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Elton John World News: Missing Millions: John Reid says he's not bitter after the High Court case

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Elton ex-manager talks to The Times

Saturday 21 April 2001 @ 23:44 - GMT

John Reid talks to UK newspaper The Times, 21 April 2001, after Elton's court defeat, and gives his view of how things were, and are.

John Reid and Sir Elton John had a symbiotic relationship for 30 years. Elton was the goldmine; Paisley-bred Reid was the smart fixer of deals.

First they were lovers and then artist-and-manager, becoming rich together, Reid on 20 per cent of everything. In middle age, acrimoniously and expensively, they split.

Ten days ago the High Court action which so rivetingly detailed the singers spending (£40 million in 20 months, including £293,000 on flowers, etc) ended. Even Sir Elton, £8 million costs to pay, is shedding some spare vintage Ferraris, Bentleys and Aston Martins.

Reid now lives in a rented flat in Grosvenor Square, while his new Mayfair house with secret garden and swimming-pool is refurbished. How many millions is this costing him? "North of five," he replies. "But figures are unreal. You never actually see the millions."

One day at McA in New York, Reid asked, out of curiosity, if he could see what a million dollars looked like, and two Central Casting-style security guards solemnly brought in a small attache case packed with $100 dollar bills. "It didnt look much," Reid laughs.

He is a small stocky man of 51 with short grey hair en brosse and bright, dark eyes rather like those of his Shi-tzu [pet dog], Sooty.

A butler named Jacques serves coffee and the photographer agrees not to show the red spot on his nose ("sun damage") while Reid reminisces in his soft Glaswegian tones about 1998, "the year the shit hit the fan".

"It was a terrible year. My mother died in February. The split with Elton happened in April. The case with Michael Flatley (when Flatley dropped him as manager) happened in October. The day that finished, David Croker, who introduced me to Elton in the first place, died of a heart attack.

"He was 48, same age as me, the gentlest man you could ever meet, placid, even-tempered, a non-smoker. Collapsed without warning, in the street on his way to the dentist, leaving a wife and two children.

"It was the last straw. I decided to stop what I was doing. I was so damaged by the events of that year, I had no appetite for working ever again.

"It had been a mad life. Id been caught in the backwash of the acquisitiveness that had gone on for so long and realised I didnt really want any of it. So I shrunk everything down."

He folded up his company ("I had 24 staff and the impact on their lives was quite serious, the wreckage it caused") and de-cluttered his life.

"It was like slamming the brakes on after running at 100 mph."

The dramatic split with Sir Elton had its prologue. Two letters between Reid and Sir Richard Branson, turning down Bransons request to use Eltons Candle in the Wind on a tribute album, were New York apartment, huge house in St Johns Wood, south of France house, everything was sold, every stick of furniture auctioned by Christies.leaked to the Mirror. Then one morning in New York there came "a screaming phone call" from Sir Elton, accusing him of leaking another letter to the press, from Sir Eltons accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"I saw Elton only twice after that. I investigated, brought in surveillance people, to find out how the letters got out, and months later the truth came out (The culprit was the notorious dustbin-rummager, Benjamin Pell, featured in a recent Channel 4 documentary). But by that time, it was all over."

Despite the fact that "He said on Parky that if I was in the same room he would ignore me. And he did, in court.

 Reid was exonerated by Mr Justice Ferris in the High Court, Sir Elton says hell never speak to Reid again.

"I went to hear what he said, because from the moment I was informed by his solicitor that our relationship was over, Id never even seen him. He chose to just cut me off."

Reids eyes look wounded.

The cuddly Sir Elton had, Reid says, a ruthless streak! Id seen him do it to other people in the past."

But they had been inseparable for 30 years, as rock-solidly entwined as Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker.

"The refusal to take responsibility for self is very common in this business," says Reid. "Being an artist seems to absolve a person from accepting responsibility. If a record doesnt sell, its the record companys fault. If a concert flops, its the promoters fault.

"And the longer you last, the greater the success, the worse it gets. Only a handful are like Elton, living in a cocooned, cosseted atmosphere. Privately, hes shy, sweet, intelligent, with a rapier wit, all the things we like about him. Once on stage, hes all confidence."

The dapperly suited Reid used to try to curb Eltons excessive costumes, fabulous headgear, teetering boots. "Id try to strike some balance but the more youd tell him not to, the more hed go after the most flamboyant, outrageous Bob Mackie and Bill Nudie creations."

