What a sizeable community they make now, the group we could call ‘The Former Friends Of Elton John’.
Close-knit, too. When it seemed that one of them — the most important one, Elton’s own mother — had been ushered back into the fold, word went round like wildfire.
Sheila Farebrother and her famous son have been estranged for eight years, meaning she hasn’t even met her grandchildren. But last week it was reported that the astonishing feud is over. Elton himself said so. ‘We are back in touch,’ he told a newspaper. He might have been a bit hazy on the details, but that was understandable.
Elton John has been estranged from his mother Sheila Farebrother (both pictured, in 2002) for eight years but the superstar singer has since boasted that they have started to rebuild their relationship
‘Out of respect for my mother’s privacy I have always shied away from speaking publicly about our relationship. However, I can say that we are now back in touch and have been so since my mother’s 90th birthday.’
Those who know Sheila duly rejoiced that sanity had finally prevailed. One old acquaintance, record producer Stuart Epps, who was once Elton’s personal assistant (and has gone on, incredibly, to manage an Elton John tribute act), phoned Sheila to congratulate her. ‘I thought it was great news. I knew she’d be delighted,’ he says.
Unfortunately, the message came back that congratulations weren’t in order. ‘My understanding is that Sheila hasn’t heard from Elton at all. She hasn’t spoken to him. She doesn’t understand why he was saying that.
‘He did send flowers on her birthday, but that’s it.’ It was at her 90th birthday party last March, of course, that Sheila was entertained by her son’s lookalike (and Stuart’s client) Paul Bacon. They have since become close, sharing lunches.
Sheila even popped backstage during a concert last year, and greeted him with a big hug, telling Paul, gleefully, that he looked more like her son every time she saw him.
For a minute, it might have looked as if common sense had been restored and Elton himself would sing Happy Birthday at Sheila’s 91st next month — but this now seems unlikely.
Tribute act: Sheila Farebrother with Elton John lookalike and friend, Paul Bacon at her 90th birthday party
Other sources in the Former Friends camp have confirmed Stuart’s take on the situation. Although Sheila refused to comment directly, several friends have said that there has been no weepy reconciliation.
It is true that Elton recently paid for a hip operation for his mother, in the same way that he has always supported her financially — but as far as we can ascertain, the contact ends there.
It hasn’t extended to a phone call, much less a meeting. Sheila still hasn’t met Elton’s two sons. ‘It puts her in a very embarrassing situation,’ another insider told us. ‘People keep phoning to congratulate her, but it just isn’t true.’
The whole thing is most curious. Why on earth would Elton want the world to think the feud — which painted both him and his mother in a terribly bad light — was over, if it isn’t?
Of course, we could give him the benefit of the doubt and consider that his words were misinterpreted, or that he was misquoted (although there has been no suggestion of this from his camp). Or perhaps he genuinely feels that settling her hospital bills — which is typically generous of him — amounts to being in contact.
A more cynical suggestion, however, would be that Elton is in the midst of a PR charm offensive and the idea of a continued feud with his own mother doesn’t fit with the image of a family man being expertly cultivated by his advisers.
Mother’s Love: Elton fell out with Sheila, both pictured, over his demands that she cut out some of his old acquaintances from her life and because of her hatred of his husband David Furnish
Moreover, the reasons for the falling out — Elton’s demands that his mother cut certain of his old acquaintances out of her own life; and her hatred of his husband David Furnish, whom she regards as a controlling influence — are suddenly very pertinent again.
No one could argue that this is a matter of ‘water under the bridge’ given the events of the past few months, where Elton has trimmed his entourage yet further, getting rid of trusted aides who have been part of his empire for decades.
Joining the list of the persona non grata folk, alongside his old manager John Reid, and his once-trusted driver and right-hand man Bob Halley (whose close relationship with Sheila was underlined when she refused to strike him from her life, choosing instead to face her son’s wrath) are a whole host of new names.
In recent times, Elton has parted company with his trusted valet Mike Hewitson (for whom he once threw a party costing a reported £250,000), his hairdresser John Fallows, and two of his most senior aides, UK-based lawyer Frank Presland and his U.S. equivalent Johnny Barbis.
Also out of the entourage, to the industry’s astonishment, is Gary Farrow, Elton’s once-trusted PR man who had been with him since the early days.
