Biografia Elton John

Biografia Elton John
A trajetória da carreira de Elton John em capitulos

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domingo, 17 de abril de 2011

David Furnish wed Sir Elton John An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband

In December, David Furnish wed Sir Elton John. How a nice boy from Scarborough became one half of the most famous gay couple in the world By Ellen Himelfarb

Image credit: Odd Anderson/AFP/Getty Images
The dinner party last May was as traditional an affair as any at the Windsor home of Elton John and David Furnish could be. The meal was served at their simple dark walnut dining table. When the dishes were cleared, Elton pulled out a small black-velvet box. Getting down on one knee, he quietly asked the question, “Will you be my life partner?” “But I already am,” Furnish responded, shocked. After all, they have been partners since meeting nearly 12 years ago. Then, eyeing the white-gold and diamond-studded eternity band, he gave his answer. Looking on—and tearing up—were the dinner guests, chosen by Elton to witness the spectacle: Furnish’s mother and father, and Jake Shears and Scott “Babydaddy” Hoffman from the gay-glam band Scissor Sisters.

Six months later, 600 invitations had been sent out for the December 21st nuptials of Elton John and Toronto native David Furnish. And most of the reply cards—from the likes of Sting, Sharon Stone, Sir Michael Caine, Donatella Versace and Joss Stone—had come back in the affirmative. Tailors were consulted (Dior’s Hedi Slimane for Furnish, Yohji Yamamoto for Elton) and the reception venue chosen (Woodside, the couple’s Windsor estate). But, frighteningly for a wedding (or civil union, in British law) of this size and profile—more talked about than that other Windsor wedding (Charles and Camilla’s) last spring—the planning had barely begun.
With only four weeks to go before the big day, some brides would panic and call in the pros. But Furnish, with his easy Canadian smile, bespoke suit and a Rolodex even the Queen would envy, is a pro. He is one half of possibly the most successful event-organizing team the U.K. has ever seen. Together, he and Elton have thrown seven consecutive White Tie & Tiara Balls, raising funds for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The most recent ball, last July, featured zebras and giraffes; performance artists in gorilla suits; a celebrity bonanza that included a scandal-making Moss, a supreme Ross and two Beckhams; and an auction that raised £930,000 ($2.14 million). It was all, rather seriously, in a day’s work for Furnish, who’s become such a force in the top echelons of society that even Bill Clinton sent him a recorded message of congratulations before the wedding.
“That David was gay didn't faze them. But Elton John? My parents had to wrap their heads around that.”
Though he’s still able to, as he says, buy a sandwich without stopping traffic, Furnish attracts media curiosity with every public move. Like the time he and Elton performed an intervention on a wired Robbie Williams in Windsor. Or when he cornered Boy George in a bathroom stall after the singer publicly slagged Elton for recording a duet with the popular boy band Blue to help save his waning career. It is a reality about which Furnish is not always enthusiastic. “The Daily Mail has it out for us,” says Furnish. “Seven weeks before the wedding, it said that we were planning on having Victoria Beckham and Elizabeth Hurley as bridesmaids—and we hadn’t even planned it.” (While Beckham was reported to have told Roberto Cavalli, designer of the scarlet dress she wore to the wedding reception, that she was “the centre of attention all night,” neither she nor Hurley stood up for the couple.)

Furnish’s defence reflex is deployed reluctantly. At 43, the younger of the two by 15 years, he feels compelled to protect the safe environment Elton has built for himself over the last four decades. He’s a rare dove in the wicked food chain of the entertainment biz, with a dashing manner and good looks that, I’m told, he has come by honestly. But though he may seem to some like a gatecrasher, Furnish has made the rounds like a seasoned veteran. He is the musical inspiration, the deciding vote and, since their civil union, heir to Elton’s estimated £180 million ($382 million) fortune. In terms of his influence, David Furnish is not to be underestimated.
Not every day is as photogenic as Elton’s 50th birthday was in 1997—when he wore a Sun King wig so tall they had to take a moving van to the venue—but they are certainly sun kissed, designer dressed and expensively highlighted. When I arrive at the couple’s London home on a typical Wednesday, I feel like Little Orphan Annie alighting at the Warbucks mansion, swarmed by staff (though Furnish, in top-to-toe Dior, takes my coat) and offered a drink more times than I can record. One housekeeper fluffs the sofa cushions at 15-minute intervals. Two decorators hang a new series of artworks by the entrance to the kitchen. Dennis, Elton and Furnish’s 10-year-old border terrier, wanders in an elderly stupor. Couriers bring in packages. There’s even a child crying somewhere (a housekeeper’s daughter). Elton isn’t home—he’s just left New York, where he was performing at the Country Music Awards with Dolly Parton, for their mansion in Atlanta—but you can see his touch in a Victorian-era taxidermic cat housed in a bell jar (“Sharon Osbourne named her Puss,” says Furnish), in the oversized glass corncob by master craftsman William Morris, and in the note he’s left for his fiancé on the kitchen counter (“Dawling, I miss you so much—hurry up!”). Not a piano in sight, however: Elton hates playing outside the studio.

