ELTON John sits alone on the large couch in his dressing room wearing a personalised Gucci tracksuit and nursing a non-alcoholic beer.
As I join him, he assures me he’s emotional, but not sad.
AFP Elton John says his sons Elijah and Zachary are ‘real boys’
At 72, the Rocketman — who once told his husband David Furnish he wanted to die on stage — has started the once unthinkable process of saying goodbye to the audiences who he credits for giving him life over the past five decades.
Many of the 20,000 fans at Vienna’s main arena end the energetic two-hour, 45-minute epic Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour in floods of tears.
But when I ask Elton if he’s having second thoughts, his eyes dart to the corner of his all-cream backstage space to two life-sized cutouts of his sons, Zachary, eight, and Elijah, six.
“It’s fantastic being a dad. Ten years ago if you’d have told me that, I’d have said you’re crazy,” he admits.
Rex Features Elton, David and the boys at Watford v Wigan in 2014
“I’ve been travelling in the back of a van since I was 15, it’s the life of a gypsy. But I’ve got other things to do. I just don’t want to be performing all my life.”
Before our interview — his first with a newspaper anywhere in the world in more than three years — he made his daily FaceTime call to his sons, who remain in London with David, 56, as they have school, before they go to bed.
But any thought that, as the world’s most famous gay dad, Elton has adopted a trendy, gender-neutral approach to parenting is very quickly dismissed.
He says: “My boys are so boyish. They are real boys. They’re flirts — girl mad.
Rex Features Elton John with Elijah and Zachary in St Tropez last summer
“They said, ‘there was a new girl in class today and she really fancies me’ and I said, ‘that’s great!’ They’re real boys and they’re just very athletic, normal kids.”
I get the sense that Elton would have loved more children. But is his family now complete?
“That’s it,” he says, “I mean, we’re too old to have any more. If we were 20 years, 15 years younger, we’d have probably had another one at least. But with the boys we’ve got enough on our hands.”
Elton has been confined to a wheelchair of late owing to a sprained ankle, but is adamant his health is strong, proven by the energetic show I’ve just seen.
Rex Features Elton John says he would’ve had more children if he could turn back the clock
“A show that long is easy,” he insists. “I play tennis three times a week and walk in the pool three times a week, so I’m physically very fit, and that’s stamina.”
During his time recovering, Elton says his sons kept him sane. But it is his love of sport, rather than music, which has so far been passed down to his offspring.
“Zachary plays in the Watford FC Academy,” he says proudly. “I don’t care what he does in the future, but he just loves sport.
“They’re both sport mad. It’s great because sport is so social, they meet lots of friends and they don’t have video games. They’re always outside playing and kicking a ball around.”
AFP Elton John wows the audience in Vienna during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour
It’s the pain of missing those moments that eventually convinced Elton to give up touring the world, even though becoming a family man is something he never envisaged.
He says: “Life’s full of surprises and you have to follow those surprises. That’s why I decided to come off the road two years ago. We talked about this and I said, ‘I don’t want to miss my kids growing up’.”
Elton is bracing himself to miss another important event because of his lengthy tour, which includes 23 shows in the UK and Ireland, ending in December 2020.
Watford play in the FA Cup final against Man City on May 18 while he’s on stage in Copenhagen.
PA:Press Association Elton has been confined to a wheelchair of late owing to a sprained ankle
Elton was chairman of the club the last time they reached the final in 1984, when they lost to Everton.
“Oh my God, yes. I will be on stage,” he groans. “I’ll be a wreck.”
Before his Vienna gig, one of Elton’s team took me backstage to show me a little secret.
His million-pound black Yamaha piano is so advanced it has had a screen installed, invisible to the audience, which delivers messages to Elton. Messages that usually consist of football scores.
AFP Elton John once told husband David Furnish he wanted to die on stage
He laughs when I raise its existence then says: “Yes, I was getting messages about the Liverpool game [against Barcelona on Wednesday].”
As such a passionate lover of football, how does he feel about the fact that no Premier League player has felt able to come out as gay?
He says: “It’s hard, but I was a chairman of a football club and I was gay. I had some banter from the fans but, even though people nowadays would say, ‘Oh it’s disgusting’, it was good humoured. I never got any threats. I felt I was accepted very well within football.
