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dal DAILY MIRROR   settembre 2006

Shows like The X Factor are so cruel..my heart bleeds for the poor winners

By Peter Willis

OH no, it looks like Sir Elton John is about to blow his top again... Despite being good friends with Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne, and the contestants often singing his songs, mentioning Britain's biggest music show is a sure way to make the pop legend fume.

"I read somewhere I was supposed to be taking part in that... rubbish!" he says. "The X Factor is a cruise ship show. I've got nothing against the people who go on - good luck to them. But I hate how they're treated.

"They're given an awful sense of stardom and pressure straight away but they're only successful until the next series. The record companies sell a lot of records and those people are gone. It's f***ing cruel."

Shaking his head, Elton adds: "Look at Michelle McManus. My heart bleeds for her. She won Pop Idol, she's a really good singer and now she's forgotten.

"Will Young is the best thing that's ever come out of those shows. He has proved himself. But it's no way to find talent. I want to hear new songwriters, people who are creating their own stuff, not just singing my songs every week."

As ever, Elton doesn't pull any punches. But, as one of the world's most successful rock stars, celebrating almost 40 years at the top and selling 300 million records, he has done more than most to propel our next generation of talents.

And even at 59, his fingerprints are still all over the charts - from Scissor Sisters and James Blunt to plans to work with hip-hop stars such as 50 Cent. "Well, I've got the bling," Elton jokes. As we meet, the Scissor Sisters have just hit No.1 with I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - on which they collaborated with Elton - and next week he expects their new album to beat his own to the top of the charts. And that's despite The Captain And The Kid - out on Monday - being hailed as the star's finest record for years.

But whatever happens, Elton won't mind too much. "It's great to have things like the Scissor Sisters as a side project, so that, in some shape or form, I'm having a No.1 every year.

"And as I've actually got two tracks on their album, if mine doesn't go to No.1, they'll take care of me, thank you very much."

He agreed to work with the New York-based band after seeing them play two years ago. "I just knew they were going to be huge," he says. "I asked them to do a couple of shows with me and we became friends. We wrote about eight songs together, first in Las Vegas, and then I went to see them in New York and within half an hour we had a song done."

Then there's James Blunt. After signing him to his management company, Elton helped mastermind his assault on the music world. He still advises him regularly and each day he checks Blunt's worldwide sales. "I knew there was something there from day one," beams Elton. "We nurtured him, made sure he had the right producer and he worked so hard, too. His only problem, and it's a nice problem, is that You're Beautiful was played so much that there was a kind of backlash."

ELTON reveals that Blunt was shocked and hurt by it. "But that's the society we live in - a soundbite society. James gets very hurt by it. But I've told him: 'Look at the massive album sales, you've been No.1 in America, all the people at the concerts...'"

Of course, Elton, who last year tied the knot with his long-term lover David Furnish, 43, has never been shy about speaking his mind, though recently he seems to have mellowed a little.

He had a well-publicised spat with Robbie Williams but it seems peace has broken out. "We got a wedding present from Robbie which was very kind. He's so talented - outside America he's the biggest live act in the world.

But I don't think he should keep bearing grudges. He should just move on from all these problems he's got with Gary Barlow. Life's too short." And he's also back on track with Madonna, who he attacked for charging sky-high ticket prices for her miming.

For a moment, he agrees that £150 tickets for her recent tour were overpriced. "Mine are expensive but I would never dream of charging that kind of money. It's greed..." Then, he reins himself in and adds: "...but I don't want to knock Madonna - we've made our peace."

She donated £25,000 to his Elton John Aids Foundation, which has raised £120million, while he sent back an apology.

"It was my fault. Jonathan Ross was winding me up at an awards lunch and, like a fool, I took the bait. She found my comments very hurtful and they probably were. Do I regret saying it and hurting her feelings? Yes."

Elton is surprisingly contrite but he can still cause a raised eyebrow or two.... even in his home in London's classy Holland Park. There's no hint of chintz within his whitewashed Georgian terrace. Instead it's a fresh, modern, minimalist space that feels like a trendy art gallery. On one wall is a Tracy Emin painting emblazoned with "Action C***" - he admits it's his favourite word - and nearby there's a stuffed cat in a glass case.