Image credit: Jonathan Worth
Theirs, rather incongruously, is the only modern residence on a small road of Victorian townhouses. It’s finished in granite, cement, ebony-stained wood and glass, decorated with contemporary but not flamboyant furnishings, walls painted variously in terra cotta or navy, black or white, depending on the artwork. In view of the dining table are, perhaps, the most controversial pieces in the couple’s art collection: a series of three David LaChapelle photographs titled Jesus Is My Home Boy; a two-foot fibreglass statue with a penis in place of a nose by Jake and Dinos Chapman; and a 12-foot-long interpretation of the Last Supper called Wrecked by photographer Sam Taylor-Wood. “Have you seen the Crying Men?” Furnish squeals, as he leads me around a corner to the sunken screening room, where the couple has hung Taylor-Wood’s photo portraits of such actors as Paul Newman, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, each in tears. The entire series of 28 is crammed onto the walls, with a few strays down the hall. Clearly Taylor-Wood is the artist du jour in this household, though Furnish refuses to name a favourite, lest, presumably, he offend one of the dozens of artists and dealers he has supported and befriended since buying art ceased to be a fantasy for him 12 years ago (one of Furnish’s wish lists, published in an issue of Sotheby’s New Collectors magazine, was appraised at more than a million pounds). He concedes that he and Elton have collected about 20 Taylor-Woods, excluding the Crying Men. She is in good company, among the Robert Mapplethorpe, the Franz Kline and the Picasso ceramic. And, if the guest book is to be believed, she is good company: a recent dinner, inscribed in the book, included Taylor-Wood and her husband (Brit art impresario Jay Jopling), Elizabeth Hurley and her fiancé Arun Nayer (they ate scallop salad, artichokes and broad beans, chicken with polenta and raspberry sorbet).

The guest book doesn’t begin and end with Taylor-Wood, of course. A steady parade of notables sashays through London—as well as Windsor, Atlanta, the villa in Nice and the apartment in Venice next door to the Hotel Cipriani—and they are firmly la crème: Hugh Grant and socialite Jemima Khan, Victoria and David Beckham, Canadian cobbler Patrick Cox, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, former Chloé designer Phoebe Philo. And that’s just in the first three pages. Madonna has been known to drop by Windsor for tea. Patrick Cox, who met Furnish in their minor-league Toronto days, when Cox ran the door at the club Voodoo, recalls the time they spotted Farrah Fawcett at a pre-Oscars party. “We were both crazy about her when we were younger. So I took it upon myself to invite her down to Elton and David’s house in Nice for the weekend,” says Cox. “It was amazing.” A few years ago, The Observer voted Elton and Furnish the Top Couple to Pair Up With on a Saturday Night: “In Celebrityland, no invitation is more highly valued.” The Daily Telegraph called Furnish the “leading light of the A-gay scene.”

To be sure, these “great friends” were snared with the Elton net. But Furnish has cultivated his relationships lovingly and shrewdly, seeking out company during the months Elton is on the road and offering flattery in the Q&As and features he does for Interview and GQ. As Celia Walden, editor of the Daily Telegraph’s gossip pages, says, “Furnish’s relationship with Elton has afforded him huge opportunities, but he doesn’t seem to have exploited them in a way that could be described as unbecoming. He doesn’t appear to have betrayed any confidences with the high-profile connections he has made. He knows his limits—without Elton on his arm, the media would barely bat an eyelid.” In return for his prudence, Furnish was named godfather of Damien Hurley, the son of Elizabeth, who told me: “[David is] definitely one of my best friends. After I had my baby, I stayed with him and Elton at their house in the country for a few months. It was a stressful period and David was very supportive and kind.” He’s also been anointed godfather of the Beckhams’ two eldest sons, Brooklyn and Romeo. Last year, after the society magazine Tatler ran an interview with Rebecca Loos, David Beckham’s alleged extramarital fling, accompanied by a titillating photo of her licking a chocolate éclair, Furnish resigned as a contributing editor.
That incident, unsurprisingly, made its rounds among the British media. Indeed, to reprint even half of the tittle-tattle to emerge from the couple’s manoeuvrings would mean retaining all the libel lawyers in Britain. It is relentless and catty.

