Transforming himself from a shy, working-class lad from Pinner into a flamboyant world-class pop star has not been all plain sailing for Sir Elton John.
Now 63, he has finally come to terms with the childhood demons which have haunted him for most of his life – and which he credits with spurring him on to fame and fortune.
And that success continues apace. Elton’s current album, The Union, has been critically acclaimed while his movie Gnomeo And Juliet has opened to massive praise.
Fortune has smiled on his private life, too. He and his partner David Furnish are now parents to a baby son, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.
Happy and fulfilled, it is only now that Elton feels he can really address his troubled childhood for a musical.
Called, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road it will revisit his upbringing and his complex relationship with his emotionally distant dad Stanley.
Elton says: “When I saw Billy Elliot – this story about this boy trying to prove something to his father – it totally floored me emotionally. It felt like my story. My dad wanted me to become a banker or join the Air Force. Going into rock ’n’ roll wasn’t really seen as an option.
“I blamed a lot of my lack of self-esteem [on him], my problems with weight, my glasses – all these things which are so rooted in your childhood and never go away.
“I had a lot of issues because my dad never ever came to see me play. In Billy Elliot the part that made me cry was when his dad walks into the Royal Opera House and sees him dance. That never happened to me. I wanted my dad’s approval but I never got it. He never came to see me as Elton John.”
Elton was born Reg Dwight in North London to Stanley and Sheila. He was six when his parents got married and 15 when they divorced.
Elton says: “I grew up with a sense of wanting a lot of affection from my father and blaming him and being so angry for never being able to do that. A lot of my drinking and bad behaviour was rooted in those feelings. But as I’ve got older I’ve come to understand things differently.
“My dad was remote from me, but I never went without anything. Men in the 1950s just weren’t tactile, it wasn’t the way. It was all about stiff upper lip and being a man.
“I always wanted my dad to hug me and tell me he loved me. He didn’t but he loved me in his own way. When he left my mum he had children and was a great dad to them and that always bothered me. But I’ve come to understand that the circumstances were so different.
“I carried my anger with me for so long and when he died I didn’t go to his funeral. I was touring and I thought it would be hypocritical to go.
“I didn’t feel then what I feel now, which is a lot more compassion and understanding. If I saw my dad now I’d just give him a hug and tell him I loved him and that I understood.”
ELTON continues: “I can’t say I don’t still wish he’d been more loving, but it makes me realise how important it is to give a lot of love and support and encouragement to my own son.
“I now think that maybe my relationship with my dad, which I spent so many years being angry about, is the thing that actually made me successful.
“When I was starting out my ambition was simply to make a living as a musician. I never wanted to be this big performer, this Elton John. I was this inhibited kid with weight problems and glasses, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But something inside me gave me the courage to answer an ad in the New Musical Express and it started from there. I do think wanting to prove myself to my father had everything to do with that.
“I’m grateful for my upbringing, proud of where I came from.”
As a dad himself now, Elton’s greatest worry is how having a famous father will affect Zachary, who was born on Christmas Day to a surrogate mum whose identity is still unknown. The little boy will call Elton Daddy and David Papa.
“Both David and I thought long and hard and this is a worry,” he admits. “But it’s something you have to deal with. I would have hated to be born rich. I think it’s more of a curse than anything else.
“I live it large, I enjoy spending money, but I have no guilt about that because I work bloody hard. It all goes into the economy and that is my right.
“Our child’s life will be different. We’re well aware that at school people will say: ‘Hey you’ve got two dads. What’s that all about?’ This is something we are going to deal with.
“I’m sorry but I don’t believe every child needs a mother and a father and that is the only way. How many marriages split up, how many children are unwanted? We love our child, we want him to be surrounded by love and every problem we face will be together.” Elton, 63, feels he learnt a lot about himself after watching his brattish behaviour on Tantrums And Tiaras, the documentary made by 48-year-old David.
“Tantrums was horrendous because it tainted me with being the biggest nightmare lunatic in the world,” he chuckles. “But for me it was like having a mirror held up and watching how not to be.
“Everyone around me thought I was insane to put it out but I loved its honesty. It was also David’s greatest gift to me. He showed me who I was and how much I needed to change. I watch it every three years. I still cringe but now it makes me laugh. It’s been 17 years since that was made and I genuinely don’t think I have tantrums any more. I’ve become a much more calm and collected individual.”
It is partly his past that also inspired his collaboration with Leon Russell for his most recent album, The Union.
“Growing up I used to see this incredible guy, Leon Russell, performing. He was a huge influence,” he says. “Cut to several decades later he’d been forgotten. I heard one of his songs and I just cried and had to find out what had happened to him.
“He was old, ill and playing tiny venues in the middle of nowhere. We made this magical album which has put his name back on the map where he absolutely deserves to be. I got a huge amount out of the whole experience and I’m proud of our album. It was an incredibly emotional time but I’m never afraid of emotion.”
ASKED about the most emotional moment in his life so far, he doesn’t hesitate: “Diana’s funeral. I think Diana’s death changed Britain.
“It ripped away that 1950s stiff upper lip thing. It drew everyone together.
“For me it was very tough. I loved Diana, she was a close friend. But I had to do Candle In The Wind and I couldn’t break down. I couldn’t look at the boys walking behind her coffin because it would floor me. By the time we got home her cortege was at Althorpe. That was the point I broke down and I cried for my friend.
“She was an amazing woman and an incredible mother. I was lucky to have her in my life.”