Sunday, October 10, 2004

What Is Wrong With Elton John?

06/10/04 - TV & showbiz section
What is wrong with Elton John?
by ALISON BOSHOFF, Daily Mail

What is the matter with Elton John? First there was that undignified hissy fit at Taiwan airport last month.
Then he turned on Madonna at the Q Awards at London's Grosvenor House Hotel on Monday night, accusing her in a fog of four-letter expletives, of miming her songs.
Dressed in an outfit by designer Yohji Yamamoto, complete with bizarrely exaggerated trouser turn ups and pointy patent shoes, he interrupted the standing ovation he was being given to vent apparently genuine fury about Madonna's nomination in the Best Live Act Category.
His entourage are attempting to shrug off the explosions as simply 'Elton being Elton'. There is, friends say, no particular reason why he attacked Madonna, or was rude about Taiwan for that matter.
It's just that Elton is a passionate kind of person, who feels first, opens his mouth, and then thinks about it half an hour later.
But the question his friends and associates are unable to answer is just why he's so very angry in the first place.
Adored, but empty?
For Elton, adored for years by the British record buying public as the Queen Mother of Pop, increasingly appears as a vain, bitter and empty man who loathes himself and a lot of other people, too, a man bored to fury by his own excesses.
His relentless extravagant spending on clothes, shoes, jewellery, parties and artwork is a case in point.
He once splashed out £293,000 in 20 months on flowers, £3,500 on a wig to wear to a party and £220,000 on matching his 'n' his red Bentleys for himself and Furnish.
At first it all raised an indulgent smile. Now, the spectacle of a £170 million fortune being so ridiculously squandered strikes many as grotesque.
Added to that is his growing and unsavoury reputation as the most petulant man in showbusiness.
In the past year he has exploded with rage over everything from Joan Collins endorsing the United Kingdom Independence Party ('It's for people of Joan Collins's age - it's for 80 year olds.') to Robbie Williams ('Not a well budgie') and Blair's health policies ('Get your act together. It's a disgrace.').
What is behind such rage? Elton's spokeswoman insists that, for all his chippiness, all in his garden is rosy. 'He is doing great, he has an album out in November and is performing in Vegas. He is still with David and very happy. There is nothing wrong.'
Showbusiness rumours suggest otherwise - more of which later. But what is clear is that despite more than a decade of therapy, the man born plain Reginald Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex in 1947 is still consumed by self-loathing.
Self-image
Photographers are guaranteed to provoke him because even after 30 years in the spotlight he hates the way he appears - a dumpy little man in a bad toupee.
'Elton hates being photographed because it holds a mirror up to reality,' sighs Furnish.
This sensitivity about his appearance prompts extreme measures: he has himself completely shaved of body hair every six weeks and will not travel without 'Paul', his personal hairdresser who looks after those extravagant yet unconvincing toupees.
Recently, he gave total control of his wardrobe to the designer Yamamoto in an effort to appear more stylish.
'I'm a heavy-set guy,' he says. 'I'm stocky. I've always had a body-image problem. No self-esteem. And that will never, ever leave me. It's improved, but I'm hypercritical of myself and the way I look.'
What is more extraordinary is that he is similarly hypercritical about his musical talents. Even though he had sold 80 million albums before he was 30 and has won every award - including an Oscar - thanks to his outstanding songwriting ability, his career still does not satisfy him and he remains insecure about his status in the music world.
It pains him that more respected artists fail to cite him as a musical influence and he loathes being perceived as a middle-of-the-road musician by the younger generation.
In this context, his attack on Madonna makes more sense. How deeply irritating it must be to Elton that Madonna's credibility with younger fans outshines his when he is by far the more talented musician.
He wrote one of his best-loved ballads, Your Song, in just half an hour and his latest album, Peachtree Road, took him two weeks to write. If he cannot work out a melody within an hour, he says he simply abandons it.
It is an ability which verges on genius and surely this, coupled with his apparent happiness with long-term partner Furnish, would be enough to cure him of his angst.
Love and angst
Certainly, Elton has claimed that Furnish - whom he met in 1993 - has improved his self-esteem and cured him of his legendary tantrums.
'I still have that streak in me, but the tantrums don't happen so much any more. They're more to do with self-esteem, nothing to do with shouting at people because things have gone wrong.
