Farewell Seems to be the Hardest Word

18th May 2018

These days, the yellow bricks patterning Elton John’s journeys around the globe take the form of airmiles – but not for much longer if the star’s farewell tour really is the end of the road. Simon Jones catches up with the Pinner-born music legend to find out more…

To label Sir Elton John a national icon is a stretch too far for the man himself: Reginald Dwight.

“I won’t have that,” he laughs. “It’s lovely to be appreciated and I think the value of music is one of the most incredible things human beings have ever put on this Earth, but there are lots of people who deserve iconic status before me.”

So it presents itself… despite the chart success, the money, the opulence and the extraordinary range of bifocals, the singer is spectacularly humble in everything he says and does. Yet, in future, his influence will rarely be seen on the big stages of the world, for he is about to embark on a farewell tour that will bring to a close over five decades at the top.

“You know when the time is right to stop doing something, and this decision has been over three years in the making, so it’s not as if I’ve rushed into it!” he says. “It’s been wonderful, but I have banked as many memories as I can, and now I need to look closer to home.”

As the red dictaphone light struggles to show itself against the backdrop of a gloriously sunny spring afternoon, you can’t help but wonder if the sun is really and truly beginning to set on Elton’s career. Many artists perform spectacular u-turns when the drug of live recognition begins to soften and fade – and so might Elton be tempted back…?

“In some ways it’s been a tough decision to decide to make this tour the last one,” he continues, “but I won’t change my mind on this one, I can promise you. I’m 71 and it’s time to look at other ways to spend my days.”

To be fair, as farewell tours go, this is one is slow wave. The Farewell Yellow Brick Road procession takes the form of three legs, across the next three years, encompassing 300 shows and every continent.

“It’s going to be mammoth,” says Elton, who was brought up in a humble Pinner council house by his maternal grandparents. “And it feels like the ultimate way to go out. I want to say goodbye to all those who have supported me, and this is the only way to do it properly, with colour and celebration and energy for great music and fantastic people.”
The tour, which begins in the US in September, will certainly have to be spectacular if it is to do justice to a man who has been a star for over 50 years, during which time he has completed 30 studio albums, released over 140 singles (including five UK number ones), won multiple Grammys, Brit Awards, an Academy Award, Ivor Novello gongs and so much more besides.

“When you list it all out it’s been an incredible body of work and I’m so proud of that, and the beautiful thing is that will stay forever, and I’m not ruling out adding to it. But after a while the physical side of touring becomes too demanding, and when I see two amazing boys at home, the decision of whether I’d rather be out on the road or indoors with them is a very easy one to make, and I’m sure any other parent would say the same thing.”

While the demands of over a hundred flights per year are clearly too great these days, it seems where fatherhood is concerned Elton retains boundless energy. He and husband David Furnish are a very modern example of dedicated parenting. “How can you ever tire of being around these incredible young men?” he smiles, referring to Zachary, seven and Elijah, five. “David and I have been blessed with an amazing life and incredible people to spend it with, and every day I am amazed by my boys’ energy, creativity and enthusiasm. I want to soak all that up and appreciate every moment of it, and it worries me that I might not.”

Do his sons like to hear him play? “Of course they are proud of my music and seeing me out there performing, but I’d rather they were proud of the experiences we share together as a family, as that’s what really matters.”

While Elton will still spend time in the studio, and is looking to expand his film producer portfolio, he doesn’t rule out other projects coming into the frame. “Obviously I’ve always had an eye on fashion and that remains very interesting, and my travel habits over the years have been painfully restricted to touring, so it would be nice to see some cities for what they really are, not just for their concert venues!”

Whatever he decides, it’s certain his sons will be at the heart of every decision. But in the meantime, there’s the PPL Centre in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and concert 1 of 300 to be ticked off on the longest and, possibly, most heartfelt and important of farewells.

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