Elton John has let me down

This email has just come in:

Subject: Non appearance of Elton John on Amsterdam

Message: Thank you so much for publishing your article re the non appearance of Elton John in Amsterdam 15th May 2019. My partner and myself also went across the North Sea to attend the concert only to find that he preferred to appease his ego in Cannes rather than keep his contract with 17,000 fans in Amsterdam. As pensioners we can ill afford to chucked money down the drain this way and certainly cannot afford a return trip. No offer of a refund just told try to resell our tickets which is easy to say but how? This trip would have been my first live performance and was a 70th birthday present from my partner to me. I have since given my entire EJ album collection to a charity shop.

And here is the article I wrote for the weekend ‘i’ that prompted that email - and several more like it.

Notwithstanding the favourable reviews, I have decided to boycott the Elton John biopic, Rocket Man.  Elton has let me down.  I booked to take my family to his ‘farewell tour’ concert in Amsterdam on 15 May – and, the day before, it was cancelled.  Apparently, one of the musicians was unwell.  Elton was obviously fine. 

Indeed, we saw how fine he was when, twenty-four hours later, pictures emerged of him in the South of France celebrating the launch of Rocket Man in Cannes, shedding ‘tears of joy’ because he was so moved by Taron Egerton’s star turn as himself in his younger days.  I felt like weeping in Amsterdam as I counted the cost of the cancelled concert.  We were offered alternative dates for later performances, but no compensation for the eight train and plane flights to and from Amsterdam or for the hotels we had booked there.   “No show Elton” cost me and my family not hundreds, but thousands of pounds.

I was not impressed.  My daughter tried to cheer me up.  ‘Dad,’ she said, ‘we’ve had the authentic Elton experience.  Last time I booked to see him, that show was cancelled, too.’  Yes, tap the words ‘Elton John cancels’ into your search engine and you will find quite a long list of no-show shows.

 In my book, it’s not good enough.  There is an implicit unwritten contract between an artist and their fans: we cheer, you appear.  The bigger the talent, the greater the responsibility.  Your gifts are considerable: be grateful that they are recognised.  Don’t be a diva.  Don’t let us down.  Remember: we have put you on top of that gold-encrusted pedestal.  Your part of the deal is that you have to strut your stuff for us up there.  

What surprises me about Elton is that it’s clear from his exuberant taste in clothes and his particular style as an entertainer that he loves show business.  He must therefore know that possibly the oldest, and certainly the most fundamental, of show business rules is: come what may, the show goes on.  When the actress Elizabeth Taylor (then one of the biggest stars in the firmament and one of Elton’s chums) was about to make her London stage debut in 1982, she broke her leg.  ‘I can’t walk, but I can talk,’ she said, ‘I’ll be there.’  And she was, at every performance, in a wheelchair.

If a star has a serious, unexpected medical emergency – like Mick Jagger with his heart condition recently – then we will understand and sympathise.  Otherwise, if we’ve booked, you show – even if one of the musicians isn’t feeling up to it.  It is you we have come to see, not the band.  That’s what being a star is all about.  And if your other commitments mean you can’t fulfil your obligations to your audience, do what ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham has done: get out of the game.

Since 1966 when, as a teenager, I saw Barbra Streisand at the Hollywood Bowl, I have collected many of the greats in concert.  In 1992 I was privileged to meet Frank Sinatra in the wings at the Albert Hall as he was about to make his farewell London appearance.   He was 77, five years older than Elton is now and not feeling too good.  To my alarm, though he was about to go on stage he was standing in the wings dressed only in his shirt and underwear.  At the last minute, a dresser appeared and helped ol’ blue eyes into his suit.  ‘It’s a new one,’ he explained to me.  ‘I wear a new suit for every show.  Those guys out there have paid a lot of money to see me.  I want to look my best.’

A few weeks ago, on 17 March, I hosted a charity fund-raiser starring the great Dame Judi Dench at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.  Because of the St Patrick’s Day parade taking place at the time, the streets around the theatre were closed.  Dame Judi, 84, was dropped off outside a strip club in Brewer Street, Soho.  As she stepped out of her car, half a mile from the theatre, the heavens opened and hailstones rained down on her.  ‘Isn’t this fun?’ she exclaimed as we huddled together under the umbrella and slipped and skidded our way towards the theatre.  After the show, when she had done a ninety-minute set without pause, there were scores of fans waiting at the stage door.  The management had a secret side entrance ready for her to make her escape.  ‘Oh no,’ said Dame Judi.  ‘They’ve paid a lot of money to be here.  I’ll go and meet them.’  And she did.  She stood in the drizzle, sneezing, and, for as long as it took, signing every autograph book that came her way.

 That’s the way to do it. 

Gyles Brandreth