Royals, drugs and rock’n’roll: Bernie Taupin on life with Elton John (2024)



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Bernie Taupin is recalling a creative journey he started with Elton John almost six decades ago. It was the Summer of Love, 1967. Taupin was 17, unemployed, and living in Lincolnshire in the north of England, when he stumbled across an ad in New Musical Express placed by Liberty Records in London seeking talent. “I wanted to be a writer, so I replied to that ad, and popped in a few abstract, inconsistent verses,” Taupin explains from his home in Santa Barbara, California. “I believe I may have been the only person to send in lyrics and that is probably why I got a response.”

Taupin later took a train to London, where he was introduced to a piano player and singer named Reg Dwight. Their first meeting happened at Lancaster Grill, not far from Tin Pan Alley, where several music publishers had their offices. Over eggs, sausage and baked beans they discussed music. Dwight was three years older and playing in a band, backing blues player Long John Baldry. Taupin immediately sensed a kindred spirit.

The now 73-year-old lyricist elaborates on this remarkable story in Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me. The first part of the autobiography is a coming-of-age tale about two naive young men desperate to make a name for themselves in the music business. They were initially employed as jobbing songwriters by Dick James Music. It was a promising start. James had secured the rights to The Beatles’ songs in 1963.

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But Taupin, on a paltry wage of £10 a week, couldn’t afford to rent a flat. Initially he stayed with relatives but eventually moved in with Dwight, his mother, Sheila, and stepfather, Fred (nicknamed “Derf” by Dwight), into their small apartment in Middlesex. Taupin worked on lyrics in their shared bedroom, while Dwight hammered away at the piano in the living room.

“Reg, as he was then, was like a brother to me and incredibly protective,” Taupin recalls. “We had periphery friends but did everything together.”

‘One of us would have to become the actual performer of our own songs. So ultimately, Reg Dwight became Elton John.’

Bernie Taupin on how his musical partnership with Elton John happened


Creatively, though, it was a rough start. They were being asked to write songs for pop acts such as Engelbert Humperdinck and Cilla Black. When it didn’t work, their employers told them to focus on their own material instead. “Once we dropped the middle-of-the-road songwriting, it meant that one of us would have to become the actual performer of our own songs,” says Taupin. “So ultimately, Reg Dwight became Elton John.”

Only diehard fans are likely to remember John’s chart debut I’ve Been Loving You. The 1968 single tanked. Taupin, who had no creative involvement, describes the song as “melodically stagnant and lyrically bland”. In late October 1969, he wrote the lyrics to their breakout Your Song, which later became a top 10 hit. The hard graft was beginning to bear fruit.

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“We got better and became more confident. There was never a time that we didn’t think that we were going to make it,” he says. “We got a lot of rejection, but we worked our butts off, stuck in there, and ultimately it paid off.”

Another major turning point was breaking into America after John’s first US gig at the Troubadour, West Hollywood, in August 1970. Taupin had just turned 20. John was 23. Then Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn wrote a glowing review, predicting that John would become “one of rock’s biggest and most important stars”. It was a prescient forecast. Today, Sir Elton John has sold more than 300 million records worldwide and logged 68 top 100 chart entries, starting in 1970, including nine No. 1s and 27 top 10s. In October 2021, he became the first solo artist to have scored a British Top 10 single in six different decades.

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For most of that time Taupin has worked in the shadows, as the silent creative partner. He is not a typical songwriter. In fact, he disputes he is even worthy of such a title. “Elton is most certainly a singer-songwriter, I’m just the writer bit who comes up with lyrical ideas,” he says. A poet, perhaps? “I loathe being referred to as a poet. I’m an observer. I write with a melody in mind, but when I turn over lyrics to Elton, I don’t think for a moment whatever melodic ideas I have are going to be used in the ultimate writing of the song. I would never tread on Elton’s musical toes. It’s not how we work.”


A certain amount of geographical distance has helped their creative relationship. “In the early days when we first went to the US, I would travel with the band on tour,” says Taupin. “But you start to grow older and develop your own life.”

