El­ton bought me a yacht for my birthday, so I gave him an emer­ald ring worth a mil­lion

As two new movies cel­e­brate his life, the ex­tra­or­di­nary story of the welder’s son from Pais­ley who launched the Rocket Man ... and made Freddie Mer­cury a star

Scottish Daily Mail - - Football Helicopter Horror - by Jonathan Brock­le­bank

EIGH­TEEN years ago, John Reid sat im­pas­sively in a packed Lon­don court­room as a se­verely ir­ri­tated megas­tar de­nounced him from the wit­ness box.

‘I trusted him,’ said the celebrity. ‘I never thought he would be­tray me but he has be­trayed me.’

The re­crim­i­na­tions went on: ‘Money does strange things to peo­ple,’ said the wit­ness, who was a fine one to talk. He had just ad­mit­ted run­ning up a £293,000 florists’ bill.

He went on: ‘I led a lav­ish life­style and there was a com­pet­i­tive edge to Mr Reid’s re­la­tion­ship with me. The more I bought some­thing, the more he bought some­thing.’

Al­most in­evitably, the man giv­ing ev­i­dence was Sir El­ton John, Bri­tain’s rich­est rock star af­ter Sir Paul McCart­ney. The grey haired, sober-suited Scot he was lam­bast­ing was his for­mer lover and, for much longer than that, his man­ager.

Now, 20 years af­ter the pair were es­tranged, the tu­mul­tuous early re­la­tion­ship that Sir El­ton ref­er­enced in the High Court is to be brought to the sil­ver screen in the film Rock­et­man, with Body­guard star Richard Mad­den play­ing Reid.

By cu­ri­ous co­in­ci­dence, this is not the only cur­rent biopic de­pict­ing Reid’s in­volve­ment with a flam­boy­ant star from the glam rock era. Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, re­leased last week, tells the story of the late Freddie Mer­cury and his three band­mates from Queen. Guess who man­aged them in their mid-70s pomp.

In this film it is Game of Thrones star Ai­dan Gillen who plays the A&R man who, while still in his 20s, found him­self in charge of two of the world’s big­gest rock acts.

The re­tired pop Sven­gali is now 69 and liv­ing rel­a­tively qui­etly – if not en­tirely mod­estly – in a £6mil­lion Lon­don apart­ment. But both films will re­call an age groan­ing with deca­dence and ex­cess in which he was a piv­otal fig­ure.

A welder’s son from Pais­ley, Ren­frew­shire, Reid de­camped to Lon­don be­cause, he once said, he was tired of be­ing ‘the only gay in the vil­lage’.

There he be­came Sir El­ton’s first male lover long be­fore the star was open about his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

There, too, he was among the first peo­ple Freddie Mer­cury con­fided in about his sex­u­al­ity.

‘We went to din­ner in a restau­rant in Ful­ham Road, just me and Freddie,’ re­called Reid of an early meeting with the Queen front­man in 1975. ‘We sat down and we were just talk­ing. He was very funny and he had a habit of touch­ing his top lip and I said, “Maybe you should look at get­ting your teeth done”, and he said, “I’ve had them fixed!”.

‘So we’re hav­ing din­ner and in the mid­dle of the con­ver­sa­tion I said, “Look, Freddie, there’s one thing I think you should know and I hope it doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence to you or the rest of the band; you do know that I’m gay?”.

‘He dropped his knife and fork and said, “So am I, dear, we’ll get on swim­mingly”.’

It was five years ear­lier, when he was 21 and work­ing at EMI, that Reid first met the 23-year-old song­writer who had re­cently changed his name from Regi­nald Dwight to El­ton John. ‘I re­mem­ber this hip, shy young man. There was a gawky sweet­ness about him,’ re­called Reid years later.

The singer had al­ready re­leased one al­bum, the barely no­ticed Empty Sky, but now he had vastly su­pe­rior songs with which to en­thral Reid.

‘The songs were beau­ti­ful and it be­came the El­ton John al­bum,’ Reid re­called. ‘I was his first boyfriend and we lived to­gether as lovers for five years.

‘He was my first great love and I was his. I went on to be­come his man­ager for 25 years.’

It was be­tween 1970 and 1975, the years which el­e­vated Sir El­ton from no­body to in­ter­na­tional su­per­star, that he and Reid lived in each other’s pock­ets and the spend­ing ‘com­pe­ti­tion’ took root.

‘He gave me a yacht for my 25th birthday,’ re­mem­bered Reid.

