Thank you for the music, Freddie
“I’m something of an evangelist for that statistic,” he admits. “Because one of the questions people often ask me is ‘Would Freddie have approved [of the musical]?’ As if Freddie was somehow separate to Queen! As if Freddie was the special one and the other three were sidemen!”
I had been searching for a less contentious subject of conversation. But those appear to be thin on the ground. “The insane arrogance,” he continues, “that these people would seek to take the voice of a dead man, and know it better than the men he chose to share his entire professional life with” – the surviving members of the band are producers on the show – “seems to me a conceit that is within the gift only of journalists.”
While (hopefully) unwarranted in this particular instance, Elton’s antipathy toward the media in general is certainly understandable. His press clippings from the past decade are spectacularly hostile. Once the self-righteous scourge of Thatcherism, he alienated many former fans, firstly, by writing a musical with arch-Tory Andrew Lloyd Webber and later, perhaps irrevocably, by contributing a song performed at the inauguration of George W Bush.
“It was a song about the triumph of love over the corrupting power of bigotry,” he snaps. “I was very proud for it to be performed. I think it was probably more important for it to be played at an event like that than at a meeting of Pacifists Anonymous.”
His fellow comics have been equally scathing. In a famous routine at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005, comedian Stewart Lee compared Elton unfavourably to Osama Bin Laden. The latter, Lee concluded, “has at least lived his life according to a consistent set of ethical principles.” (When I mention this, Elton claims never to have heard of Stewart Lee.)
Is Elton ever surprised by the vitriol directed at him? After all, no one is really obliged to remain exactly as they were at 25 for the rest of their life. “I think I have stayed the same,” he insists. “My politics are the same. I wasn’t what people thought was then [in the 1980s], and I’m not who they think I am now.”
I glance down at the scribbled list of questions in my hand. I had hoped to discuss Blackadder, his love of Morecambe and Wise and whether he was really offered a deal to write Police Academy 6. But right now, just about any of those questions seems liable to elicit an irritated response. Instead, we talk about Australia (where he currently lives), his passion for paddleboarding (which he likens to piloting a gondola), and the internet (of which he seems preternaturally suspicious).
One joke that survives from the original production of WeWill Rock You requires the audience not to know the difference between a URL and an email address. Another more recent addition is predicated on the notion that Twitter is a forum solely for telling people what you’ve eaten for breakfast.
Is the comedian, and bestselling author, something of a luddite? He denies it. What he does resent, he concedes, is the internet’s capacity for spreading and legitimising misinformation. “My wife is a bass player,” he explains. “But because she played saxophone on one song, the Sun called her ‘Saxy Sophie’. Now she is forever a saxophonist in the annals of the internet.”