Reid seems so sunny-natured that I cant imagine him biffing people but he biffed several in his time two people in one day, once, in New Zealand, including a woman journalist. "Well, she was very aggressive and Im not defending myself, but it was a knee-jerk reaction."

He says drink made him aggressive, and "it was terrible, terrible but I was very young when I started, learning on my feet almost daily. I always seemed to get into trouble, and got a reputation."

After the drink came drugs: "Very late, about 28."

Getting addicted to cocaine, he explained, is a long process. "At first its a lot of fun, and gave a lot of energy, for the first couple of years. Then it becomes not so much fun, and then it becomes completely destructive. I do not recommend it."

He was detoxed and cured 10 years ago at Beechy Colquhouns centre in Kent and has been clean of alcohol and drugs ever since.

Sir Eltons [unofficial] biographer, Philip Norman, says that Reid was against the singer coming out in the 1970s. "Well, in those days, it was uncharted territory, nobody ever asked, there was no need to talk about it.

"Everybody in the business knew we were together. And then the Rolling Stone chap asked the question, and Elton answered and it became an issue. I had no problem with it, but then I wasnt a public figure."

And when they became ex-lovers, they worked together just as closely. "I think it allowed me to be more honest. Nobody could tell Elton what to do, but at times I was able to bring a little common sense to situations that had got out of control."

Reid actually got engaged once, to Sarah Forbes, daughter of Bryan Forbes and Nanette Newman. She was 18, he was 35 and had known her since she was a child. But he got cold feet.

"It wouldnt have been fair. I knew I was gay, she knew I was gay, she thought I could change, I knew I couldnt. And then she married John Standing, whos 25 years older. Shes still my best friend."

As a 19-year-old shirt salesman in Austin Reid, Knightsbridge, his first London job, Reid would gaze on a stuccoed house in Montpelier Square which he coveted. At 27, he owned it. After that, the spending and acquiring of property escalated.

"Elton encouraged me. Im naturally cautious, and hed chastise me for not spending more. He knew I wasnt Scottish-mean, quite the opposite. But if I said I fancy a New York apartment, hed say Go and get one and send up his decorators from Atlanta."

Backstage in a soulless Washington auditorium, Sir Elton and Reid went to meet Elvis in 1974. "We walked in, and there he was in a white jump suit and cape, striking a pose, being Elvis. Very pasty, and bloated, didnt look good. I could hardly speak.

"He looked at me, clutching my programme, and said Whats your name, son? and wrote John Reid, love Elvis. The next person to go in and see him was President Ford."

A few years ago in Las Vegas, Reid had breakfast with Colonel Tom Parker. "We went to a pancake house off the Strip and he sat there like an old pasha, in his big hat, and string tie, must have been about 80.

"I remember he said people criticised him for the way he handled Elviss money. He said, I never touched Elviss money. He got his half."  Reid laughed.

He ponders on the fragile artist-manager relationship. "Roger Forrester managed Eric Clapton for 32 years. Then the Charlotte Church situation. Its unfair, and makes things hard for young managers. If the artist decides to go, forget the contract, theyre off. They always have the upper hand."

But Reid has reinvented himself as an impresario, as producer of the hugely successful The Graduate. The investors got their money back in seven weeks. Now hes waiting to hear whether Kathleen Turner will reprise her Mrs Robinson on Broadway.

"I really came up through musical theatre (he was in Kiss Me Kate as a boy) and I tried for years to persuade Elton to write for the theatre, until he reluctantly did it." The Lion King deal was one of the last he fixed for Elton. He has kept diaries and has a vivid recall, so he may write a memoir "about the absurdity and hilarity of the record business because it is absurd.

"At the same time, how else would I have got to go to the White House, and to places that most mortals dont get to go?" He and Elton met President Reagan in the Oval Office, and were at the Clintons dinner for the Blairs. He would include, of course, Eltons £1 million settlement with The Sun over the rent-boys story in the 1980s. It was Reid who drafted The Sun front page: "Sorry, Elton."

He now finds it exhausting to contemplate the pace of his former life. Having started out studying to be a marine engineer, he managed in his twenties to master the labyrinthine world of recording contracts on Eltons behalf. "But theres no college for business managers. I dont know how the hell I did half the things. I was on the board of Watford, I had a restaurant in Covent Garden, I had an interest in Tatler when Tina Brown came aboard. I managed Queen, Kiki Dee, Barry Humphries, Billy Connolly. Im glad now to be doing just one thing at a time."

[Only items in brackets such as these are references added by EJW.com to assist our worldwide readers]