Taupin describes John as his soul brother, but from the moment success arrived, they “swam in completely different currents, both socially and sexually,” he says. “When Elton came out and admitted his hom*osexuality, it never bothered me. I never questioned it or thought it was odd. I inherited this open-minded attitude from my mother. She was raised in Switzerland and always believed you should live the life you want to live and be left alone.”

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Taupin speaks honestly about John’s erratic behaviour. He could be difficult, demanding, child-like even. There were mood swings and tantrums. They were usually his way of coping with the pressures of fame. So were the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol he consumed. Taupin had addiction issues too.

Much of his autobiography is spent documenting the hedonistic lifestyle he lived for quite some time. We read of a visit to the Playboy Mansion in L.A., which Taupin found distasteful, seedy, and pathetic. There are week-long benders (in London, New York, Barbados and L.A.) with legendary hell-raisers including Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Ringo Starr.

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Taupin recalls a clandestine relationship with the ex-Beatle’s then girlfriend, photographer Nancy Andrews, in the early 1970s. It might not have been wholly honourable, he admits. “I don’t know if Ringo even knows that happened!” says Taupin jovially. “But I’m absolutely sure it won’t affect our relationship.”


And the drug-taking? Taupin says he wasn’t exactly Keith Richards, but he more than dabbled. On his first tab of acid, he spent an afternoon watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. With American singer, Alice Cooper, he once tried freebasing, which involves boiling and melting cocaine over a flame until it vaporises. Taupin’s relationship with the white powder began in mid to late ’70s. By the 1980s it was becoming a problem.


“I don’t like the term survivor,” says Taupin. “That is for somebody who came out of World War II. I just woke up one day and said I’m bored, so I quit narcotics.” But he never went to rehab. “I was never at a point where my life was in danger from using drugs,” he says. “I think Elton’s life possibly was. So that was certainly more distressing.”

Taupin dedicates a chapter of his autobiography to discussing his love of literature. As well as being a voracious reader, he was also a serious collector of books. His favourite authors include Christopher Isherwood, Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Russian dissident writer also served as a source of creative inspiration.

Solzhenitsyn’s six-part play, Candle in the Wind (1960), gave a detailed account of life in the gulag and the gradual demise of Joseph Stalin’s brutal regime in the Soviet Union. “The title just screamed out to me, that must be a song,” Taupin recalls. His version, written in honour of Marilyn Monroe, originally appeared on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album (1973) and was released as a single the following year. Taupin came up with the idea after watching John Huston’s 1961 western The Misfits, featuring Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

“I watched the movie much later, when all the main stars who appeared in it had already died, relatively young. But the person who really stuck out to me was the character [Perce Howland] played by Montgomery Clift,” says Taupin. “He was a cowboy, who subscribed to the idea of live fast, die young. Marilyn Monroe was not somebody I really cared a great deal about. I made her the subject of the song much later on, but it was a commercial decision, because I knew more people would recognise her.”


The song was remade in August 1997, following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. John asked Taupin to rework the lyrics and he sang them at her funeral in Westminster Abbey, watched by a worldwide audience of 2.5 billion people. “I did that purely as a favour for Elton,” Taupin says casually. “I didn’t know Princess Diana. But she and Elton were friends.” The song was later released as a single and sold 33 million copies, raising $38 million for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

“I rewrote the lyrics in, probably, 15 minutes,” he says now. “But if you put a gun to my head and asked me to recite one lyric from that remake of the song, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

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Taupin says he has never been much of a royalist. But Elton John was. So Taupin found himself, almost by default, moving in the same social circles as the House of Windsor. “I remember once being at a party for the Queen Mother for high tea at Elton’s house in Windsor,” he says. “She was delightful.”

He also remembers being rescued by Princess Margaret following a reception and dinner at Kensington Palace. The specific date is a bit hazy. “I have a bad memory. Maybe narcotics and alcohol are responsible for that,” he says. Nevertheless, he remembers that protocol required that he bow to the Princess. When his turn came, he split his pants and was discreetly ushered into Princess Margaret’s private study, where a royal tailor fixed the trousers in a matter of minutes.

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“Princess Margaret was a character, she swore like a docker, smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish,” he says. “But I had a fair bit of sympathy for her. She suffered a lot of heartbreak. I found the royal family to be interesting characters, and I ended up with a grudging respect for many of them.”


