Sunday, December 5, 2010
Elton 's Brother Thinks Elton is Sad & Lonely
Geoff Dwight lives in a teeny cottage in the windswept village of Ruthin in North Wales with his 47-year-old partner Karen, one of their seven children and a cat called Rocky.
The windows are filthy but the woodburning stove is toasty warm, and the one downstairs room is decorated with animal skulls, plastic trolls, dozens of bongo drums, a homemade harp, faded rugs and a 10ft, three-pronged Hindu trident that’s leaning against the back door.
‘You should have been there when I walked down Oxford Street holding it — the crowds parted pretty quickly, I can tell you,’ he jokes.
Forty-three-year-old Geoff is Elton John’s half-brother. His hobbies include building yurts — enormous circular tents made from wood and canvas — smoking cannabis, building Celtic harps in his drafty shed and, of course, music.
‘I love music. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly musical, but I play the guitar and I’ll listen to anything. Well, anything good, that is — country, rock, pop …’ And anything of Elton John’s?
‘No. He’s not exactly my cup of tea, so only when I have to. You know, when I’m walking round the supermarket, they’re always playing his stuff. And every time I’ve walked into my local pub for the past 25 years, they’ve put Elton on the jukebox to wind me up. I must have made millions in royalties for him, though it’s not like he needs my help.’
He’s right. Elton, 63, has an estimated fortune of at least £160 million, a £7 million mansion in Old Windsor, homes in London, the South of France and America, which he flits between by private jet and Bentley. He and his film producer partner David Furnish are friends with the Beckhams and Tom Cruise, and have previously spent £150,000 on their annual flower bill.
So while they share the same father — the late Stanley Dwight, a handsome former World War II fighter pilot who was married first to Elton’s mother, Sheila, and, later, to Edna, mother to Geoff, Stan, Simon and Robert — it’s little surprise Geoff and Elton aren’t exactly joined at the hip.
Far from it. They’ve been at loggerheads for years. It all started in the Seventies when Elton started criticising their father Stanley in newspaper and magazine interviews, depicting him as a control freak who banned him from playing football in the garden, listening to pop music, wearing trendy clothes and even eating celery because it was too noisy.
Elton even claimed his ridiculously flamboyant image was a reaction to Stanley’s rules and coldness. Geoff doesn’t see it that way.
‘Dad was a formidable bloke, but he was kind. And he was always mucking about in the back yard — when you see Elton larking about on stage, he’s the spit of our dad, apart from the good looks of course. Neither of us got his looks.
‘Dad was mad about football, and was always taking Elton to see Watford. And Elton was the only one of us who had his own clothing account — at Horne Brothers in London. We had hand-me-downs, but he was allowed to charge whatever he wanted and dad would pay for it.’
And the pop music?
‘Hardly. Dad had his own swing band, for goodness sake. It was he who bought Elton a piano and paid for all the lessons. He wanted Elton to be a musician — he’d never have got in his way.’
It’s all very odd. And sad. But with a pair of mothers who didn’t get on, and an age gap of 20 years, Geoff and Elton were never destined to be close.
Elton (christened Reginald) was born in March 1947, the only son of Stanley and Sheila, and bought up in Pinner, Middlesex. It wasn’t a happy marriage and ended in divorce when Elton was 15.
Both parents remarried, Sheila to a chap called Fred, and Stanley to Edna, whom he met in Port Sunlight in Merseyside, having relocated there for a fresh start after his first marriage ended.
Edna gave birth to four boys in five years. Stan, now an accountant, was the eldest; next came Robert, who works for the Lottery operator, Camelot; then there was Geoff; and finally Simon, a civil engineer.
As the boys grew up, Elton became a sort of glamorous uncle figure to his dad’s new family.
‘I first met Elton when I was five — he was already a star, which was very exciting,’ recalls Geoff. ‘We all went to see him at the Empire in Liverpool — I remember thousands of people queuing to get through, but we were VIPs and were escorted backstage.’
Elton also used to pop round and play football with his younger half brothers whenever he was in the area. ‘He bought us presents — stuff his fans had given him; teddy bears and all sorts.’
‘And he always sent birthday and Christmas cards to our dad. He never forgot.’
So the way in which Elton described his childhood in an interview to Playboy magazine in the mid-70s must have come as a terrible shock to Stanley — something that today Geoff puts down to Elton taking ‘a load of drugs at the time, and not being able to handle his depressing comedowns very well’.
So while Elton was strutting about in platform boots, partying like a maniac and topping the charts time and again, Geoff was growing up in Ruthin.
Things started off well. He won a scholarship to the local independent school, but dropped out early and got in with the wrong sort. When he was 18, he was given a four-year prison sentence for a bungled robbery. ‘It was a disaster — we robbed the wrong house,’ he rolls his eyes.
One taste of prison was enough and, determined to go straight, the next ten years were a blur of odd jobs, travelling, dabbling in drugs and religion, and trying to make ends meet.