“The athletes that have come out in rugby, rugby league, cricket, tennis, they’ve been treated with great respect. It’s harder in America.”
PA:Press Association Elton John’s no longer prepared to let his passion for performing to take over his family life
Elton is aware of the momentous year he has ahead — one that should secure his place in music history for decades to come. Next month comes Rocketman, the fantasy biopic starring Taron Egerton as Elton, Richard Madden as his manager John Reid and Jamie Bell as songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.It is already being tipped for Oscar glory. Elton will see it for the first time when it premieres in Cannes in two weeks.
“I don’t know what I’m going to be like,” he says.
“Bernie saw it last week and he’s the toughest person to please in the world. He was so effusive about it.”
Hinting that he expects to break down in tears during the film, he adds: “That’s definitely going to be a no-mascara night because I’ve seen the script.”
Getty Images – Getty Elton John has started the once unthinkable process of saying goodbye to fans in his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour
Elton has become close to all three actors, with suggestions he is taking a special interest supporting Bodyguard star Richard during his stratospheric rise to fame. But he says: “I’m not really a mentor but I’ve become closer to Taron and I sat next to Jamie in the Oscar party.
“Richard is a friend now, I don’t see him much but he’s in Hollywood — he’s working hard and got lots of offers to do stuff.”
There’s also the publication of his tell-all autobiography, Me, in October, which Elton insists is not about settling scores. “I don’t slag anybody off in the book . . . I don’t really feel nasty about any other artists anyway,” he says.
“It’s just there’s so much that’s happened in my life and it’s hard to fit it all in within the film.”
The Mega Agency Elton John says he’s ‘not really a mentor’ to Richard Madden but more a friend
But proving there’s still a tantrum or two left in Elton, I raise Billy Joel’s comments last year that he is “dragging down” his legacy by releasing new albums.
With a glint in his eye, Elton jokes: “Well actually, he hasn’t made anything since 1993 because he can’t. I love releasing new music, it doesn’t sell but that’s the point — it’s like telling a painter not to paint. He’s just lazy, yeah, I love him to death but he’s lazy.”
The most connected man in showbiz, he trumped every other pop star in the world when he was asked to sing at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding last May.
Speaking for the first time about the performance at the private Windsor reception, he says: “It was a very casual wedding. And it was fun. They were a great audience so I did them another song.
Getty – Contributor Elton says Prince Harry has his mother’s ‘ability to connect’ to people
“I was only going to do three and I did four. I added in Can You Feel The Love Tonight as an extra.”Elton doesn’t have a phone so the royal couple communicate with him via husband David (their baby “is due any second”, he predicts).
Harry has been inspired by his close friend Princess Diana in his ambitions, Elton believes. “He’s a very sweet, young, kind man. He wants to do good for the world and use his position to do good,” he says. “He’s wonderful. He’s got his mother’s ability to connect with people and a very kind heart.”
Elton says he’s exhausted at the moment not because of the live shows but because: “I’ve been writing in the studio.”
And while there is no doubting his passion for performing, he’s no longer prepared for it to take any toll on his personal life.
REVIEW: ELTON JOHN, FAREWELL YELLOW BRICK ROAD TOUR AT THE WIENER STADTHALLE, VIENNAHOW on earth do you attempt to encapsulate a 50-year career, 300 million sales and countless chart toppers, including the most successful single of all time? Well, Elton John certainly comes close to doing so with an epic 23-song 165-minute set.
The poignancy of Daniel, Candle In The Wind and Your Song (saved for the encore) were my personal highlights, alongside the use of the biggest possible video screen during I’m Still Standing sharing his best (and some of the most embarrassing) moments of his career.
There’s a passion and intensity in his face that I didn’t see during his latest Las Vegas residency. There’s no going through the motions, Elton knows these gigs really mean something.
As he is carried off on a platform up the yellow brick road at the conclusion of the encore, it really did feel like a fitting end to a music icon’s performing career.
By Dan Wootton, Executive Editor
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He says: “I just don’t like schlepping any more. I mean, I schlep in the best way possible.
“It’s emotional, but it’s good emotional. I’m not crying about leaving everything — I wanted to go out and really enjoy it.
“I suppose towards the end it will be different, but at the moment I’m having a ball. I’m on a high.”
Elton John does Carpool Karaoke