For his lover’s next birthday, Reid walked into a jew­eller in Paris and picked out the largest emer­ald ring he could find.

‘I gave it to El­ton and he loved it. Un­for­tu­nately I had mis­read the price. I thought it was 100,000 francs. It was a mil­lion [around £100,000].’

Sir El­ton, said Reid, ‘has no con­cept of money – I have seen him spend a mil­lion in an af­ter­noon. “We’ll just make some more,” he would say when I got an­gry.

‘He doesn’t see it as ex­cess. “You gotta live,” he al­ways told me.’

But while the star was ut­terly brazen about his spend­ing, he was cir­cum­spect, in pub­lic at least, about his sex­u­al­ity.

‘I re­mem­ber when he told a friend he was mov­ing in with me – I have al­ways been openly gay – the friend said, “What! You might as well hang a flag out­side the win­dow”.’

The pair’s first flat to­gether was above a Safe­way su­per­mar­ket in Lon­don’s Edge­ware Road – where Reid dis­cov­ered that liv­ing with Sir El­ton was like ‘try­ing to hold back a race­horse’.

‘The vast leaps in style were ex­haust­ing,’ he re­called. ‘He would go out one day with brown hair and re­turn the next with pink.

‘One day he drove off in his Es­cort and I said it wasn’t very rock and roll. He re­turned that af­ter­noon with a pur­ple As­ton Martin. I am quite con­ser­va­tive.’

As the money rolled in, the pair ap­peared locked in com­pe­ti­tion to own the most houses – at one point Reid had seven – but it was not be­cause of money or Sir El­ton’s fre­quent tantrums that the re­la­tion­ship ended. Ac­cord­ing to Reid, it ended ‘be­cause El­ton had never had a sex­ual ado­les­cence. He needed to go off and play the field, which he did with gusto. By this time he was the big­gest star of the Sev­en­ties and we were liv­ing in a house in Vir­ginia Wa­ter.

‘He said he wanted a big­ger house and the split just hap­pened. There were no dra­mas.’

AROUND the same time, Queen were be­gin­ning to ap­pear on Reid’s radar. He had heard of them through the sin­gle Killer Queen but needed to see them play live to know whether they would be ca­pa­ble of break­ing Amer­ica.

He rang an EMI as­so­ci­ate to see when they planned to tour and was told they were about to go into the stu­dio but that the band would play live for him.

The prospec­tive man­ager showed up to find the band in their stage garb, a full lighting set up and an au­di­ence of one – him­self.

‘They did 40 min­utes and I was blown away,’ re­calls Reid. ‘I didn’t find out un­til some time later they’d in­vited three or four other man­agers and I was the only one who turned up. So I al­most got the

gig by de­fault.’ Rais­ing the band mem­bers’ pocket money from £20 to £30 a week, Reid told them ‘go away and make the best record you’ve ever made and I’ll sort out the money side’.

The record they made was A Night at the Opera, which con­tained their mon­ster hit Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, and the band went strato­spheric.

Not that all of Reid’s calls were the right ones. In com­mon with al­most ev­ery­one else at EMI, he thought Queen’s six-minute mas­ter­piece was too long to be a sin­gle and de­manded a ra­dio edit.

It was on the ad­vice of DJ Kenny Everett, who played the song in full 14 times on his Cap­i­tal Ra­dio show one Oc­to­ber week­end, that the band held firm and re­fused to shave off a sec­ond. Bo­hemian Rhap­sody stayed at num­ber one for nine con­sec­u­tive weeks in the UK, a record at the time.

Reid man­aged Queen for the next three years, dur­ing which time they racked up hits such as Some­body To Love, We Will Rock You and We Are The Cham­pi­ons and they be­came a mas­sive live draw in the US. Cu­ri­ously, though, his con­tract was not re­newed in 1978.

One of the rea­sons, al­leges drum­mer Roger Tay­lor, is that Reid was put un­der ter­rific pressure by his ‘other artist’.

‘I think El­ton felt a bit threat­ened by the other client,’ said Tay­lor.

While Queen went on to man­age them­selves, re­leas­ing sev­eral more multi-mil­lion-sell­ing al­bums be­fore Mer­cury’s death in 1991, Reid de­voted his en­er­gies to his pri­mary charge, with whom he re­mained the clos­est of friends.

When Sir El­ton made the shock an­nounce­ment he was to marry a woman, Re­nate Blauel, in 1984, it was Reid he asked to be best man for the wed­ding in Syd­ney.