Elton loves to provoke a response - and people have always reacted strongly to him and his music. As his cocker spaniels Marilyn and Arthur bound on and off the sofas, Elton talks with pride about his new album.

The Captain And The Kid is an overdue sequel to 1975's Captain Fantastic..., which reflects on his rollercoaster career, from the heights of his Pinball Wizard platform boots to the depths of his battles against cocaine, booze, bulimia and loneliness.

His 44th album, it has been praised by the critics - yet he and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin recorded it in just 20 days.

"I did it live - a bit like the old days," he says. "I love it. It's one of my best-ever albums. It's about struggling with being successful - with some of the things you've done and the places you've played. Without that, you wouldn't be able to cope with what happens to you."

In his Versace sunglasses - he won't even remove them for our pictures - Elton is the most relaxed I've ever seen him.

He says he has never been happier since marrying David, his partner of 13 years, 10 months ago. But he winces when I mention the "M" word. "I hate people saying I'm married. Marriage is a heterosexual term for men and women. We've got a civil partnership. It's not a religious ceremony and I didn't want to get married. I just wanted a lifetime commitment."

After their wedding in Windsor, they joined scores of friends and family for a lavish £1million reception at his nearby mansion. "The best thing about the whole day was the great British public."

HE adds: "I thought I might get the odd flour bomb but there was no negative reaction. It was the nicest day of my life, with all the people I love most."

And has getting hitched made any difference? "I didn't think I'd feel different but I do. I felt secure. It was the icing on the cake.

"Now there's nothing else I could want in life - except to write the best song I've ever written. I will never do it but that's what keeps me going. Music has been the whole thing in my life since I was a child." Even now, after so much success, the star's driving force is a fear of failure. Just four months ago, he and Taupin were dealt a blow when their £8million vampire musical, Lestat, bombed on Broadway after just 39 performances.

"You just can't guarantee anything in this life. We were hurt like hell. But you know what? You pick yourself up and you get on with it - it's not the f***ing end of the world.

"If I could have done it all over again, I'd have done it differently. But you can't. You just have to do something else. So we wrote Captain...

"We're all going to get knocked sometime. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you take it the right way and use it the right way. For me, a setback is a great impetus to do better.

"I remember after Michael Jackson released Thriller he said his next album would be even better. But you can't expect to be No.1 for ever. It'll happen to James Blunt and it's something I warn anyone coming into the business about. It's all about survival."

And if anyone knows about that, it's Elton.


ON Elton John's new album, he and songwriter partner Bernie Taupin reflect on their incredible careers and, particularly on one moving track Blues Never Fade Away, the close friends they've lost over the years.

The list reads like a who's who of some of the 20th century's greatest icons and talents - Princess Diana, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Gianni Versace, Andy Warhol, Marc Bolan.

"Yes, I've lost many friends," Elton nods sadly. "To Aids, cancer and even murder. I mean, two of my best friends were killed on their doorsteps. I still miss Gianni Versace and John Lennon."

In Blues Never Fade Away, Elton questions how it could have happened.

"It just seems so unfair that so many good people die prematurely, yet there are so many bastards still living," he says.

"It's extraordinary. If you had said to me 25 years ago that I would have lost so many friends, I would have said that it was an impossibility."

As we talk, it seems clear that even Elton can't believe he has survived the many excesses of show-business to be on the cusp of his seventh decade.
In fact, as far as his health is concerned, he feels better now than ever, despite having a pacemaker fitted several years ago.

"I live my life to the full these days because you don't know what the future holds. I live day to day, work hard and enjoy life. That's all I can do. I certainly won't be retiring soon. There's too much to live for."

One landmark on the horizon is his 60th birthday in March - and the star is already planning a fancy dress extravaganza, though it may not measure up to his 50th, when he queened it up as Louis XIV in a towering white wig.

"Yes, I'll have a fancy dress party but I can assure you I'm not going to be wearing that f***ing hair again. It was so high, David and I had to go to the party in the back of a furniture van.
"It went the wrong way and I was stuck in traffic, rocking around in the back of this f***ing van, for more than an hour. It's fair to say that when we finally arrived, I wasn't happy."