'They happen when I am tired, and I just get in a snit. But David knows exactly how to deal with them. He talks me through it, saying "calm down" and that's it.'
Clearly it isn't. The man who was ranting on stage at the Q awards this week is not a man who is at peace with himself and there are persistent whispers that his relationship with Furnish is to blame.
Despite claims earlier this year that he and Furnish would waltz up the aisle as soon as same sex marriages became legal, some in the gay community claim their liaison is now 'only platonic'.
Others say that the former Canadian advertising executive, who is 41 to Elton's 57, enjoys an open relationship with the star in the same way that Kenny Goss does with George Michael.
Officially, those suggestions are all denied. The couple remain very much together and Furnish was at Elton's side at the Q awards.
What cannot be denied, though, is that the couple are involved in differing, demanding projects which mean that there have been some longish separations of late.
Furnish has his own social life and career, and is often to be found in nightclubs, gyms and at parties without his partner.
Added to this, Elton finds performing and travelling draining, which may partly explain his latest outbursts.
In his defence, those close to Elton say that his current bad behaviour barely ranks on the Richter scale of his historically terrible tantrums.
He has stormed out of concerts, hotels and planes on the flimsiest of excuses and once demanded of his entourage: 'Can't you do something about the wind?' when he decided that the breeze outside his hotel was disturbing his peace.
One instance of impossible behaviour concerns singer Tina Turner, who tried to show him how to play the blues classic Proud Mary on the piano while they were rehearsing.
He exploded with rage, screaming at Turner that no one told him what to do. And although he later apologised and they performed together, that was the end of their friendship and professional relationship.
'I learnt the hard way that you don't tell Elton what to do, otherwise he throws a little boy tantrum,' Turner said. 'Nobory is right all the time. It just seems Elton is very, very sensitive.'
Others say less charitably that he delights in his power 'to call a spade a f***ing shovel' and thrives on throwing his weight around and making unreasonable demands.
John Reid, his former manager, once said bitterly that Elton had an amazing ability to blame someone else for everything that happens to him.
Addictive personality
For years, of course, this behaviour was linked to myriad addictions to drink, drugs and food.
'I was cocaine-addicted. I was an alcoholic. I had a sexual addiction. I was bulimic for six years,' Elton has admitted. 'It was all through being paranoid about my weight, but not able to stop eating. In the end I'd gorge myself, then deliberately make myself sick.
He was a monster of ego and megalomania. 'I could be unbelievably horrible and stupid. On tours, I'd get on a plane, then get off it, maybe six or eight times. I'd walk out of a hotel suite because I didn't like the bedspread.'
After the tantrums would come fits of black despair when he'd lock himself away and consider suicide.
It was finally only in 1990 that he checked in to the Parkside Lutheran Hospital in Chicago for treatment. He attended more than 1,500 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
Therapist to the stars, Beechy Colclough, who has treated him in London, observed: 'He's a totally addictive, compulsive person. If it hadn't been the alcohol, it would have been the drugs. If it hadn't been the drugs, it would have been the food. If it hadn't been the food, it would have been the shopping. Only he's got all four.'
Elton's tantrums subsided as he began to solve the problems in his personal life, but he was still capable of bad behaviour.
The 1996 documentary, Tantrums And Tiaras showed that Elton could be abysmally childish. He was seen storming off a tennis court on the Riviera ranting that he was 'never coming to the south of France again' because a woman fan had called 'Yoo hoo' during a game.
To his credit he was chastened to see some of his excesses on screen. 'I looked at myself and thought: "She's an absolute cow."'
One of Elton's therapists told him that his anger was all about his career which was a 'ball and chain' around his neck preventing him from reaching happiness.
He genuinely believes that to be true, and to that end has announced his retirement at least twice in the past five years. So far he has never carried out his threats to quit and there are those who say he never will.
As Beechy Colclough observes, it is a complicated and unhappy situation which keeps him creating music and performing, even though he doubts his talent. 'He is only happy when he's playing,' says Colclough. 'The thing is, he never believes the audience reaction, because he hates himself.'