'It's been a rollercoaster life': Elton John on music, his battle with addiction, fatherhood and more
The music icon joined q’s Tom Power to reflect on his new memoir, Me
Originally published on October 15, 2019
If you had 10 minutes with Elton John, what would you ask? The larger than life music icon has sold 300 million records worldwide, holds the title for the biggest-selling single of all time (Candle in the Wind), and is a global voice for AIDS research and LGBTQ rights.
At best, 10 minutes would just barely scratch the surface of his 50-year career — but that's exactly what q's Tom Power had to work with when he got the chance to speak to the famed singer-songwriter.
John reflected on some of his highs and lows, how having children changed everything for him and why he's now saying goodbye to life on the road.
Here's part of that conversation.
On his long friendship and songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin
Bernie lives in California and I live in England most of the time, so we don't see each other very often, but I can honestly say that in the last three or four years, we've gotten closer and closer because of his family, and my family, and the children. You know, we're in a wonderful, contented place.
He was extremely happy with Rocketman, I think, because in the film, he's portrayed by Jamie Bell and his character comes across as the glue that holds my life together — and that's the way it's been. He was the constant. People came, people went, but Bernie was always there. Bernie was always there for me without judging me.
On writing his new memoir, Me, and talking openly about sex, drugs and partying
I've always tried to be honest. I think the film was honest, although it is a fantasy based on the truth. The book, I was writing for my children because I wanted them, when they were old enough, to read it to know what my life was like.
Reading it after it was all done and put together was quite cathartic. It made me realize there's a lot more I could have put in it, but you know, it's 360 pages anyway.
It's been a rollercoaster life, but what a life I've had. I mean, I've had the most incredible life, met the most incredible people, survived so many things because of my determination and my talent, probably. But I don't lie down and die. Although I nearly died before I asked for help with the addiction.
That was a big turning point in my life, it was an epiphany in my life. When I suddenly got sober and decided to live another life completely then stuff happened to me that was still bad, but I could cope with it much better and I didn't have to run away from it.
The reason I became a drug addict is because I didn't know how to deal with life on life's terms. I was on stage, I got applause and I felt safe on stage. When I came off stage, I was stuck with me. I was immature. When I got sober, I started trying to become an adult instead of a child.
On how he believes his childhood has affected him
As a child, I got approval and love when I sang at family gatherings or weddings, and I felt safe and happy. Then I came off stage and, again, I had to deal with what was going on in my life.
Your childhood affects you so much as you grow older. It's the template of how you live your life. But not everyone had a bad childhood. David, my husband, had a wonderful childhood. But my childhood was in a different era, it was in the '50s. Very conservative. People didn't talk about anything, not sex, they didn't show each other affection. Things were very secretive.
I didn't like that very much. It was a fearful environment that I grew up in, but it was the environment I had to grow up in. You go back and you think, well, that's why I became who I am — because I was frightened of everything. Fear was ruining my life. I'm 72 now and I've come to the happiest point of my life where nothing is wrong, but it took me 72 years to be able to say this. I've done a lot of work on myself and I love my life. I've loved it, even the bad parts. If you use the bad parts to get to the good parts, then you're doing something good.
If you can leave this earth having raised your children well and they're happy, that's the greatest thing you can achieve. Forget your work. Forget your talent or anything.- Elton John
On how becoming a father has changed his life
We gave great thought to being a dad. The biggest responsibility in life is raising children, there's no question about it. If you can leave this earth having raised your children well and they're happy, that's the greatest thing you can achieve. Forget your work. Forget your talent or anything. The greatest thing for me, when I leave this earth is: did I give my kids a good life? Did I teach them well?
They were going to be disciplined, but they were going to be disciplined in a way where we talked about things. I don't want them to live any of their life in fear and they don't. They're amazing children. We have a wonderful relationship with them and, you know, my whole life was built on eggshells. That is a horrible thing for a child to grow up in. And I'm not blaming anyone for it, it was the way it was. But those eggshells made me more determined than ever to make something of myself.
On closing with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on his farewell tour
The title of the tour is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I'm going back to my plow — my plow being my house. I go up on the elevator and I walk into the screen and it's the most appropriate song to close with.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Elton John, click the 'Listen' link near the top of this page.
— Produced by Vanessa Nigro