That was also the year that, at a villa in Saint-Tropez, the two shook hands on a deal which gave Reid 20 per cent of the singer’s gross earn­ings to run the busi­ness side of their part­ner­ship. On a per­sonal and busi­ness level, the pair seemed to de­velop an in­nate un­der­stand­ing of each other’s needs.

WE’VE al­ways helped and sup­ported each other through our prob­lems – espe­cially al­co­hol,’ re­called Reid a few years ago. ‘El­ton made me go and see the won­der­ful ther­a­pist Beechy Col­clough at the Prom­ise Clinic in Bed­ford­shire af­ter he went through re­hab in 1990 and when I came out, he helped me through it.’

Not that Reid re­mained strictly a one-client man­ager. Over the years he has worked with fel­low Scot Sir Billy Con­nolly, Lionel Richie, An­drew Lloyd Web­ber, the Jack­son Five and Kiki Dee – and, with of­fices in Lon­don, New York and LA, he treated Con­corde like his lo­cal bus ser­vice.

He was clos­est to Sir El­ton, how­ever, un­til a new pres­ence ar­rived in the star’s life and things be­gan to change. His new boyfriend, film­maker David Furnish, soon wanted to make a fly-on-the­wall doc­u­men­tary about his lover.

Reid ob­jected. ‘I had spent years en­sur­ing his tantrums were never in the pub­lic do­main,’ he said later. But it was Furnish who held sway and the un­flat­ter­ing Tantrums and Tiaras was re­leased in 1997.

The fol­low­ing year, af­ter au­di­tors dis­cov­ered a £20mil­lion hole in Sir El­ton’s ac­counts, the busi­ness part­ner­ship and friend­ship fi­nally col­lapsed.

It was this fi­nan­cial dis­crep­ancy which drove a fu­ri­ous Sir El­ton two years later in 2000 to ac­cuse his for­mer man­ager of get­ting caught ‘with his fin­gers in the till’, to call him stupid and sug­gest that Reid was de­lib­er­ately eva­sive about where his money was go­ing.

Sir El­ton went fur­ther, re­mind­ing a court Reid had a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion. The man­ager had been jailed for a month in 1974 for as­sault­ing a woman jour­nal­ist in New Zealand – iron­i­cally, for de­fend­ing his pop star client’s hon­our. ‘I re­gret say­ing that,’ Sir El­ton con­ceded later.

It is likely he re­gret­ted the whole court case. He had been su­ing ac­coun­tancy firm Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers and An­drew Hay­don, di­rec­tor of John Reid En­ter­prises, claim­ing neg­li­gence, breach of con­tract and breach of duty, but the hear­ing only served to un­der­line what an in­cor­ri­gi­ble spender Sir El­ton was.

REID had al­ready paid the star £3.4mil­lion in an out of court set­tle­ment but Sir El­ton was left with an £8mil­lion le­gal bill af­ter Mr Jus­tice Fer­ris ruled against him. Hu­mil­i­ated, the star de­clared that he would never speak to Reid again.

His for­mer lover was not the only long-term as­so­ci­ate ban­ished from the singer’s in­ner cir­cle dur­ing this pe­riod. Also re­moved was his driver Bob Hal­ley, which cre­ated fric­tion with Sir El­ton’s mother Sheila, who was fond of both men.

The fall-out rum­bled on for years, with Sheila al­leg­ing her son had tried to or­der her to have no con­tact with Reid or Hal­ley.

For his part, Reid set­tled into a life of wealthy do­mes­tic­ity with his long-term part­ner James Thompson, sell­ing a string of prop­er­ties and re­tir­ing from artist man­age­ment. He was, he ad­mit­ted, ‘quite hon­estly, fairly ex­hausted’.

In 2005 he ap­peared for one sea­son as a judge on Aus­tralia’s ver­sion of The X Fac­tor, stay­ing in a but­lered suite in Melbourne.

He also told friends he was writ­ing an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy with the work­ing ti­tle Too Close to the Can­dle. It has yet to ap­pear.

‘I’m fond of El­ton and proud of the work I did with him,’ re­flected Reid a few years ago. ‘One day I’ll bump into him and there may be hugs and kisses. Or maybe not.’

‘Very funny’: Queen’s Freddie Mer­cury

‘First great love’: Sir El­ton in 1992 with John Reid, his for­mer part­ner and man­ager for 25 years Bit­ter fall­out: Sir El­ton took Reid to court in 2000 over cash

Friend and client: The late Freddie Mer­cury with Reid in 1977

Film: Richard Mad­den as Reid

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