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25 June 2024

Rocket man to rock capital

By Keith J Fernandez


The last time Sir Elton John was in the UAE, he extended his trip by another two days and went shopping in Dubai.

“That’s the beauty of having your own private jet,” says event organiser Padma Coram of the Abu Dhabi-based Event Solutions and the Dubai firm Talent Brokers. “He was due to fly to India the next day, but he delayed the flight and finally went only an hour before the India gig instead,” she says.

This time around, after he plays at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace on Tuesday, his world tour’s tight schedule puts paid to any such impulses: he performs the next day in Tenerife and will fly out after his show, Padma told Emirates Business. He uses his own jet this time too, while another will fly in his impressive sound system and 45-member entourage. They will stay at the Emirates Palace, with Elton himself in one of the hotel’s Palace Suites, which a spokesperson describes as having six rooms, including a master bedroom, two smaller bedrooms, a sitting room and a dining room, as well as a Jacuzzi and a rain shower.

But it’s all perfectly affordable for ostentatious Elton. The flamboyant singer, who has amassed a personal fortune estimated by last year’s Sunday Times’ Rich List at £225million (Dh1,628m), is the 319th richest British person – despite a lavish lifestyle that has earned him notoriety as a big spender. Elton himself says he shells out more than £1m (Dh7.2m) a year on clothes alone, and for his 50th birthday a decade ago, he threw a costume gala for 500 friends, himself turning up as Louis XIV in a $80,000 (Dh294,000) outfit and powdered wig topped by a silver ship shooting real smoke.

In a 2000 court case, where he sued his former manager John Reid and the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, he admitted to spending £30m (Dh216m) in just under two years – an average of £1.5m (Dh10.8m) a month, the High Court in London heard. Reports at the time said he spent more than £9.6m (Dh69m) on property and £293,000 (Dh2.1m) on flowers between January 1996 and September 1997. When quizzed in court, he simply said he liked flowers.

“I don’t think he values money for money, but he likes flowers and beautiful things,” says Padma, who is contractually bound not to reveal how much Elton charges for a concert and will only say he is one of the world’s top international acts.

But with two jets, 45 people, between six and eight musicians on stage, a sound to rival the recent Justin Timberlake show and special cameras, including a lipstick-sized one for his piano, concert goers dropping even Dh295 for the lowest-priced tickets will get their money’s worth.

Dutchman Peter Van Reijn, a 55-year-old designer, says he still remembers the last time Elton played the UAE: “It’s the finest show I’ve seen so far, the most professional, with the best sound. And it started punctually.”

A 13,000-strong crowd is expected at this year’s show, according to a spokesperson for the venue. In the audience will be a 10-year old American named Jeffery Hanson, from Kansas City, Kansas. In co-ordination with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Elton has flown the boy and his parents to the UAE to help fulfil his wish: to see Elton live in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

“We didn’t even find out until I insisted on knowing who these people were – Elton was even going to pay their accommodation. When I found out, he went up in my esteem 1,000 per cent,” says Padma.

Elton has also given her a pair of his show glasses to be auctioned for the foundation. “He’s very possessive about his glasses, but he has agreed to give one pair away for auction.” More details were not available at the time of going to press.

Padma adds despite all the stories of the pop legend’s diva-like behaviour, she has neither witnessed his tantrums nor seen his arrogant side.“He’s very nice, very quiet and he likes to be left alone,” she says. “That doesn’t mean he’s not moody or that he isn’t conscious of just who he is. He’s hysterically funny with a wicked sense of humour. But he is very conscious of his work ethic and does not party before the show.”

So the delegates of this week’s World Future Energy Summit, also staying at the Emirates Palace – including fellow party animal and Britain’s Duke of York, Prince Andrew – will just have to wait until afterwards to have a knees-up in their suites. That’s another reason to attend: Elton has been known to draw world leaders to his concerts, with former US President Bill Clinton among those at his historic 60th birthday concert last year.

