Some people are blessed with the kind of face that looks good with a bald head. I am not one of those people. Without hair, I bear a disturbing resemblance to the cartoon character Shrek.
My hair started thinning a little in the early Seventies, but a bad dye job in New York suddenly caused the stuff to stage a mass walkout. By 1976, there was hardly anything left on top. I hated how I looked. But salvation was apparently at hand: I was directed to a man called Pierre Putot in Paris, supposedly a great pioneer in the art of hair transplants.
Undergo a simple procedure, I was told, and I’d be leaving his clinic a changed man.
It didn’t quite work out like that. For one thing, it wasn’t a simple procedure at all. It went on for five hours.
I had it done twice, and both times it hurt like hell.
Thinning: Elton in the Seventies
The technique used had the unappetising name of ‘strip-harvesting’. With a scalpel, Putot took strips of hair from the back of my head and then attached them to the crown.
The sound of the hair being removed was disconcertingly like a rabbit gnawing its way through a carrot.
After the first procedure, I left the clinic reeling in agony, lost my footing as I tried to get into the back of a waiting car and hit the top of my head on the door frame.
It was at that moment I discovered however much a hair transplant hurts, it’s a mere pinprick compared with the sensation of hitting your head immediately after having a hair transplant.
To make matters worse, the transplant just didn’t work. I’m not sure why.
Me: Elton John Official Autobiography by Elton John is published by Macmillan on October 15, £25
Perhaps it had something to do with the amount of drugs I was taking. Or perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the one thing they told me I mustn’t do in the weeks after the procedure was wear a hat — advice I chose to ignore completely on the grounds that, without a hat, I now looked like something that turns up towards the end of a horror film and starts strip-harvesting teenage campers with an axe.
My head was covered in scabs and weird craters. I suppose I could have split the difference and worn something lighter than a hat, like a bandana, but appearing in public dressed as a fortune-teller seemed a look too far. Even for me.
The paparazzi became obsessed with getting a photo of me without a hat on, but they were out of luck. I kept a hat on in public more or less permanently for the next decade.
In the late Eighties, just before I got sober, I decided I’d had enough and dyed what was left of my hair platinum blond. Then after I got sober, I had a weave done, where they take what’s left of your hair and attach more hair to it.
I debuted my new look at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. A writer noted that I looked like I had a dead squirrel on my head. I was forced to concede he had a point.
Eventually, I gave up and got a hairpiece, made by the people who make wigs for Hollywood movies.
It’s the strangest thing. For years, people were absolutely obsessed with my hair, or lack of it. Then I started wearing a wig and hardly anyone’s mentioned it since.
Elton John wore a hat for ten years to hide hair loss
That said, a wig is not without drawbacks. A few years back, I was sleeping at my home in Atlanta, [Georgia] when I woke up to the sound of voices. I was convinced we were being burgled.
I pulled on my dressing-gown and crept out. Then halfway down the corridor, I realised I didn’t have my hairpiece on.
So I rushed back to the bedroom, reasoning that if I was going to be bludgeoned to death by intruders, at least I wouldn’t be bald when it happened.
Wig on, I went into the kitchen to find two workmen who’d been sent up to fix a leak. They apologised profusely for waking me up.
I couldn’t help noticing they were staring at me. Perhaps they were starstruck, I thought, as I headed back to bed.
Stopping off in the bathroom, I realised that the workmen weren’t bedazzled by the sight of the legendary Elton John. They were bedazzled by the sight of the legendary Elton John with his wig on back to front.
I looked completely ridiculous, like Frankie Howerd after a heavy night in a strong wind.
Elton Uncensored: ‘Tina’s tantrum? it was simply the best’
The idea of doing a joint tour with Tina Turner in 1997 was a nice idea that quickly turned into a disaster.
While it was at the planning stage, she rang me up at home, apparently with the express intention of telling me how awful I was and how I had to change before we could work together.
She didn’t like my hair, she didn’t like the colour of my piano, and she didn’t like my clothes.
‘You wear too much Versace, and it makes you look fat — you have to wear Armani,’ she announced.
I could hear poor old Gianni turning in his grave at the very idea: the houses of Versace and Armani cordially hated each other. Armani said Versace made really vulgar clothes, and Gianni thought Armani was unbelievably beige and boring.
I got off the phone and burst into tears: ‘She sounded like my f*****g mother,’ I wailed at David.
