The truth about Elton's very last minute truce with his mum, 92, after he 'fired' her... but at her funeral, how will he face the staff who took her side after he fired them?
Sheila Farebrother's 90th birthday party was a night to remember, kicking off at 4pm and continuing long after midnight as She and her 80 guests danced and sang along to a succession of Elton John hits .
The highlight was an appearance by The Ultimate Elton Tribute Band led by an amazingly realistic Elton impersonator.
It was when he began to sing Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word that it all became too much for Sheila.
'We thought we'd have to stop the performance,' says music producer Stuart Epps, a close friend. 'She was very emotional — we thought we were in trouble.'
The poignancy of the moment was not lost on any of those present, many of whom were soon wiping their eyes, too.
For the real Elton — Sheila's son — was thousands of miles away from the party, which was being held in a converted barn near Sheila's West Sussex home.
Sir Elton John (pictured right in 1997) told the world his mother Sheila (left) died aged 92 today
After the bitterest of rows, mother and son hadn't spoken for seven years. Sheila hadn't received 'as much as a Christmas card, a birthday card or Mother's Day card.
'Nothing,' she once revealed.
It took a brush with his own mortality finally to prompt Sir Elton John to try to the heal rift earlier this year — and how grateful the singer must be today that they managed to be reconciled.
Announcing on social media that Sheila had died yesterday, aged 92, he posted a picture of them together in happier times and said: 'So sad to say that my mother passed away this morning. I only saw her last Monday and I am in shock.
'Travel safe Mum. Thank-you for everything. I will miss you so much. Love, Elton.'
Stuart Epps, who worked with Elton in the Seventies, told me: 'I think the whole world is relieved for Elton that he saw her before she died and that they had a chance to make it up.'
He is, however, concerned about Sheila's funeral and the awkward encounters it may throw up.
'I think it's going to be very difficult for Elton, because all her best friends are people who he has sacked or isn't speaking to, but he's going to have to go to the funeral and face them,' Epps says.
The singer, 70, is pictured with her (bottom left) and his stepfather Fred Farebrother?
Stuart Epps, who worked with Elton (pictured with Sheila) in the Seventies, told Alison Boshoff: 'I think the whole world is relieved for Elton that he saw her before she died and that they had a chance to make it up.'
And how exactly Elton's former friends and employees will react to Elton's husband, David Furnish, if he is among the mourners, is another contentious issue.
The row between mother and son centred on her dislike of film producer Furnish, whom she called 'that thing you married' during an argument with Elton in 2008 about what she perceived to be Furnish's controlling ways.
Sir Elton found it impossible to forgive and ruthlessly cut her out of his life.
It was Press reports about the 'Elton' impersonator at her 90th party that brought about the beginnings of a rapprochment — a bowl of white orchids and a note that read 'Wow, 90! Congratulations. Love Elton, David, Zachary and Elijah.'
However, contact between them was seemingly minimal until spring this year. In fact, Sheila was said to be 'devastated' by reports last year in which Elton claimed they were reunited.?
She told confidantes that she hadn't seen her son face to face yet, or met her grand-children, Zachary and Elijah.
Announcing on social media that Sheila (pictured left with Elton as he receives his Knighthood in 1998) had died yesterday, aged 92, Elton (right) posted a picture of them together in happier times and said: 'So sad to say that my mother passed away this morning. I only saw her last Monday and I am in shock.'
But in March, Elton was hospitalised in the U.S. after falling ill with a serious infection. Following his recovery, he seems to have renewed efforts to make peace with his mother.
Although he always covered her living expences, he also paid for her recent hip operation — and sent her a message via Instagram on [U.S.] Mother's Day in May (which puzzled her friends, as Sheila was not of the Instagram generation).
At some point, he made time to see her for the first time in nine years, and then apparently saw her again last week.
Epps said: 'She was such a great lady, and I am so pleased for her if she did see Elton before she died. She missed him terribly, you know.
'I hadn't heard that they were properly in touch again from her, although there were rumours that he'd finally been for a visit.?
'I didn't hear whether she saw the children, but she has been unwell and not seeing visitors.'
He added: 'I remember years ago that he fired her. You know Elton, he fires everyone.
'He said to her: 'You are fired as my mother!' He was in such a temper. It must have been 40 years ago. She was working as his housekeeper.
The 70-year-old added: 'Travel safe Mum. Thank-you for everything. I will miss you so much. Love, Elton.'?
'But actually they got on very well for decades. She was pretty outrageous, which is where Elton gets all of that from. She was funny and witty and just a lovely person.
'They were more like brother and sister in a way, and fought like that, too.
'Their problems were a big loss for them both, and I think they both struggled with the fallout from it. It's not uncommon for mothers not to get along with wives or husbands, but it has been very sad.'
In recent years, Epps says, Sheila was surrounded by the love and support of a group of Sir Elton's former friends and employees, particularly Bob Halley, Elton's driver turned PA, who worked for him for 30 years and whom he sacked in 2007.
Halley took care of Sheila at her bungalow near Brighton.
'Bob will be more sad than anyone else over her death,' says Epps. 'He is the one who was looking after her. He only lived a few yards away and he would go and see her every day.'
The star, 70, had been estranged from Mrs Farebrother (pictured in February 2016) for around nine years until May this year following rows over mutual friends and his husband David Furnish?
John Reid, Elton's one-time lover and manager for three decades, also saw Sheila regularly.?
The rift between Sir Elton and his mother erupted in 2008 when he telephoned her and ordered her to cut off all contact with Halley and Reid — and Sheila flatly refused.
