Friday 21 July 2017

Elton John: 'Having a baby has brought us even closer together'

PARTNERS: John and Furnish have been together 17 years. 'David and I are joined at the hip, but we still have days when we're cheesed off with each other'
PARTNERS: John and Furnish have been together 17 years. 'David and I are joined at the hip, but we still have days when we're cheesed off with each other'

Julia Molony

As the world's most famous gay couple, Elton John and David Furnish are constantly in the spotlight - yet their relationship is not only enduring, it has become stronger.

They tell Julia Molony that with the release of a cartoon film and their new roles as fathers of a child born on Christmas Day, life just gets better

"One of the reasons I changed my mind about having a baby was because I thought: 'I need this, and David needs this too'"ELTON John recently said he could be happy living in a caravan as long as David Furnish was there with him

The image is slightly at odds with the inner sanctum of the Dorchester, clearly more the singer's natural habitat, where he sits today with sombre-smart suit offset by trademark spangly showbiz glasses and the scent of something fragrant (Lilies? Gardenias?) in the air.

His civil partner, David Furnish, is, as ever, at his side. Furnish looks slick, and has a likeable, open face -- more the handsome, blue-eyed boy than he appears in pictures.

Still, something of that caravan sentiment holds true even here. As fixed a twosome as Ozzy and Sharon, the John/Furnish union is one of showbiz's rare romantic success stories. Its constancy is as implausible and heartwarming, perhaps, as the happy ending they've worked into their new film, Gnomeo and Juliet, a cartoon remake of the Shakespeare tale, setting the action among feuding gnomes in neighbouring gardens.

Elton was a recovering drug addict with anger issues when he met Furnish through a mutual friend at a dinner party. Having fought very public battles with his weight and low self-esteem, he was on the road to recovery but his personal life seemed destined to be a casualty of his prodigious talent.

Yet, here they are, promoting their new film, a joint endeavour that has been in the making for more than 11 years. Not just that, but they've a new baby too. Zachary was conceived with the help of a surrogate and born on Christmas Day.

That they both seem in top form is hardly surprising, speaking over one another in their enthusiasm to express how fab life is right now, taking unashamed pleasure in happy endings, both real and fictional.

The timing, they both agree, is serendipitous.

"It's completely accidental," says David. "I'd love to tell you we had a master plan, but we're just very lucky."

"This is the sort of film that we can show Zachary when he's five years old or four years old," Elton adds, "and he will hopefully love it. I don't think it's the sort of film that will ever date."

In a pop-cultural climate clogged with broken hearts, Elton and David have become a rare symbol of hope. Rarely seen apart, they live together, work together and have become a showbiz institution. So much so that the world has begun to wonder what their secret is.

"We are one of the most famous couples in the world," Elton says. "Probably the most famous gay couple in the world and what we do is scrutinised very heavily. And when we had our civil partnership, which was what, five years ago?"

"Yeah, just over five years ago," David breaks in to confirm.

"We'd had 12 years together anyway. And then, that kind of made us feel even closer. I never thought it was going to be like that, but it was, it brought us closer together. And now with Zachary arriving, five years later, it's cemented us after 17 years. And it's made us even closer."

"I didn't think it was possible to get closer after 17 years," David says, "but it really is, it's like wow."

Zachary's arrival came as a bit of a surprise to the couple's fans, since Elton had previously vowed never to have children, saying that he worried about the effect of being an ageing parent. What changed his mind? A big part of the decision, they both agree now, was how it contributed to bolstering the sacrosanct stability of their relationship.

In 2005, they talked to the Times. While denying they would ever have a child, the pair acknowledged obliquely that the lack of one left something of a hole.

"The dynamic of two men in a relationship is different to that of a man and a woman, Elton said then. "There aren't families to plan or schools to choose. It is just two people you have to take care of. Which is hard sometimes."

"We all know of straight friends who've had kids to try and fix their marriage or who have lost their marriage to their kids," David added then. "Kids are not glue. But that lack of something biological holding you together really shifts the dynamic. If we weren't happy or right for one another, then we could leave and there would only be repercussions for us. In a way it tests whether the love and commitment is genuine."

