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30 May 2008

Unforgettable People (XXII): Sheila Harris, Elton’s mum.

Stanley and Sheila Harris met in 1942 when he was serving in the Royal Air Force and she, just sixteen years old, was working for United Dairies delivering milk. When Reg was born, his father was absent overseas on RAF service. In contrast of Stanley, Sheila was his mentor and confident, and she encouraged his love for pop music. She loved Rock’n’Roll and brought home two new 78s that impacted Elton: “ABC Boogie” by Bill Haley and “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley. But Sheila found love with a local builder and decorater called Fred Farebrother. The divorce between his parents, caused fifteen-year-old Reg enormous pain: “I lived in fear the fights, but finally we had peace at home” said Elton. But very quickly he described Fred as “my dad”, when they lived in flat number 30 in Frame Court.

When Elton met Bernie, they went to live with Elton’s parents, in the only vacant space the house had: the bedroom with bunk beds, where Bernie used to write lyrics and Elton, in the living room sat at the piano to write music for them. “Bernie was very deep thinking” reminded Sheila, “He used to love to sit up the trees outside the flat, and write lyrics up there”. When she came home, in the evening, from her job in the Ministry of Defence, she listened the day’s compositions: “They used to wait for me out of the window and as soon as I got in it was come and listen to this, come and listen to this. If i was one I cried at, they’d say well that’s a winner, we’ll have that one”. When the pair signed for Dick James Music, Sheila and Bernie’s father, Robert, had been represent to countersign the contracts

“I confinded to her that I might be gay and she was very understanding about it. I was very lucky in that respect” explained Elton about his mother. Sheila accepted Elton’s friend and partner John Reid as a family member. They lived together at Hercules, the new house in Virginia Water, and did the bookkeeping, laundry and look after the dogs.

Sheila suffered too much on Elton’s dark periods, when it was drugs, alcohol, depressions and suicide attempts. “It was a terrible, terrible time, those days” explained Sheila for “Tantrums and tiaras” documental, “it’s an awful thing to see someone you love unhappy. There were drugs (...) I knew he was taking drugs but what can you do? I didn’t see him all week until backstage before he went on and I remember his hands were just split from playing the piano so hard and he was putting this stuff onto his skin. He looked terrible. I thought he was going to die”, at this time she began to sob... In 1986 they decided to emigrate to Minorca, Spain for the scandal and harassment of some British tabloids, but they returned the self-imposed exile in 1990 when Elton began attending Alcoholics Anonimous.

Elton confessed himself as a mummy’s boy because "nobody has stood by me as much as my mother". When Elton tied the knot with David, in 2005, both mothers, Sheila Farebrother, a retired civil servant, and Gladys Furnish, a retired housewife, were named as official witnesses.

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