Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Lev Started it All - "I'll Never Give up on Him"
On a boiling hot day in Los Angeles, Sir Elton John, dressed down in a black tracksuit, is happy, laughing and looks incredibly, genuinely relaxed.
Just weeks after he stunned the world by announcing the birth of his surrogate son, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, on Christmas Day, Elton is talking to the Mirror about his new life, his future as a father and the non-stop projects which have kept him at the top of his game for the past four decades.
His decision to become a father with his long-term partner, David Furnish, has caused controversy in certain quarters and earned respect in others.
He has been pilloried as being too old (he is 63, David is 48) and too selfish to adopt, while others have said it was wrong for a gay couple to be parents.
Elton likes to face such criticism head on.
“Look,” he says. “I’m not an idiot. I was prepared for criticism. I knew people would say that I was too old. I knew people would point out that I had said it myself.
“I did say it. But you know what? That was true for me when I said it, but I changed. I changed my mind.
“Something happened to change things and I went into this with my eyes open, knowing exactly what the reaction would be and prepared to take it on.
“I’m not afraid of sticking my head above the parapet because this is everything and it’s worth it. It was a huge decision and it was not one we went into lightly.
“We went into it because this was what we wanted to do. Regardless of everything, I have never been happier and never been more sure we’ve done the right thing.”
It has been said that his preparation for Zachary’s arrival involved armies of staff, new penthouses being bought and hiring a 24/7 team of nannies.
“Ridiculous, insane,” snorts Elton, who will be Daddy to Zachary while David is to be called Papa.
“Only a handful of people and close family knew about this because we wanted to keep it to ourselves. All we did was stick a few photographs of animals up in his bedroom. We have one nanny and that’s it. This is about me and David and loving a child.
“My biggest concern is to make sure that my child knows I love him, that he has real, tactile love.
“That is more important than anything.”
Elton is clearly a changed man. But asked what brought about this transformation, his expression darkens.
Eighteen months ago, on a visit to a Ukrainian orphanage for his Aids Foundation, the multi-million rock star met a penniless orphan baby called Lev and his world suddenly spun off its axis. Lev’s mother (whohad Aids and drug problems) was dead, his dad was in prison for murder and his grandmother was unable to look after him.
Elton recalls: “I saw this beautiful, innocent little boy with this incredible smile.
“He just unlocked this feeling in my heart. Actually, he broke it. This little boy just changed everything.
“We tried to adopt but the Ukraine don’t accept same-sex couples. David and I talked about going through the European courts but it was a small change and it would have meant him remaining in the orphanage.
“My priority then just became about trying to get him out, find a family who would look after him.”
ELTON shakes his head: “It’s become horribly complicated because it became a big story with people trying to get things out of it. In the midst of everything, poor Lev is stuck rotting in this orphanage. We have a lawyer trying to sort it out because, for us, Lev is still part of our lives.
“We want him out, with a good family. We want him to learn English. We want him to come over and stay with us, meet Zachary. I won’t give up on Lev ever, but it has become so horribly complicated.
“And in the midst of it, this amazing little boy is the one who is suffering. It makes me cry. I will get him out. This is the boy who changed my heart, who planted the seed. I’ll never give up on him.”
It’s strange to hear Elton talking so passionately about a child. For decades his name has been a byword for everything glamorous and larger than life. His parties are legendary and his lifestyle is filed under jet-set – he has sumptuous homes in the South of France, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Windsor. Yet underneath all this is a man whose real values remain rooted in a simple life.
“People get caught up in image, but that isn’t what life is about,” he says. “My life was crazy a few decades ago, but after I got sober in 1990 things have just got better and better.
“There is a side to being famous that is just crazy and I definitely went there. I became a nightmare. I was dependent on everyone around me for everything.
“When I went into rehab I was more ashamed of not having a clue about how to use the washing machine than I was about being a drug addict. It was like, how could I have got this out of touch with real life?
“I changed. David changed me. I’m incredibly proud of our relationship, it’s entirely 50/50. When we met, David was impressed by what I had done but he wasn’t impressed by who I was. I’ve come a long way since then and so much of that has to do with the people around me now.
“It’s very much a family vibe. People who work with me have kids and they become part of our lives. I’ve got 10 godchildren.”
Elton’s godchildren include Sean Lennon, Damian Hurley, Brooklyn and Romeo Beckham, and his long-term PR guru’s daughter, Lauren Farrow.
HE continues: “We have kids with us all summer in the South of France. I love kids, I love being around them, they make me laugh.
“You never know what they are going to say and to them you are not a famous bloke, so they’re not impressed by that.
“I’ve learnt a lot about parenting from being around kids. I’m thrilled David and Victoria Beckham are going to have a baby. I hope it’s a girl because they both want one but whatever they are great parents.
“I’m godfather to two of their boys and they are the loveliest, politest, hilarious, well-behaved kids. I took them all to see Kung Fu Panda, they’re in the back of the car saying: ‘Uncle Elton, you write songs, so will you sing one to us?’
“I had to sing songs and they were doing little routines – it was one ofthe best days out I’ve had in ages.If we can bring up our kids aswell as our friends do, we’ll be happy.”
There are no barriers with Elton. Open, funny, down to earth, he has an opinion on everything from The Inbetweeners (“brilliant”) to plans to stop marches through Wootton Bassett (“These people died for us, what’s wrong with paying your respects?”). With him today are bodyguards and a few key members of staff, but his diva days are long gone.
He fires up when talking about The Union, his critically acclaimed album with Leon Russell, and Gnomeo And Juliet – the Disney film he co-produced with David. And his whole face softens when he speaks about his boy.
He says: “Having Zachary is honestly the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.
“I could watch his face 24 hours a day, hold him, squeeze him, kiss him. Everything about him is the most fascinating thing in the world.
“In just a few weeks he’s changed so much. It’s truly incredible to watch.”
Contrary to rumours, Elton is not giving up work. “Why would I? I’m responsible for my son. I like responsibility. I have a lot of people whose families depend on me and now I have my own family.
“I love what I do and it’s just very simple, where we go, Zachary goes. We are a family.
“The one sacrosanct time is bath and bedtime. David and I bath him, feed him, put him to bed. I sing to him, I massage him, David and I read bedtime stories to him. We have a rocking chair in his room and the best thing in theworld is rocking him to sleep, it’s like no other feelingin the world.”
David has revealed that he and Elton both had skin-to-skin contact with Zachary on the day he was born, holding him bare-chested. Experts say this helps with bonding and also has health benefits for the baby.
But no music was prepared for Zachary’s arrival. Elton says: “I hate iPods, I like to listen to CDs, but I did get one for Zachary. I put all the music on I want him to hear, James Taylor, Led Zeppelin lullabies, Bob Marley lullabies, Kate Bush, Linda Rondstadt, The Carpenters – he loves The Carpenters – Sarah McLachlan and a few of my love songs. It’s important he knows my voice.”
THE humility that comes with fatherhood has clearly settled on Elton’s shoulders. Becoming a dad was a massive decision for him – and one that has put him back under the spotlight.
“I’m going to be watched, examined, pulled apart. And that’s OK because I believe in what I’ve done,” he says.
“I’m not insane enough to say we are going to be perfect parents. We probably will make mistakes, but we will always try to do the right thing. I’ve never taken the safe road. If I had I wouldn’t be here.
“Life is about learning and changing and becoming a better human being. At 63, I feel a better person than I was at 33 and I’ve never had more energy in my life. And I don’t ever want to stop learning until I die.
“As much as David and I can give our child he is going to teach us more than we’ll ever know.
“This is the most important journey of our lives.”