"I think you have to work at relationships like that. You have to keep them fresh. You have to keep new challenges around. Because they [relationships] can soon die," Elton says today, while David adds, "They need to be fed and watered."

"They're like gardens," says Elton. "They need to be fed and watered. If you don't they're going to die of neglect. It's hard to be in a relationship, for anybody, and make it a lasting one."

"It's always work," adds David.

Clearly the extra significance of becoming a family, of being bonded by a joint investment in the next generation, became too strong a case. It was very important for them as a couple ultimately, says Elton, that was why they changed their mind.

"It's always work, it's about communication. It's about love and respect. And challenges," Elton says. "And I think, when I changed my mind about having a child, one of the reasons I did was because I thought, you know, not that our relationship was any way in trouble, but I thought, I need this for me, David definitely needs this, and we need this together. And I think it will be a new chapter in our lives and the biggest chapter that we could possibly have."

"Exactly," David adds. "It's not like working on a film together!"

Elton nods at this. "David and I are joined at the hip -- but even so we still have days when we are cheesed off with each other, as every couple is. We're no different to anybody else."

The discipline they muster to keep it working owes a lot, they both agree, to one single principle, borrowed from Antonia Fraser's insistence that she and Harold Pinter never went to bed on an argument.

"That's what we do... And if we've gone to bed, we talk about it in bed, before we've gone to sleep. I'm not waking up in the morning and having this unresolved."

David: "None of this walk-around-the-house-and-don't-speak-to-each-other-for-three days stuff."

Elton: "It's a wonderful rule."

David: "It's treating your relationship with respect. And they need to be respected. And not taken for granted."

Elton: "And relationships, if they are going to be long-lasting, have to evolve, and they have to be freshened up now and again."

David: "Absolutely."

If David ever feels irked by the prospect of second-hand fame, he never lets so much as a glimmer of it show. Having started his career in advertising, he launched himself as a producer after meeting Elton, and his breakthrough project, Tantrums and Tiaras was a documentary about the star. Gnomeo and Juliet has been with them for 11 years, almost the entire duration of their relationship, and through the long, often thwarted process of getting it made. It features music from Elton's back catalogue, as well as newly composed material, making this the second animation, after the Lion King, that the King of Pop has composed for.

"We work very closely," says David, telling the story of how many times the project nearly got canned. "We were getting kicked around a lot from time to time. Myself, as one of the day-to-day producers, has to acknowledge that reality, keep Elton abreast of it as much as possible and then he's the one who can pick up the phone and get onto the highest-level executives at the studio and hopefully smooth the path out for us or get some of the obstacles taken out of the way."

They both enjoy the triumph-over-adversity story that was involved in getting it made.

"I've collaborated with Elton on several things now, Billy Elliot, a TV show called Spectacle," says David.

Elton: "And Tantrums. If you got through Tantrums you can get through anything."

David: "What I love about working with Elton is he's very hands-on at the beginning of the process, and is a big believer in casting the talent right in terms of the creative people that you are going to work with. And then he gives his overall objectives and vision for how he sees the film and then he leaves you alone. So he doesn't micro-manage.

"He's really great, he's there if you need him for ideas, and when it came to using his catalogue and his music, we got him very involved in that at key stages. He contributed some great animation ideas and gag ideas to the film. But he doesn't breathe down everybody's neck. Everything I've collaborated with Elton on has been a joyful experience. I love working with him, I love sharing success together. And I don't find it clogs up life at home too much."

Do they have to be careful not to talk shop too much at home?

Elton: "We don't really bring our business home. We talk about things. There's been times when we have to make that late-night phone call to California -- but I've always had collaborators. I love collaborations.

"Working with your partner hasn't brought any bad vibes at all on any project we've ever worked with."

David: "There's been tense moments. Like any creative collaboration you're going to have differences of opinion."

Elton: "I think it's more the business side of things. The studio not getting it, or the director. It's always something peripheral that you have to deal with. It's not the creative side of things so much. It's more what other people are putting around you and having to deal with it. And having to deal with the crap that happens when you do anything like this. There's so much crap that happens. I mean, if we actually write an opera about this movie ... oh my god."

Elton and David the Opera? Well, they made Gnomeo and Juliet happen, so anything is possible. Watch this space.

'Gnomeo and Juliet' is released this week

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