To the average reader—and the Daily Mail has 2.5 million—this perennial coverage is just the antidote to the cloud cover that blankets the country two-thirds of the year. Kathryn Knight, a feature writer for the Mail, concedes that she enjoys “skewering” the couple. “Without a doubt, David and Elton are a great story. They bring glam even to showbiz with their Cristal champagne and the umpteen Louis Vuitton suitcases they take on a mini-break. And there’s something faintly ludicrous about David, with his Day-Glo tan, his effete manner, his designer clothes.” It’s not surprising that they appear in the paper more often than the country’s chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, Saddam Hussein or Madonna.
The invitation came via a friend of Elton’s. “He later told me,” says Furnish, “that, at that point in his life, anyone he’d ever known in London had either died or moved away, so he was trying to reach out to new people.” Furnish had little interest in what he imagined might be a snotty industry party, so, even though Elton had sent a car to pick up the other guests, he drove his own for a quick escape.

That Furnish would wind up in entertainment seems inevitable given his current standing as one half of, in his own words, “probably the most famous gay couple in the world,” and his extended family of actors, pop stars, models and artists. They had been together nary a year when Elton’s 10-months-on, two-months-off touring schedule forced Furnish to rethink his trajectory at Ogilvy & Mather and join Elton in the beau monde.

“Elton was supportive of my work, but given his sphere of life, he just doesn’t understand what people do in an office all day,” says Furnish. “He’d call me at work and wonder why I couldn’t come to the phone right now. I remember working on a global TV campaign—it was a horrifying experience—and being at Elton’s sorting everything out. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, and the campaign was going poorly. Elton had been observing all this and asked me to tell him when the ad would be on so we could watch it together. So we sat down in front of the TV one day, on came the ad and when it ended he turned to me and said, ‘That’s it?’ He knew I was capable of more, and that factored into my thinking. I realized that the realm of advertising is so anathema to where my passions lie.” When Elton was approached by the British broadcaster Melvyn Bragg with the idea of a documentary about his life during a world tour, he recommended Furnish to direct. The result, Tantrums & Tiaras, released in 1995, was a mesmerizing portrait of a spoiled diva at a crossroads in his career: sober, approaching middle age, with a truckload of hits behind him. Most remarkable was the director’s entrée and his genuine curiosity, at a time in their relationship when the two were still getting to know each other. Though Furnish spent most of the documentary off-screen, an occasional disembodied voice, he is deliciously omnipresent. In one scene, he seems to be sincerely incredulous as Elton walks him through the dressing room of their hotel suite in France, identifying the racks of jackets, shelves of shoes and six drawers of colour-coded eyeglasses. Ditto in a scene at the 1994 Academy Awards, when Elton rises to accept his Oscar for the Lion King theme and gives Furnish what is best described as an affectionate pat but is nonetheless the first public display of their relationship.
Over the past dozen years, Furnish has clearly grown into his surroundings, though there are moments—when his voice rises an octave as he speaks of Elton’s romantic streak, for instance—that you know that he’s aware just how lucky he is. Some would unkindly agree, contending that the couple strikes the perfect celebrity balance: Elton has the power and the money, and David is the looker on his arm. Perhaps. Yet there is a deep admiration for Furnish and what he’s brought to Elton John’s persona. “By the early ’90s,” says Celia Walden, “Elton was a washed-up rock star with a visibly messy cocaine habit. Furnish has not only given him consistency and respectability but, after performing ‘Candle in the Wind’ at Diana, Princess of Wales’s funeral, Elton had worked his way into the nation’s affections and his knighthood was imminent. Since then, he and Furnish have become possibly the number one power couple in the world.” The Furnish association represented legitimacy, wholesomeness and purpose: Elton finally owned up to his homosexuality (after a brief marriage to Renate Blauel in the 1980s) with a milk-fed adman no less, who shared his passion for philanthropy, hard work and courting royalty.
Life is no less of a circus now than it was back in 1993, when Elton’s parents arrived at their Windsor estate to meet Furnish for the first time and Michael Jackson invited himself over for lunch. Last spring, Furnish was flabbergasted when he was asked to attend Prince Charles and Camilla’s wedding despite the fact that Elton had already sent his regrets. He may have once doubted his own notoriety, but those feelings must surely be history today. The photos from “Pink Wednesday,” their civil union, made the front pages of almost every major daily; their shiny black morning suits, despite being uncharacteristically demure, were deconstructed with a zeal normally reserved for Oscar gowns. Running the risk of overexposure after the reception (which featured pink champagne, caviar and serenades by the Pet Shop Boys, Jamie Cullen and Bryan Adams), the couple disappeared to Venice.
When the first sightings were reported, it became obvious they’d never get away.

