. You can’t live a lie.”
David Furnish brought back a photo of a black child in Africa after a report visit on EJAF funds in action. Elton said he’s too set in his ways at 53 years, and too much of a traveller “and selfish” to adopt the child (called Elton). But he wants to fund the child in his own country, South Africa.
They talked about the bigotry which accompanied dying Ryan White in 1990.
Then Kiki Dee came on stage to perform duet Don’t Go Breaking my Heart, which Elton said before singing the song “was also covered by (comedian) Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker.”
Afterwards, Elton and Parkinson were piano-side. They briefly talked about soundtracks. Elton said he hoped to do more. Talked about his search for the perfect song. Agreed there are special songs, such as The Beatles’ Yesterday. Said there are “very few special songs I’ve written.”
Played some pub standards, among them Russ Conway’s Sidesaddle, and remarked Russ was currently unwell.
Then Parkinson did a kitchen oven spoof. He read some words which researchers have written following Elton’s mother’s current plight on the River Thames with rising flood water. The words Elton had never before seen. Parkinson read them out once, and asked Elton to perform a song!
As we have seen during An Audience with Elton John in 1997, it’s not only easy…Elton made a three-quarters decent song out of it. Here are the wacky lyrics:
Mothers dear mothers our love flows for you
Like rivers that course ever true
The banks they have burst with the downpouring rain
There’s something unpleasant, it’s blocking the drains.
The carpets soggy, where is poor moggy?
We’re trying to reach you, a boat’s on the way
But the skipper’s found a pub, that’s caused a delay
Keep filling those sandbags, keep stacking them high
And we’ll be right with you once we’ve sucked this place dry!
Elton played a classic song!
Parkinson: “That could be a single”
Elton: “Don’t get any ideas! The Lion Queen, written by Michael Parkinson and Elton John.”
Elton said he never spends more than 40 minutes on a lyric. He may come back to it the next day. Otherwise, abandons it. “If it’s a special lyric it will come quickly.”
Ended the show on Parkinson’s favourite Elton song, Rocket Man on his request. Shorter, but in the style of recent concerts. Wow!