Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

rocket man

Famed for his tantrums and feted for his music, Sir Elton John is pop royalty. But his memoirs are devoted more to his sobering crusade against Aids than the abandon of showbusiness, writes Joe O'Shea

The taming of The

Elton John has been many things over an extraordinary life; global star, outrageous diva and combination of Queen Mum and Agony Aunt of Pop. He has counselled troubled pop stars from Robbie Williams to George Michael and acted as Poet Laureate to a celebrity-obsessed culture in times of great public mourning.

The piano man has lived a crazy, madly lavish life; Elton has struggled with insecurity, drugs, his sexuality and yet has still emerged as a contented - though still cantankerous - married father of adopted son Zachary.

The celebrity spats alone - including his ongoing, incredibly bitchy catfight with Madonna - would be enough to fill a hefty book.

However, it is the British singer's work in the field of Aids awareness, treatment and research that he wants to focus on in his first autobiography, Love Is The Cure.

Cynical types may roll their eyes and say: "Here comes another incredibly pampered multimillionaire pop star who wants to tell us all about their great, selfless work for char-i-dee".

And if most celebs spent 215 pages of nattering on about their compassion for the poor and the afflicted, their commitment to ending Third World debt and memorable dinners with that nice Mr Mandela, then many of us would be reaching for the sick bag.

Elton John, thankfully, is not your simpering, bland-as-all modern-day celebrity.

And Love Is The Cure does not read as if it has been written and edited by a highly paid PR team with one eye on "The Brand".

This is Elton's voice, cantankerous, a bit bitchy, fun, smart, sentimental, honest, occasionally silly or mawkish, but mostly that of a man who has seen a lot, survived much and retains a sense of perspective.

And when it comes to the fight against Aids, Elton John is no mere figurehead.

Since it was founded in 1992, his Elton John Aids Foundation (EJAF) has raised nearly £200m to fight the Aids epidemic and help those affected by it. The foundation has a global reach, focusing on the marginalised and most at risk in 55 countries. The EJAF's work dwarfs that of many nations. It is one of the largest Aids grant-making organisations in the world.

Elton is very much involved in the day-to-day running of the foundation and makes no bones about how aggressive he is in pushing its aims, whether that is in the media, with politicians or against those he sees as enemies of the good fight.

But early on in his book, John admits that for a high-profile gay man, he was "appallingly absent from the early fight against Aids".

"I could have done so much more," he says, pointing to the early outspokenness of his friends Liz Taylor and Princess Diana.

"I sometimes joke that I am the acceptable face of homosexuality, a blokey, non-threatening type, someone your mother wouldn't mind having over for dinner," he says. "If I had been a more committed advocate for people living with HIV/Aids in the 1980s, maybe I could have diminished, just a bit, the stigma or the suffering of some poor gay man in San Francisco or Dallas or Dublin. Maybe not. But at least I could have tried.

"Instead, I spent the 1980s sinking ever deeper into drug addiction."

Elton details how it took the deaths of several close friends, and a relationship with the family of a young, American boy called Ryan White, who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, to get him into the fight.

He goes into great detail about the ongoing work of the EJAF, but mixes talk about global strategies with titbits of gossip (John recounts how, after he had sued a British newspaper that said he had relapsed into a serious eating disorder, he got a note from Princess Di saying: "Thank you on behalf of bulimics everywhere!").

John lambasts a wide range of politicians, right-wing pundits and the Catholic Church for hindering the fight and denying people compassion.

He talks about the last Pope's stance on condoms and safe sex, saying that he holds John Paul II "personally responsible for all those who died as a result of heeding his advice" and accusing the Catholic Church of following a dogma that "resulted in genocide".

"For as much love and adoration as there is in the world for Pope John Paul II, I will never forgive him for this."

The musician goes into the current fight against Aids in great detail, detailing the work that is going on around the world and the obstacles that still stand in the way.

Those hoping for a bitchy, tell-all showbiz confessional will be disappointed. But Elton John's grasp of the problems that are still faced by millions of people worldwide and his compassion and clear-headed thinking about the way forward are impressive.

And all profits from the sale of the book go directly towards his foundation.

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