Image credit: Jonathan Worth
If life is at all surreal to Furnish—and he does refer to the Madonna visits as “pinch-me moments”—it is because it wasn’t always thus. Like Elton, who grew up in the town of Pinner, just north of London, Furnish is a suburban boy. His father, Jack, a former director of Bristol-Myers, a consumer-goods company, and his mother, Gladys, bought their five-bedroom family home in the Bridlewood area of Scarborough in 1970, and still live there today. Gladys left a job at Bell to stay home with her three boys (John, the eldest, is now 46; Peter is 35) and would greet them with peanut butter sandwiches at lunchtime. But David always had a keen eye for what was going on beyond Scarborough, wearing Ray-Bans, for instance, long before Tom Cruise wore them in Risky Business. He devoured fashionable books, magazines and music; fittingly, he claims the first album he ever bought was Elton’s 1974 Caribou. In the mid-’70s, Jack and Gladys sent David to Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate in Agincourt, where he met Eric McCormack, now of Will & Grace fame, and Damon D’Oliveira, producer of Clement Virgo’s films Rude and Lie With Me. “For a suburban high school without a drama program, it was remarkable. I think the movie Fame had a big influence on us,” says D’Oliveira. “All us nerds, outcasts and would-be fags congregated together.” In Grade 12, the class lobbied for a new graduate-year drama program. “We were groundbreakers,” says D’Oliveira. “Even at the age of 16.”
He recalls Furnish being “very fashion- forward. He was probably the best-dressed kid in our year. I remember him coming to school with a wicked Vidal Sassoon haircut, and he discovered the Polo shirt a year before anyone else. He always had a sense of what was about to break—music, culture, fashion, videos, film.”

“Some contend, unkindly, that the couple strikes the perfect celebrity balance: Elton has the money and David has the looks.”

“I would have really wanted to go down that route and pursue arts right from the start—in another life,” says Furnish. “But business degrees were de rigueur in the mid-’80s…” He enrolled in the business program at Western, the first in his family to attend university, and was recruited by the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather right after graduating. It may have been obvious to those admiring his Vidal Sassoon haircut that he would not be taking after his traditional father, but for Furnish it was never a certainty. As a young advertising executive, he impressed the board. He even had a girlfriend. But his life back then was, he now acknowledges, a charade. He had been hiding his sexuality from his friends and family while making clandestine visits to gay clubs like Chaps at Yonge and Wellesley. Four years in at O&M, he asked for a transfer to London.
It was December 1989 when Furnish arrived in his first London flat—the new decade was more than a symbolic start. He had slowly begun to emerge from the closet, just in time to savour London’s heyday and its great gay awakening. D’Oliveira says Furnish just “took off in every sense. He had this intuition about London and went there just at the time of the revolution,” he says.
At the London office of O&M, Furnish zealously tackled his job like he tackled his new identity. Forgoing the sexy accounts like Guinness, which made the agency a star in the U.K., he chose to focus on new business. He built up the company’s pharmaceuticals division (helping to launch the country’s first hepatitis-A vaccine) and brought in millions in business from the private health insurer BUPA. He became O&M’s youngest board member, but his mind wasn’t always on work. “I thought about my sexuality every 10 minutes,” he says. “I’d go into a business meeting thinking, ‘OK, will these people think I’m gay? And will they hold it against me?’”
In the summer of 1993, Furnish went off on holiday to Greece by himself. “I met loads of people, and it turned out to be a pretty hedonistic summer—being there opened up something in me. I realized that I should be looking after some other sides of David.” On October 25, he celebrated his 31st birthday. Six days later, he was eating dinner in Windsor with Elton John.