An old picture of Elton and his mother Sheila with his former manager John Reid, pictured sitting down, who has since parted ways with the popstar
He quit, citing disagreement with Elton’s new management — a veiled reference to the role David Furnish has assumed in Elton’s professional life. Although his record company will not confirm it, there is widespread belief that Furnish is working as Elton’s manager now, deciding what direction his career will go in and determined to promote Elton in the manner that one might a young up-and-coming pop star, rather than an industry stalwart.
‘Furnish is all about pushing Elton out there, getting him on the circuit,’ one insider told us. ‘It’s become a bit of a circus, and it’s all Furnish’s doing. He’s manager, husband, CEO, everything. What he says goes.’
And don’t forget that Sheila can’t stand David Furnish. Indeed, as the relationship between her and Elton broke down, she cemented her own estrangement from him by telling Elton ‘you think more of that thing than your own mother’. Understandably, Elton was furious.
Certainly, some of Elton’s admirers have doubts about the way he’s now being asked to promote himself. Take his recent appearance on James Corden’s U.S. chat show, to plug his 32nd album.
Elton has trimmed his entourage recently, getting rid of trusted aides who have been part of his empire for decades with a widespread belief that his husband David is now working as his manager
A ‘Carpool Karaoke’ stunt involved Corden and Elton engaging in a singalong in a car, with Elton at one point donning a fake lion mane as he belted out his Lion King song Circle of Life. Entertaining? Absolutely. Dignified? Absolutely not.
Odder — and more out of character — was a very curious appearance at St Pancras Station where he pitched up unannounced with a piano he was donating for the use of commuters.
He sat down, played a short medley, then signed the piano and was off. He didn’t even sing.
‘It’s all a bit desperate,’ one former aide told us. ‘He doesn’t need to do this sort of stuff. He plays stadiums. He’s Elton John.’
He’s certainly been everywhere this week, popping up on chat shows and in interviews, talking about everything from doing the school run and taking his kids to Pizza Hut to his plans to discuss human rights with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Finances: Elton said his husband David, both pictured, had been ‘taking care of business’
You might argue, of course, that Elton knows exactly what he is doing, and the shake-up of his business has given him a fresh approach.
And perhaps he does need to get out there and remind people he is still making music and not just belting out old hits.
His new album Wonderful Crazy Night may have charted at No 3, but the Mail understands it was a deliberate choice to release it during a traditionally quiet time when it would face less competition in the charts. And the fact is Elton John needs to be selling records.
These days he makes most of his money from lucrative tours, but he knows those days are numbered. ‘I did 107 shows last year. That can’t go on,’ he recently said. ‘There will be no more touring after another two or three years. I’ll always play but I don’t want to be schlepping around the world for it.’
And with six homes across the globe, and lavish spending habits (still significant, although his flowers budget is not the £175,000 a month it was), he cannot rest on his laurels, certainly not in financial terms.
Interestingly, when he has addressed the Furnish rumours lately, it has been to point out how David is getting their financial house in order.
He joked: ‘I call him Yoko.’ And he added: ‘People think he’s on a power trip. He’s not. My business is solvent since David took over. We have money put aside for tax.
‘Being me is a bit like being a king in a medieval court. People get infatuated with money and power. There’s a jostling for position. David won’t have it. He is taking care of business. He’s getting rid of the dross, with a Capital D. It’s an unpopular place to be, but somebody has to be Cruella de Vil.’
That was something of a slap in the face for all those loyal souls cast out of the palace gates.
At the same time, though, Elton has been very vocal about the fact that the new regime is a nicer, kinder one, less given to mouthy conflict.
He has discussed another of his high-profile feuds, this time with Madonna, expressing regret that he let his famously acid tongue run away with him, and revealing that he tried to build bridges with her by paying for her meal when they found themselves in the same restaurant.
‘When you say someone is a fairground stripper [as Elton did], it’s not exactly courteous. I don’t want to be negative any more. I don’t want to slag anybody off.’
Mind you, Elton has long talked the talk about reconciliation and bridge-building. In an interview back in 2005, he said: ‘I’m a great one for building bridges rather than higher walls.’
That one might cause some raised eyebrows. Not least from his mum, who seems to be waiting for a true thawing of relations.