How doomed relationship that began in Sheffield inspired an Elton John hit
Sir Elton John has revealed all about a turbulent relationship that inspired one of his most enduring hits – and the story starts in Sheffield.
In his new autobiography, titled Me, Sir Elton tells of how he and his lyricist Bernie Taupin came to write ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’, which reached the UK Top 40 in 1975 despite its intensely personal, bleak subject matter that recounts a real suicide bid.
The veteran performer, 72 – who has been openly gay for decades and married his husband David Furnish in 2005 – explains that in the late 1960s he was unhappily engaged to a woman called Linda Woodrow, whom he met at Sheffield’s Mojo club when his pre-fame band, Bluesology, played a gig there.
“She was tall, blonde and three years older than me,” writes Sir Elton. “She didn’t have a job. I don’t know where her money came from – but she was a woman of independent means. There wasn’t much in the way of physicality, and we certainly never had sex.”
The relationship, he says, ‘started to develop a momentum of its own’ and Linda decided to move to London, getting a flat that she and Elton could live in, with Bernie joining them as a lodger.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn't feel a sense of unease at all this,” he writes. “I suppose I was doing what I thought I should be doing at twenty – settling down with someone.”
Ignoring ‘alarm bells’, he got engaged to Linda on his 21st birthday.
“A wedding date was set… I started to panic. The obvious course of action was simply to be honest. But the obvious course of action didn’t appeal… so I decided to stage a suicide bid instead.”
Bernie walked in on his friend and rescued him, but instead of registering ‘terrible shock’, Linda simply expressed ‘mild bemusement’, Sir Elton says.
Things came to a head at a meeting with Long John Baldry, Bluesology’s leader who was due to be the couple’s best man.
“It took a few drinks until he told me what the problem was. He erupted. ‘Wake up and smell the roses. You’re gay. You love Bernie more than you love her’.”
A 'terrible row’ ensued back at the flat, and the next morning the songwriting duo left to live with Sir Elton’s mother. “Neither of us ever saw Linda again,” he writes.
‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’, a lengthy rock ballad, featured on Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, an autobiographical album that focused on Sir Elton and Bernie’s early career.
“You can get a pretty good sense of what Bernie thought from the lyrics,” he says.
The chorus includes the lines: “You nearly had me roped and tied, altar-bound, hypnotised/Sweet freedom whispered in my ear.”
Sir Elton writes: “It’s hardly a glowing appraisal of Linda’s multitude of good qualities. Bernie didn’t like her at all.”
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain earlier this year, Linda said she was ‘devastated’ at the break-up, but hoped her ex-fiance hadn’t forgotten about her. She added that she was ‘disappointed’ not to be portrayed in Rocketman, the recent biopic of Sir Elton’s life.
The singer and pianist released his first album 50 years ago and is playing concerts across the world on a 300-date farewell tour. He has sold more than 300 million records, and was behind the biggest-selling single of all time, Candle In The Wind 1997 - his tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales.
His charity, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, has raised over $450 million in 24 years. He had a short-lived marriage to another woman, recording engineer Renate Blauel, in the 1980s before meeting David Furnish in 1993. Sir Elton and Furnish, 57, now have two sons.
Me, written with the music journalist Alexis Petridis, is out now, published by Pan Macmillan.