Creative tension: Elton and Tina
Incredibly, our working relationship got worse. In rehearsals, Tina wouldn’t address any of the musicians in my band by name — she just pointed and bellowed ‘Hey, you!’ We started playing Proud Mary. It sounded great. Tina stopped the song, unhappy. ‘It’s you,’ she shouted, pointing at my bass player, Bob Birch. ‘You’re doing it wrong.’
He assured her he wasn’t and we started the song again. Once more, Tina yelled for us to stop. This time, it was supposed to be my drummer’s fault.
It went on like this for a while, every member of the band being accused of messing up in turn, until Tina finally discovered the real source of the problem.
This time, her finger was pointed in my direction. ‘It’s you! You’re not playing it right!’
The subsequent debate about whether I knew how to play Proud Mary became quite heated, before I brought it to a conclusion by telling Tina Turner to stick her f*****g song up her a**e and stormed off. I’ve thrown plenty of tantrums in my time, but there are limits: there’s an unspoken rule that musicians don’t treat their fellow musicians like s***.
Maybe it was insecurity on her part. She’d been treated appallingly earlier in her career, suffered years and years of being ripped off, beaten up and pushed around. Maybe that had an effect on how she behaved towards people.
I went to her dressing-room and apologised. She told me that the problem was that I was improvising too much — adding in little fills and runs on the piano.
That’s how I’ve always performed — it’s part of what I love about playing live. But Tina didn’t think that way. Everything had to be exactly the same every time; it was all rehearsed down to the slightest movement.
That made it obvious the tour wasn’t going to work, although we made up later: she came for dinner and left a big lipstick kiss in the visitors’ book.
Elton Uncensored: ‘I ‘forgot’ to tell gran we had the queen mum for lunch…’
When my grandmother became a widow in her 70s, I moved her into a flat in the grounds of my house Woodside.
I could drop in to see her whenever I wanted, but I could also keep the madness of my life away from her, protect her from all the excess and stupidity.
In 1976, she was weeding her borders when the Queen Mother came to Woodside for lunch.
I’d met her at the home of [film-maker] Bryan Forbes and we’d got on well — I’d been invited to the Royal Lodge in Windsor for dinner. In fact, the Queen Mother was really good fun.
After the meal, she’d insisted that we dance to her favourite record, which turned out to be an old Irish drinking song called Slattery’s Mounted Fut: I think Val Doonican recorded a version.
So, having enjoyed the surreal experience of dancing with the Queen Mum to an Irish drinking song, there seemed no harm in inviting her to lunch.
And when she accepted, I decided it would be hilarious not to tell my grandmother in advance. I just called her over: ‘Come here, Gran — there’s someone who wants to meet you.’ Unfortunately, my grandmother didn’t see the funny side of it. All hell broke loose when the Queen Mother left.
‘How could you do that to me? Standing there talking to the Queen Mum in my bleedin’ wellies and gardening gloves! I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life! Don’t ever do that to me again!’
Elton Uncensored: ‘You look a bloody fool, said Philip’
Supporting Watford football club was something that ran through my whole life, something that stayed the same when everything else had changed beyond recognition.
Vicarage Road was five or six miles from where I was born. It connected me to my roots, reminded me that no matter how successful I was, I was still a working-class boy from a council house in Pinner.
And I loved the club. So when the chairman offered to sell me Watford outright in the spring of 1976, I said yes.
After matches, I’d go to the Supporters’ Club, meet with Watford fans and listen to what they had to say.
‘Advice’: Prince Philip
I wanted them to know that we weren’t taking them for granted, that without the supporters Watford was nothing.
I threw huge parties for the players and staff at Woodside, my house in Old Windsor, with five-a-side games and egg and spoon races. I bought an Aston Martin, had it painted in Watford’s colours — yellow, with a red and black stripe down the middle — and drove to away games in it; I called it the Chairman’s Car.
I didn’t realise how much attention it had attracted until I was introduced to Prince Philip. ‘You live near Windsor Castle, don’t you?’ he asked. ‘Have you seen the bloody idiot who drives around that area in his ghastly car? It’s bright yellow with a ridiculous stripe on it. Do you know him?’
‘Yes, Your Highness. It’s actually me.’
He didn’t appear particularly taken aback by this news at all.
In fact, he seemed quite pleased to have found the idiot in question, so that he could give him the benefit of his advice.
‘What the hell are you thinking? Ridiculous. Makes you look like a bloody fool. Get rid of it.’
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