Saturday, March 28, 2015
Elton's Mum Tells Why Elton Hates Her
Still attached to a stem is a simple white card with a note. It reads: 'Wow, 90! Congratulations. Love Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah.'
You can tell from the smile lighting up Sheila's face that the orchids' arrival has a special significance for her. As well it might. For it is the first she has heard from her world-famous son in seven years.
Though she had been a loving mother to him throughout his childhood, and supported him through all of the ups and downs of his career, Elton severed all contact with her after a catastrophic argument.
The precise nature of what sparked their rift has hitherto never been explained.
But today Sheila has invited me into her home to reveal exactly what took place between them — and the enduring hurt she feels.
And what an extraordinary story it is: a tale of divided loyalties, control freakery, a dispute over a wedding hat, and, above all, the influence of the person she blames for turning her son against her — Elton's husband, David Furnish.
Devastatingly, she reveals that during one of their final exchanges, her adored son told her that he hated her.
Sheila's decision to talk publicly was sparked in part by the pictures that appeared of her 90th birthday party two weeks ago, for which she hired an Elton John impersonator to entertain her 80 guests.
As many commentators observed, there could be no more poignant symbol of a mother's broken heart, prompting much speculation about what lay behind it. As someone who has known Sheila for more than three decades, I was among those invited to the celebrations, but was sadly unable to attend.
Today, as she sits down with a cup of tea in the airy room that overlooks her large, immaculate garden, Sheila offers me a piece of the remaining birthday cake.
That's the sort of woman she is. Thoughtful. Loyal. Kind-hearted. Despite her age she is as sharp and quick-witted as ever, and, as always, smartly dressed.
She has neither been offered nor received any payment for this interview, but has simply decided the moment has come to tell the truth. To that end, she was happy for our conversation to be recorded and indeed has approved every word of this article.
'Yes, it's seven years now in June', she confides quietly about the estrangement from her son. 'But you know, I've got used to it. And it was all so stupid — so petty.'
It all began, she reveals, when Elton telephoned her out of the blue and ordered her to cut off all contact with two of their oldest friends, Bob Halley and John Reid, with whom he had fallen out.
Bob had been Elton's driver turned personal assistant, whom he had fired after more than 30 years of loyal service as part of a series of changes he was making to his team.
John, meanwhile, had been Elton's brilliant manager — and briefly his lover — and is the man who guided his career from its earliest days through to global superstardom and a £235 million fortune.
Since Sheila had known these two men for decades, and particularly valued their support and companionship in her later years, she flatly refused to cut them out of her life.
As far as she was concerned, they had always taken care of her throughout the years she had spent travelling the world with Elton and thus deserved her loyalty.
And unlike so many of Elton's entourage, she was not afraid to refuse her son's demands.
'I told him: 'I'm not about to do that and drop them. Bob is like a son to me. He has always been marvellous to me and he lives nearby and keeps an eye on me.' '
Elton, not used to being defied, flew into an expletive-filled rage.
'Then to my utter amazement, he told me he hated me. And he then banged the phone down. Imagine! To me, his mother!'
A mother, moreover, who was then 83-years-old.
Yet despite Elton's cruel words Sheila does not regret standing up to him and indeed is capable of giving as good as she got. 'I'm not a person to be controlled or told what I've got to do,' she says with a defiant look in her hazel eyes. 'I'm not being controlled by anybody. I don't care what it is.
'Even if I was destitute I wouldn't be controlled by anybody. Also, why should I be alone and not talk to nice friends nearby and people I've known all through his career?
'I had no intention of dropping John and Bob and I told Elton so. He told me I thought more of Bob Halley than I did of my own son.
'And to that I said to him, 'And you think more of that f***ing thing you married than your own mother.' '
By that 'thing' Sheila is referring to David Furnish, Elton's long-term partner and now husband.
'Those were the last words I spoke to him. That's what it's all about. I suppose he was horrified because I dared to disobey.'
No doubt Elton — a supremely gifted man who can be wonderfully generous and warm-hearted to his friends — will have his own interpretation of events. And of course any person would be wounded to hear their spouse described in such terms by their own mother.
Sheila regrets that, provoked by Elton's foul-mouthed outburst, which the Mail has chosen not to print, she resorted to similar language in the heat of the moment.
Yet it would be utterly wrong to imagine that her feelings towards his partner stem from any form of homophobia.
On the contrary, she is a tolerant and open-minded woman who has many close gay friends, long ago accepted her own son's sexuality and proudly served as a witness at his civil ceremony.
Rather, her anger centres on what she sees as Furnish's attempt to take control of all aspects of Elton's life, at the expense of his old friends and family.
'It's pretty obvious if anyone thinks about it. Elton didn't even fall out with Bob [Halley] really. The relationship ended abruptly. Everybody was got rid of all of a sudden. That's what happened and everybody has gone — me included.
'Everyone who used to be invited to the parties doesn't get invited any more . . . and we know who is behind that!'
Sheila believes that the only people who matter to Furnish and Elton are the celebrities and the super-rich with whom they now consort. 'It appears all they are interested in these days are people with wealth and fame.'
Indeed, she believes Furnish deliberately set out to get rid of 'the plebs' as Sheila says they were described.
'And that is exactly what happened. There are none of his old loyal friends around — they have all been dropped. Look how John Reid has been outcast.
'Without John, when they started off, they'd never have been where they were. Elton would not have become what he became.
'Bob was like a brother to Elton, they got on, they had the same sense of humour, they travelled around the world together for over 30 years.'
But after Elton met Furnish —then working as an advertising executive — through a mutual acquaintance in 1993, things were to change dramatically.