In 1995, money was so tight he rented out his home, built a shed in the garden and lived in it for a year, sleeping on a straw bed, eating vegetables donated by friends and worshipping Hare Krishna.
‘It was lovely and cosy — I even had a fire in there,’ he says.
‘If you ask me,’ says Karen, ‘he flipped his lid.’
Next came the Celtic harps. ‘My idea was to create my own market by introducing one into every Welsh primary school.’
More recently, he’s been working as a software programmer. ‘I’ve been designing a database capable of holding the whole world’s data,’ he explains earnestly. ‘But we were burgled recently, and my laptop and all my work was stolen. So now I’m making yurts, which Karen and I turn into amazing fairy spaces at festivals.’
It’s all sounds very jolly, and Geoff is clearly a bright guy, but it can’t have been easy being related to a megastar.
‘I spend my life being called Elton John’s brother, and I just have to grin and bear it. People think I live on handouts from him, but I never have, and I never want to.’
The last time Geoff sought help from his brother was, he claims, in 1995, when his battered old Bedford van broke down near Elton’s home in Old Windsor, but he ended up being turned away by the singer’s security men and sleeping rough on the grass verge outside his brother’s enormous mansion.
‘I’d never been to Elton’s house, but I was in the area — it’s not exactly difficult to find — so I left my van on the grass verge on the edge of the driveway, went up to the house and explained who I was and that my van had broken down, and that I’d be back soon and to pick it up.’
But when he returned, the van had gone. ‘So I slept on the grass by the main gate.’
And the broken-down van?
‘I later found out they’d sent it to the scrap yard.’ Geoff didn’t speak to Elton during the episode, and Elton’s publicist denies it ever happened.
Geoff adds: ‘I still don’t know if Elton was there, or even if he ever knew I was there, but that’s the world he lives in. That’s the world that he’s built up around himself. It’s impossible to get through to him. I don’t even have a number for him.’
The only other time he’s tried to contact Elton, he says, was in 1991, when their father was losing his battle against heart disease.
‘My dad loved Elton very much, whatever Elton had said about him, and he was never angry with him, and he never, ever, uttered a word against him.’
Stanley slept with a picture of Elton, or EJ as he called him, in a silver frame next to his bed until the day he died.
‘I just wanted to give him the chance to come and see dad one last time before he died. I rang his manager’s office and asked them to pass on the message and my number, but it took over a week until he called back.
‘When he did finally call one morning, it was too late: our dad had died the night before.’ It was an awkward conversation.
‘He was quite distant, but he was in Atlanta, or somewhere, so it might have been the line. But I remember him saying that he’d never really connected with our dad, then he just thanked me for calling. And that was that.
‘Elton didn’t come to the funeral — maybe he did us a favour by not coming — the media would have made it all about him if he’d come.’
And that was the last time they spoke. ‘He’s missed out on so much — four brothers, a truckload of nieces and nephews that he’s never seen …’
‘And then he talked about adopting a Ukrainian baby,’ chips in Karen.
‘He bloody didn’t? Did he? Well, thank God he didn’t go ahead. He’s a bit old to become a parent now, isn’t he? I wonder if that was David’s idea.’
Oh dear. Sitting in Geoff’s cluttered sitting room, it’s hard to remember they’re so closely related. Can he think of anything they have in common, other than their father?
‘Music,’ says Karen promptly. ‘Musical talent runs through this family.’
‘Our dad had his own swing band,’ adds Geoff. ‘And our grandfather was a champion cornet player. And you should hear our brother Stan on the piano — he’s the real musical maestro of the family.
Unfortunately, Stan’s also an accountant, so he doesn’t get to practice much. But he once played one of Elton’s songs — I think it was Your Song, the best he ever did — and he was brilliant. You could put them back to back and you wouldn’t know the difference.’
And any other similarities? Any physical likeness?
‘I hope not,’ he snorts. ‘We’re both bald on top, but put it this way, unlike him, every hair on my body is my own.’
Karen thinks there’s more to it than that: ‘All the Dwights are very bright lads — they’ve got a lot about them, so I think they’d get on very well. And they do both seem to have terrible tempers.’
Of course, one glaring difference is their personal wealth. Elton is a member of the super rich, while Geoff lives hand-to-mouth, forever lurching from one crisis to the next. But he insists that envy is alien to him.
‘I’m not interested in having anything of his. To me, wealth is having a family, and being able to clothe and feed and spend time with them. And luxury is having logs to burn in the fire: it’s not about jetting round the world in a private plane.’
And Elton? ‘I’m very, very proud of him, and although I’m not holding my breath, I’d be happy to see him if he got in touch — but I also feel a bit sorry for him.
‘To me, he looks a bit lonely and a bit sad, living in his celebrity bubble. When you get to the top of the fame conveyor belt, you lose your support system. You need your family to keep you level and sane — that’s what families are for.
‘I’d far rather be Geoff Dwight than Elton John — and I’ve got all the riches I want here in Ruthin.’
- Daily Mail