“I’m different from David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury, Marc Bolan, Roger Daltrey – they can all move around the stage with a microphone. I’m stuck at a 9ft piano!” – Sir Elton John
The nation chooses its favourite Elton John song in a new 90-minute special that goes in-depth with the pop superstar, paying tribute to the singer-songwriter’s 50 years in the music business, and marking the year of his 70th birthday.
The show features contributions from some of Sir Elton’s closest friends and best-known fans – including Ed Sheeran, Sting, Annie Lennox, Sir Rod Stewart, Lionel Richie, Chris Martin, Billy Joel, Kiki Dee, Rag’n’Bone Man, James Corden, Lulu, Stephen Fry, Boy George, Dionne Warwick, Sharon Osbourne and Rob Lowe.
In a candid new interview with David Walliams, Sir Elton reveals how his classic songs came about, many stemming from his incredible five-decade partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin, with an exclusive ITV poll counting down to the track voted the nation’s favourite Elton John song.
The singer-songwriter’s full repertoire of pop and rock classics is explored – including hits like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting), Rocket Man, Candle In The Wind, Your Song, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, Crocodile Rock, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, I’m Still Standing, Philadelphia Freedom and Are You Ready For Love.
Among the topics discussed during the countdown are Sir Elton’s famously outrageous outfits, which he maintains were inspired by a reaction to his relatively conservative upbringing in Pinner, Middlesex.
He says: “As a kid I wasn’t really allowed to wear pointy-toe shoes or chisels, so in my 20s I exploded… The freedom to do the clothes was just fabulous, because you know, I’m not the normal rock ’n’ roll looking star, I’m not svelte, I’m not you know leopardskin outfit like Rod [Stewart] who looks so fabulous with the hair and everything, so I had to do my own thing.”
One key element to his success is Sir Elton’s five-decade strong relationship with lyricist Bernie Taupin. Bernie tells the programme: “It certainly doesn’t feel like 50 years. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have our highs and our lows, but it’s been one hell of a ride.”
What resonates with many people is the connection Sir Elton’s music makes with their lives, explains Billy Joel. He says: “‘Don’t give me none of your aggravation, tired of your discipline, Saturday night’s alright for fightin’, get a little action in.’ I mean, I’ve gone out on Saturday nights feeling exactly like that.”
Another eye-catching element of the singer’s personality, particularly during the 1970s, was Sir Elton’s onstage showmanship – involving acrobatic manoeuvres around his piano. Film director Cameron Crowe says: “Here’s a guy that exploded on stage. He took that instrument that wasn’t supposed to be sexy, and made it sexy. There are pictures of him from the era where he looks literally airborne. It’s like, wow.”
Sir Elton talks to David Walliams about the inspiration behind setting up the Elton John Aids Foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of pounds. He says: “During the ‘80s a lot of my friends, lots of my friends died of AIDS and I really didn’t get my fingers and my hands dirty, as a gay man, and I can’t really think why I didn’t, probably too much of a drug addict or too self-obsessed, I was very ashamed of that.”
He also talks about his duets – in particular Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me with George Michael – paying tribute to the singer, who died last year. He says: “As soon as I start singing the song [live], a picture of George goes up, and that will be the case for as many times as we play that song. I loved him so much as an artist and a friend, and as a human being, he made that song something else.”
Both Ed Sheeran and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man talk about how his influence has helped their music careers. Ed Sheeran says: “Elton definitely was part of my influence in becoming a musician, especially in songwriting. You know like his championing of me or [Lady] Gaga, he’s been part of so many people’s journeys.”
Sir Rod Stewart also reflects on the music legend’s ability to stay current across the decades. He says: “You’re sort of fair game if you’re in the public eye. But I think both of us now are revered by the press and loved by the British public because we’re both a couple of queens… I mean knights.”