'Insulted' pop star forgives the Israelis: Elton plans return to Tel Aviv after angry departure

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The Independent Online
THE Foreign Office has done it again. Anglo-Israeli relations are back on track. Elton John has promised to come back. And the pop fans of Tel Aviv are smiling once more.

The only person who may have reason to frown is the Queen.

To comprehend further it is essential to establish one little known fact: Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador to Israel, Andrew Burns, is a big Elton fan.

Elton is also very popular among Israelis and had been scheduled to play in a pop concert last night. More than 30,000 fans had bought tickets and were eagerly awaiting his arrival. So was Mr Burns, who also had a ticket and was planning a relaxed night out, ahead of a key event in his calendar the following day - the Queen's Birthday Party.

It was, therefore, with some distress that Mr Burns and Israeli fans observed the debacle which followed the star's arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

Mr John seemed to have been unprepared for Israel's traditional airport greeting rituals: lengthy queues, heavy security checks and boisterous crowds. In particular, Mr John was unprepared for the enthusiasm of the Israeli paparazzi.

Insulted by the airport queuing, Mr John, in unmistakable mauve attire, finally arrived at the Hilton Hotel only to be jostled by Israeli photographers. Punches and insults were liberally thrown between the photographers and Mr John's bodyguards. Without even checking in, Mr John then gathered up his entourage, returned to the airport, refuelled his private plane and flew on to London. He said he had feared for his safety.

The embassy was inundated with calls asking for British reaction. 'Elton John would not have behaved like this in any other country,' thundered one Knesset member, Avraham Burg. Other Israeli members of parliament condemned the affair as 'an insult to Israel'.

'We've been screwed,' said Israeli disc- jockey, Dov Ben-Ze'ev. 'He's nuts,' said the fans in Tel Aviv cafes, whispering anti-British sentiments into their cappuccino. All day yesterday the dulcet South London tones of Mr John's body guards, taped at the punch-up, were played on Israel Radio, interspersed with Elton John songs.

Putting Foreign Office pen to paper, Mr Burns promptly decided to send a fax to Mr John. It spoke of the 'keen sense of local disappointment' over the cancellation of the concert and pressed the star to 'reconsider'. This is Foreign-Office speak for: 'Get on back right away or there'll be what-for.'

Last night Mr Burns had received no formal reply, but the signs were that the diplomatic ploy had worked and Elton had agreed to come back, re-scheduling the concert for tonight.

The fans were prepared to forgive him and the turn-out was expected to be good. But what would the effect be on the turn- out at the Queen's Birthday Party?

According to British sources, many of the embassy guests are believed to be Elton John fans, too. While the ambassador is sure to be toasting the Queen, there were fears in the embassy last night that many of his guests might prefer to be elsewhere listening to the singer.