'At the beginning of their friendship I was glad he had found someone to settle with after so much disruption with all the various boyfriends coming and going,' she says. 'They would get what they wanted out of him, they'd get their houses and whatever they wanted and then they wouldn't love him any more. And then I would be dragged into it.
'We had all this to put up with. But you are there for him because he's your son.'
For Sheila, the first hint of trouble came at Elton and David's civil partnership ceremony at Windsor Guildhall in 2005, for which she was invited to be an official witness.
'I wouldn't comply with everything they wanted me to do, that was the trouble,' she recalls. 'One thing I didn't do was to wear a hat. That didn't go down well with Furnish because he wanted it to be the Wedding of the Year.
'Then a call came through from Furnish's secretary saying if we wouldn't mind, we were not going to be in the photographs.
'And we weren't allowed to leave the building until after they had gone and had photographs taken.
'It seemed odd to me because Elton saw me as he arrived and said: 'Mum, you look lovely.'
'But we didn't have our picture taken because we were told not to be in the photographs. So ridiculous. I don't think Elton knows half of what goes on, really. And I'd never run to Elton telling tales. I never have done.
'But when we've been so close and I never, ever interfered in his life . . .' she trails off.
An even more wounding incident was to come a few years later — after their heated phone call — and this time it concerned Sheila's husband, Fred Farebrother, to whom she was married for 40 years after divorcing Elton's father, Stanley Dwight.
In 2007, Fred fell ill with a chest infection and battled illness for the next three years until his death at the age of 88. Yet Sheila says that in those final years, Elton never once came to visit him in hospital.
'Fred became even more ill and I think he just hung on thinking that Elton would come to see him and he never did.'
There is huge sadness in her eyes as she tells me Elton did not even attend Fred's funeral.
'Fred had been Elton's stepfather since he was about 15. The three of us went through everything together. We helped him to make it in any way we could.
'When he was working with his first little group Fred used to run him to different places in the evenings in the car, even though Fred was having to work during the daytime, too. But he loved him. You do these things, don't you, for those you love?
'We only tried to do everything to help him. Fred idolised him and he was so upset, you know, that he didn't even bother to come and see him when he was in hospital.
'But clearly Elton wasn't worried about him; he wasn't worried about me, either.
'Oh yes, it's hurt me. It's the way he spoke to me. You know, things I never thought he'd ever say to me, that he hated me.'
Nor could she know that it would lead to seven years when they would not speak at all. 'For all this time I haven't had as much as a Christmas card, a birthday card or a Mother's Day card. Nothing.'
Which brings us, of course, to her 90th birthday party. Although Sheila wasn't expecting her son to make a surprise visit from America — where his current tour includes playing for a reported £340,000 a night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas —she wasn't going to let that stop her celebrating her birthday in style.
Eighty of her friends turned out to toast her at a party thrown at a converted barn near her West Sussex home. And to add to the fun she hired 'The Ultimate Elton Tribute Band' — led by amazingly realistic Elton lookalike Paul Bacon.
The party, which Sheila paid for herself but was organised by her old friend Bob Halley, started at 4pm and didn't end until midnight, and the spirited Sheila enjoyed dancing to all her favourite Elton hits. She roars with laughter as she tells me: 'Paul Bacon was the absolute image of Elton. He must have studied him in every possible way, all the actions and moves and the sound of his voice, the way he spoke, the way he looked.
'The whole hall thought at first it was Elton walking in, then they thought he was looking rather young! He got a standing ovation. We had kept it a secret and everyone was taken aback.
'People just gasped. Then everyone was crying because of me, I suppose, and knowing the situation that has existed.'
Hearing her describe this 'situation', surrounded by photographs of the son she adores, it is impossible not to wish that the rift between them could be healed.
Few families go through life without a row or two along the way, but most learn to make peace eventually. Surely, after seven years, it is time for Elton and Sheila to be reconciled?
'It's up to him. Maybe, I don't know,' she says. 'I'm happy now. I've got over all the hurt of those seven years. I've got over all the nasty things and the hurtfulness.
'And really, Furnish doesn't want to be with me and I certainly don't want to be with him.'
More than that, she says that if she and Elton's husband were to come face to face, she may not be able to contain her rage. 'I'd like to give Furnish a punch right on the bloody earhole! If I had the chance, I'd do it.'
Even so, it is to Elton's credit that despite his harsh words, he continues to support Sheila financially as well as providing a roof over her head and paying for her medical bills.
Now, with the arrival of the white orchids for her birthday, does she think perhaps the tide may be changing?
'No,' she says in a resigned way. 'I just think that he [Furnish] has got him now, hasn't he?'
Surely she must miss the closeness — the fun and the laughter — that she and Elton shared for so many years?
'Well, I did at first. I don't now because it's been seven years. I don't know if I could cope with it all now.'
What if her son walked through the doorway of her bungalow tomorrow?
'I don't know. I've got reservations. Sometimes you think, 'Yes', and then other times . . . I don't have to go through the upsets and, you know, it's never been smooth. I don't want to go through any more aggravation.
'Sometimes I get lonely. It's only natural. Once you lose your partner, you're on your own. People who have lost someone they love will understand that, I know.'
As she will reveal in Monday's Mail, it is a loneliness compounded by the fact that she has never even met the two boys whom Elton and David fathered with a surrogate mother.
Even so, she says she is no longer fretting about Elton's absence in her life.
'I'm great because I've got Bob, I've got John, and I've got loads of friends here. I have loads of people around me and I have a lovely life.'
Finally, with enormous dignity, this strong, principled woman says that despite all that has happened, she wishes only that Elton is happy.
'I've had all the upset and crying and the worrying and the nastiness. I've got over it now and I've got a nice life. And I just hope he's as happy as I am.'
- Daily Mail