Breaking Hearts [Elton John's 1984 album] may be best immortalised as the background music to a curious episode in Elton’s personal life. Its German recording engineer, Renate Blauel, became friendly with the singer in Montserrat. In her late twenties, she’d worked briefly on an Elton session in London before, and he now insisted she become part of the team.
She was popular, efficient, friendly. All involved were however surprised when Elton excitedly rang around announcing that he and Renate were getting married.
“Elton John to Wed!” screamed the headlines, which bemused most of his friends and family, given his not-exactly-secret sexuality. Yet those close to the pair have said they seemed genuinely to have fallen in love with each other. Elton very much wanted children.
On Valentine’s Day 1984, they did indeed marry, at St. Mark’s Church in Sydney, with Elton’s former beau John Reid as best man. A costly reception ensued for the touring crew, who mixed glee and bewilderment. He thanked Chris Thomas for his encouragement and help, adding that he’d chosen Australia to avoid (as much as possible) the British press.
Some posited the slightly cynical theory that he was trying to win back areas of America who didn’t look kindly on homosexuality or bisexuality. But those in close proximity emphasised that he and Renate had a real friendship. Friendship is perhaps the key word here, despite the optimistic beginnings.
Journalist Nina Myskow, interviewed for Philip Norman’s 2002 biography, Sir Elton, revealed that Elton told her that, “when he saw Renate coming down the aisle towards him, he thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life. And there were tears in his eyes when he said it.”
She added that, “she was a really intelligent, lively girl” and “modest and unassertive. She knew just the way to get along with Elton. When they were together, they were good together.” She insisted that there was a physical side to the relationship, and at first he lavished gifts and attention on her as she moved in to his Windsor mansion.
He told the Daily Express’s David Wigg: “I had everything but I had nothing. I needed the challenge of changing my life, making it more fulfilling and sharing. I could see myself ending up as an eccentric, living alone and being incredibly fussy, rather like Quentin Crisp. Except that I dust and he doesn’t. I didn’t want that.”
Marriage, he said, was “fabulous. I’m so happy, and very much in love. I’m calmer, less argumentative now, and more reasonable. I don’t get my own way anymore, but it’s so nice to come home and actually share things.”
Compromise may have been eased by the fact that Renate had her own suite of rooms. “There’s a woman’s touch, and I like that.”
He talked often about his desire to have children. Having not enjoyed being an only child, he emphasised the plural. He was, however, soon away on tours again, which suggested that it was easier to keep the idealised illusion afloat if they weren’t actually hemmed in living together every day.
Years on, however, Elton looked back at the marriage, which lasted four years before divorce, and posted on social media, “I got married because I didn’t confront the real problem in my life—that I was a drug addict. I thought getting married would change all the unhappiness the drugs brought me.
"I got married to a wonderful woman who loved me very much. I loved her, but not in the physical sense. I thought that would change. I thought: now I’ll become happy. But the problem was I still stuck cocaine up my nose and drank a bottle of Scotch a day. Nothing changed.”
Thousands of people loved him when he was onstage, but offstage he felt little, or nothing.
Elton John: Rocket Man by Chris Roberts is published on October 29 (opens in new tab).