Elton John spent over £290,000 on flowers. Why? Because he can

The pop legend, giving evidence for the first time in his action against his management, is told he got through £40m in 20 months

Tom Sutcliffe
Thursday 16 November 2000 01:00 GMT

The capacity crowd was the sort a rock entrepreneur dreams about, as is only to be expected for a star of Sir Elton John's luminosity. But this time there was to be no box-office take and no calculation of the exact commission payable to local promoters and tour managers.

The capacity crowd was the sort a rock entrepreneur dreams about, as is only to be expected for a star of Sir Elton John's luminosity. But this time there was to be no box-office take and no calculation of the exact commission payable to local promoters and tour managers.

Only the lawyers were getting an appearance fee as Sir Elton gave evidence for the first time in his court case against PricewaterhouseCoopers (formerly known as Price Waterhouse), his accountants, and Andrew Haydon, who ran JREL, his management firm.

Sir Elton is suing over extra payments made to JREL, payments he argues were in contravention of his management contract and to which his advisers should have alerted him.

Despite his aversion to "men in suits" he had turned up in one - a light charcoal affair set off with a pale blue tie - to find the court exploring the extensive regions of his own forgetfulness and the vertiginous scale of his spending habits.

The hearing was told that the singer had spent almost £40m over a 20-month period, including £9.6m on property, and £293,000 on flowers alone. "Well, I like flowers," Sir Elton said mildly. "I don't have anyone to leave it to. I'm a single man. I like spending money."

The swearing-in had offered the first titbit - his middle name is apparently Hercules, presumably a self-inflicted wound, given that both Elton and John were late adoptions.

He did not look like a paragon of strength as he mounted the witness box, tugging nervously at his mouth and answering his own counsel's questions in a quiet voice.

Gordon Pollock QC set out to sketch the rough boundaries of Sir Elton's ignorance of business affairs and to set aside six paragraphs of the performer's own filed witness statement.

Sir John seemed perfectly happy to see paragraphs 31, 32 and 33 consigned to oblivion; but when invited to dismiss 35, 36 and 37 in similar terms, his eyebrows flicked upwards in puzzlement and he demurred: "Well, I think they are relevant," he said.

If Mr Pollock was disturbed by this unexpected jolt in the road he did not betray it, going on to fill in the details of Sir Elton's creative disdain for small print and exact figures.

Mr Pollock asked: "Were you interested in looking at tour accounts?" "No," Sir Elton replied emphatically, happy to oblige his lawyer in this at least.

Mark Hapgood QC, appearing for PricewaterhouseCoopers, was at pains to argue the exact opposite - that even the most distracted artist might be expected to take note of precisely how much of his wealth was disappearing in the steady evaporation of commission fees. He began by establishing the unique nature of Sir Elton's relationship with his long-term manager John Reid, a close friendship that overlapped with a business partnership.

Sir Elton responded: "I never judged my relationship with Mr Reid on purely monetary terms at all." Although he had been advised that his agreement with his manager was too generous, he was happy for that to be the case.

He told Mr Hapgood later, after the QC expressed bemusement at the casual nature of their business relationship: "You've obviously never trusted someone as much as I trusted John Reid."

PricewaterhouseCooper's QC scored his first hit when he put it to the star that the court case was a direct result of the soured relationship with Mr Reid. He suggested: "What you are trying to do is get back from Price Waterhouse's deep pocket some of your past generosity to Mr Reid?" To the surprise of the court, Sir Elton answered "Yes".

Mr Hapgood pressed on to the exact nature of Sir Elton's indifference to financial details, provoking the singer to exclaim: "I have a flair for writing songs, I have a flair for composing, I have a flair for performance, I have a flair for recording. I do not have a flair for business."

But you are highly intelligent, went on Mr Hapgood. After a pause, Sir Elton said: "I'm intelligent... obviously not intelligent enough."

He insisted that despite methodically noting down the attendances and venues of his concerts in his diary, he had never taken any interest in the day-to-day box office figures.

Mr Hapgood permitted himself his first histrionic gesture - an incredulous expression that he rotated gently round the courtroom so that no one present would miss its implication. Mr Hapgood turned to Bundle 1, one of the small library of documents in the case, to press home his argument that PricewaterhouseCoopers had fulfilled its obligations as guardian of Sir Elton's affairs.

As Mr Justice Ferris exclaimed at its bulk and weight Mr Hapgood allowed himself another dab of theatrical sarcasm: "Well my Lord," he said. "These are just a few scraps of letters from Price Waterhouse." He then obliged Sir Elton to admit that he had received and torn up a Price Waterhouse report on his financial affairs in the half-year to June 1989 (the remaining scraps were offered as evidence), though the singer did not concede that he had actually read it in between.

Much of Mr Hapgood's time was taken in trying to hammer a piton into the glassy surface of the performer's memory. Again and again, Sir Elton replied "I can't remember" or "I can't recall" to Mr Hapgood's questions about business meetings, letters and financial reports. Again and again, Mr Hapgood returned, directing Sir Elton to one of the aide memoires in the files and asking, "Does that ring a bell?"

Only occasionally did a faint tinkle of recollection return from the void, Sir Elton repeatedly insisting that he had not been at all interested in the minutiae of his business dealings, only in the creative side of his career.

He regularly signed documents he had not read, he claimed, since he had absolute confidence in John Reid's stewardship of his affairs. He conceded that his grasp of history was not exactly improved by his cocaine and alcohol dependency up to 1990.

Both men began to tire as they trudged onwards through the energy-sapping sift of small print.

Before lunch, the singer had agreed to Mr Hapgood's suggestion that he and John Reid both had "a slightly short fuse in terms of your temper"; but it was only after lunch that the fuse spluttered for the first time, when Sir Elton finally became exasperated with Mr Hapgood's bafflement at his indifference to contractual niceties. "You take care of everything," he said testily, paraphrasing what he wanted from his new agreement with his manager, "It cannot be simpler than that!"

"I wanted an uncomplicated life", he had said earlier, almost plaintively. He was learning yesterday that the cost of that particular luxury is attention to detail, however tedious it might be at the time.

The hearing continues.

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