That’s in keeping with what Elton has said: “People slag me off because I’m a larger-than-life character, and that’s part of my thing from the past. I’m not happy being in the limelight much. I don’t want to be at every party. I used to love it. I hate it now. My life’s changed.”

Prodigious talent

Born Reginald Dwight in Middlesex, United Kingdom, on March 25, 1947, he was a piano prodigy, but despite tickling the ivories at the age of three, Elton John’s father tried to steer him towards a career in banking. Young Reg persisted, inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and the Beatles, and by the 60s, his first band, Bluesology, was backing acts such as The Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle.

He met lyricist and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin in 1967 when both answered the same ad. They made 14 albums from 1970 to 1976. He was the hottest rock act in the world by then. Even as the success continued into the ’80s, his personal life was a challenge with marriage and divorce to sound engineer Renate Blauel, continued drug use and an operation to remove polyps from his vocal cords.

After years of trying to seek help – and suicide attempts – he checked into rehab in 1990. In 1991, he set up his pioneering charity, the Elton John Aids Foundation. He went down a new road in the 90s, with The Lion King musical that earned him Grammy and Oscar Awards.

In 1997 the death of his good friend Diana, Princess of Wales, unwittingly spawned the world’s largest-selling single: Candle in the Wind. He was knighted in 1998. In the new millennium, Elton took a three-year residency at Caesar’s Palace Colliseum, and with Taupin, put out two new albums: Peachtree Road, and the autobiographical The Captain & The Kid.

Gig guide - Elton in Abu Dhabi

WHEN IS IT? Tuesday 9pm, Emirates Palace.

CAN I STILL GET TICKETS? At the time of going to press, fewer than 3,000 tickets of a total of 13,000 are still to be sold, according to a spokesperson for the venue, and the rest are going really fast. They are priced Dh295, Dh595 and Dh950. Call: 800 4669.

HOW DO I GET THERE? ARE ANY ROADS GOING TO BE CLOSED? Well, it’s a straight road from around the UAE to Abu Dhabi. No road will be closed, according to Rania Kimaz, managing partner with organisers Event Solutions. “We’re working with the police to ensure all goes smoothly, especially traffic.”

WHAT ABOUT PARKING? “We expect 13,000 people, so we will have parking for all of them,” says Kimaz.

BUT I DON'T WANT TO DRIVE… The organisers aren’t laying on buses, but you could always rent one. Or go to www.dubaiexoticlimo.com and hire a stretch limo for an entrance worthy of a queen.

IS ANYONE ELSE GOING FROM DUBAI? Some 20 per cent of the total audience will be from the shiny emirate. Nearly 30 per cent more will fly in from as far as Egypt, the Levant and Europe, says Kimaz. 

WHAT TIME SHOULD I AIM TO GET THERE? Doors open at 5pm for a 9pm start. Kimaz says it’s best to enter before 7pm. “That way, you can get your parking, your wristbands, have a drink or a bite to eat, find your friends, and be ready for a great show.”

WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT WRISTBANDS? Good question. You can use your ticket to enter the venue, but then you need to trade it for a wristband to get to the actual concert arena. This also allows you to nip out for that all-important loo break.

SO WHAT REFRESHMENTS ARE ON OFFER? Shawarma, sandwiches, hamburgers… and drinks, of course.

AND MUSIC? A radio DJ will spin the classics after Elton performs. Nobody goes on before. The red carpet would be ruined.

WHAT ABOUT SECURITY? Don’t carry big bags and leave all bottles and cans at the door.

WHAT ABOUT THE WEATHER? WILL IT HOLD UP? Kimaz says they’ve been in touch with the Met Department, and last week’s rains should be a distant memory by Tuesday.

The number - 250m

The number of albums Elton John has sold in his 40-year career. He has sold more than 100 million singles, making him one of the world’s most successful artists. Candle in the Wind (1997) has sold more than 33m copies. He has recorded nearly 500 tracks on 32 albums.