Elton wasn’t at all what he expected. “He answered the door himself in a sober beige tracksuit—though he was wearing studded Versace cowboy boots,” says Furnish. He expected to meet someone “self-obsessed” but encountered the opposite. “I was taken aback. We had so many things in common—a love of music, film, photography. I was drawn to him, there was a little tug, but it wasn’t love at first sight.” After dinner, as Furnish was getting ready to leave for a Halloween party in London, Elton asked for his telephone number.
Elton John declined to be interviewed for this article, but in an interview with Amy Raphael of The Observer in 2004, he was quoted as saying, “I was trying to work out the earliest I could ring on a Sunday morning. At 11 a.m. I plucked up the courage to make the call. We had dinner in London that night and talked some more. David was the first person I’d been with who had his own apartment, his own job, his own circle of friends. He also wasn’t afraid to tell me what he thought.” The apartment was in the gritty neighbourhood of Clapham, a place Elton would never visit, and dinner that evening was delivered from the venerable Mr. Chow to Elton’s London pied-à-terre. By spring, they were living together.
In Furnish’s view, the initial attraction was a combination of a chemical phenomenon, his shyness (“He says he liked the quietness in me—I wasn’t a burst-through-the-door kind of guy”) and the fact that “Elton said I was better dressed than the others” the night they met. Over the next two months, Furnish and Elton dated in secret. “We were careful in public,” says Furnish. “Elton was very protective of our relationship. We had nice dinners at home or in quiet restaurants, definitely not The Ivy, but I knew it was only a matter of time before the press would cotton on.”
At Christmastime, Furnish returned alone to Scarborough, where he faced the unthinkable task of telling his family that a) he was gay, and b) he was dating Elton John.
His parents led such a “normal” life, says Furnish, “that when I went to university I realized how abnormal it was. All I’d ever wanted was a relationship like my parents had, because they’d been such a positive influence. Wary of his father, who was still grappling with his son’s abandonment of a stable Toronto life, Furnish decided to test out the news on his brothers first. “Peter, my younger brother, took it extremely well,” says Furnish. John, married (now divorced) and, by all accounts, comparatively conservative, wasn’t as supportive. “All he had to say was ‘Dad won’t be able to handle it.’” “David had already mentioned having had dinner at Elton John’s house,” says Peter, an executive at Virgin Mobile. “Then I picked him up from the airport and saw this luggage come out with the monogram E.H.J. on it. On the highway, he was rubbing his legs nervously and, as we drove, he told me. I thought it was great news.”

Returning from Boxing Day shopping with Peter, Furnish reckoned he was running out of moments. Peter excused himself from the living room and went upstairs to listen through the banister. Then, says David, “a dam burst and I just started crying. I hadn’t cried for years—there had been so much self-loathing, I’d just shut down.” His parents, in contrast, sat on the sofa grinning. They were remembering those walls going up, the estrangement they felt when their son moved to London, the superficial long-distance phone conversations. And the relief that it was all over. Weeping, David’s mother told him, “It’s fine—we can be a family again.”
“My parents were great about it,” says Peter. “That David was gay didn’t faze them. But Elton John? They had to wrap their head around that.”

Last fall, Furnish was back in Toronto for two and a half months, his longest stopover since leaving 16 years ago. It wasn’t strictly a family visit; Furnish would sooner fly his family to England, Vegas or New York for reunions. Although he made the rounds—to Peter’s place in the Beach, to his 43rd birthday bash at the Spoke Club and to his parents’ 50th anniversary party at the Windsor Arms Hotel—he spent most of his time in a production trailer on the set of It’s a Boy Girl Thing, a body-swap film à la Freaky Friday that his and Elton’s company Rocket Pictures is producing. Being back for so long was “a really cathartic thing. Returning to this place, with all its memories, was not nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. We were filming in a suburban high school, and there were posters painted with pink triangles hanging in the corridors. It was so satisfying to see how much has changed.”

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