Taupin says he was determined to write a book that gave little vignettes of his life, rather than a linear-style autobiography. “In Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses was trying to go through the circle and find his way back home. That is kind of what the book represents to me.”

Taupin remembers August 22, 1998, as another crucial turning point on his wayward journey. “I stepped onto a bus, and my entire life changed forever.” It was the moment he met Heather Kidd. They married in 2004 and have two daughters. Heather is Taupin’s fourth wife.

“I met a lot of wonderful people in my life, I had a lot of relationships and probably learned something from all of them,” he says. “What I never found, though, until I met Heather, was the understanding of what I imagined the concept of love to really be.

“Heather and I have been together for around 25 years. I have never felt this gravitational pull towards another human being,” he says. “It’s very personal, but hopefully we all get to experience that kind of emotional upheaval in our lives.”

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Late in life, Taupin rediscovered God, too. “I’m uncomfortable with the term born-again because it always sounds cultish, but I always knew I would find my way back to my [Christian] faith at some point,” he says.

The country kid from Lincolnshire has come a long way. If Taupin could go back in time and speak to his younger self, what advice would he give him? “I would tell him: never change a thing, live your life the way it was planned out to be,” Taupin says. “I believe we are destined to be on the path that we are put on. I have been blessed with a great life and I don’t regret anything.”

Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me by Bernie Taupin is published by Monoray on September 12.

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Royals, drugs and rock’n’roll: Bernie Taupin on life with Elton John (2024)


Was Elton John ever in love with Bernie Taupin? ›

“I cry when I sing this song, because I was in love with Bernie, not in a sexual way, but because he was the person I was looking for my entire life, my little soul mate.” John regards the relationship as the most important in his life and how now, years later, they have ended up becoming their alter egos.

Who is Elton John's best friend? ›

In the 1960s, when Elton John was a back-up musician for British blues singer Long John Baldry, he was briefly engaged to a woman. In a new memoir, Elton's close friend and longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, describes this as a time of confusion for the singer that culminated in a potentially tragic incident.

How much is Elton John worth in 2024? ›

As of 2024, Elton John's estimated net worth is $650 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Did Bernie Taupin save Elton John's life? ›

The song is also about Elton's semi-serious suicide attempt, where he put his head in a gas oven- but left the windows open. Bernie Taupin pulled him out.

Who did Elton John fall in love with? ›

She also has words in PopCrush, Taste of Country and Universal Music Group's UDiscoverMusic. Elton John and David Furnish first met in the sweetest way: at a dinner party thrown by a mutual friend in 1993. The pair immediately hit it off, and the next day, they went on their very first date.

Who will inherit Elton John's money? ›

The English singer Elton John, along with his partner David Furnish, has stated that he will leave only a minimal part of his inheritance (valued at 200 million pounds) to his two children Zachary and Elijah. That's also why last fall, along with his husband, he sold his villa in Atlanta for over $7.2 million.

Who is the richest singer of all time? ›

The richest musicians in the world are:

Jay Z – $1.3 Billion. Kanye West – $1.3 Billion. Madonna – $850 Million.

Who was Elton John's first love interest? ›

Reid and John were each other's 'first great' loves

It was in San Francisco.” John also revealed he was “a virgin until then. I was desperate to be loved, desperate to have a tactile relationship.” Their relationship as lovers lasted from 1970 until 1975.

What is the meaning behind Elton John's tiny dancer? ›

Tiny Dancer is about a girl that Bernie Taupin fell for on one of Elton John's early tours called Maxine Feibelman. Taupin had no real reason to go on tour but just went to hang out. With time on his hands he became infatuated with the beautiful costumier and later married her.

How many children does Bernie Taupin have? ›

He has been married to Heather Lynn Hodgins Kidd since March 27, 2004. They have two children. He was previously married to Stephanie Haymes-Roven, Toni Lynn Russo and Maxine Feibelman.

Did Elton John have a relationship with his mother? ›

And [they] fought like that, too.” Of Sheila, he added, “She was pretty outrageous, which is where Elton gets all of that from.” John himself confirmed that his relationship with his mother was a roller coaster: “I was closer to Mum than Dad, but there were long periods when we didn't speak,” he told The Guardian.


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