In an interview in 2015 she said: 'I told him: 'I'm not about to drop them. Bob is like a son to me. He's always been marvellous to me. He lives nearby and keeps an eye on me.' '
Elton flew into an expletive-filled rage, said that he hated her and banged down the phone.
The real root of the row was Sheila's unhappy relationship with David Furnish, whom the singer had met in 1993 and married in a civil partnership ceremony in 2005.
Sheila was a witness at the ceremony in Windsor, although she was banned from photographs because she refused to wear a hat.?
In recent years, Epps says, Sheila (pictured) was surrounded by the love and support of a group of Sir Elton's former friends and employees, particularly Bob Halley, Elton's driver turned PA, who worked for him for 30 years and whom he sacked in 2007. So he is concerned about awkward encounters at the funeral
However, she believed that Furnish, a former advertising executive, was interested only in other celebrities and blamed him for Elton firing so many of his loyal old guard.
As she recalled: '[Elton] told me I thought more of Bob Halley than I did of my own son.
'And to that I said to him: 'And you think more of that f***ing thing you married than your own mother.' Those were the last words I spoke to him. That's what it's all about.'
Over the years, she spoke movingly about her desire to make it up with her son, but she didn't seem to mellow when it came to Furnish.
'I'd like to give Furnish a punch right on the bloody earhole!' she said in an interview to mark her 90th birthday.
That Elton owes much to his mother is not in doubt. Her first husband, RAF Squadron Leader Stanley Dwight — Elton's father — was a gifted cornet player and when it became clear that Elton had inherited his father's musical talent, Sheila encouraged him from the start.
Epps said: 'I think it's going to be very difficult for Elton, because all her best friends are people who he has sacked or isn't speaking to, but he's going to have to go to the funeral and face them.' Pictured: Elton John on The Graham Norton Show this week?
Aged four, his precocious ability at the piano caused a sensation — and he'd be asked to play at weddings and parties. By 16, he was playing the piano on Friday and Saturday nights in a local pub for half a crown.?
After his parents' marriage broke up and Sheila married again, his stepfather Fred, a painter and decorator, would go around the bar with a box for contributions and keep an eye out for the teenager whenever a fight broke out.
Fred and Sheila found the money to pay for professional music lessons and in due course Elton won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Of Music.
As Elton's career took off, his mother and stepfather became a vital part of his support network.?
He was still living at home with them in Northwood, North London, when he wrote his first hit in 1970, Your Song.
As the money rolled in, Sheila gave up her job with the civil service to work as Elton's housekeeper at his mansion in Virginia Water while he was touring. He would call her every Saturday so that she could fill him in on the football results.
She talked about putting up with his 'mood swings' for years. 'All the moods and the drugs — I went through all that with him,' she said. In 1990, Elton went into rehab.
Their relationship changed after he met Furnish at a dinner party three years later, when he was clean and sober.
'He had always been very kind to me until he got with David Furnish,' Sheila explained.
Mother and son are pictured together after a beaming Elton John received his knighthood?
A sad distance sprang up between them, and worsened when his stepfather fell ill in 2007.?
Fred died three years later after a prolonged period of poor health. Elton never once visited him in hospital, according to Sheila.
'Fred just hung on thinking that Elton would come to see him, and he never did. Fred idolised him and he was so upset, you know, that he didn't bother to come and see him when he was in hospital.'
It was much the same story for Elton's father, Stanley, who had remarried. In interviews, Elton has said that his father never loved him, and that he rejected him in favour of his new family.?
He has portrayed Stanley as a controlling monster who tried to impose his military sensibilities on his young son, berating him for kicking his football in the garden, for his dress sense and even, oddly, for the way he ate celery.
Elton said his father wanted him to be a banker or civil servant, and never came to see him perform.
He added: 'I've spent my life trying to prove to my father that I was a success.
Elton John is pictured performing to crowds in Barcelona, Spain yesterday - the day before his mother died?
'He has been dead years and I'm still trying to prove the point. It stays with you. I tried to outrun my darkest secret; that I couldn't love myself. I thought I didn't deserve to be loved, cared for, or present in the world.'
Stanley's second family — he had four sons with second wife Edna — dispute this account.?
They say Stanley was loving and supportive to Elton, and even bought him his first piano and set up an account at a London boutique so that Elton could buy flamboyant clothes. He was very proud of his famous son, they insist.
In an interview in the Seventies, Elton said that Stanley had cadged money for a new car from him. Edna's view was that the ￡2,000 was a gift which the singer had insisted on making.
When Stanley required a triple bypass in 1982, Elton offered to pay for the operation; but while touched, Stanley declined.
Elton would phone for a chat and took his father to watch Watford play.?
However contact petered out as Elton struggled with eating disorders and his sexuality in the wake of his marriage to sound engineer Renate Blauel. In 1991, Stanley fell ill and allowed Edna to let Elton know.?
Plans were made for a meeting, but Elton then gave a TV interview and talked again about how afraid he had been of Stanley as a child.
It ended any hope of reconciliation. When Stanley died in 1992, it was one of his sons, Geoff, who broke the news to Elton. The singer did not attend the funeral.
Elton always claimed to have made his peace with his father, but Edna said in an interview in 2001: 'I only wish that were true.'
Perhaps he learned his lesson, and grasped a final chance of reconciliation with his mother.
Elton is on tour and due to perform in Hamburg tonight — where Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word may prove to be the hardest song he's ever had to sing.
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