Elton John, 'Single Man' No More

Elton John, left, and David Furnish are presented with a cake by a member of the Windsor crowd.
Elton John, left, and David Furnish are presented with a cake by a member of the Windsor crowd. (Photos By Kevin Coombs -- Reuters)
By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 22, 2005

WINDSOR, England, Dec. 21 -- Pop megastar Elton John exchanged vows with his longtime partner, David Furnish, in this landmark English town Wednesday, the day that same-sex civil partnerships became legal in England.

Prince Charles and his bride, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were married in the same 17th-century brick town hall and by the same registrar, Clair Williams, earlier this year. But the wedding of Sir Elton, 58, as he is known here, was a decidedly flashier affair. For one thing, he wore purple-tinted eyeglasses and a diamond earring. After he emerged from the historic Guildhall arm-in-arm with Furnish, beaming and blowing kisses, the two men in dark morning suits dashed into a black Rolls-Royce toward a luncheon and a bash at the singer's nearby mansion, famous for its 36-car garage.

The lavish reception, reported to cost $1.8 million, featured fountains of vintage pink champagne for 700 guests, including actress Liz Hurley, designer Donatella Versace, former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, Michael Caine and Claudia Schiffer.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to reporters at a news conference in London, congratulated the couple: "I wish him and David well, and all the other people exercising their rights under the civil partnerships law. I think it is a modern, progressive step forward for the country and I am proud we did it." The crowds clustered outside the town hall seemed in agreement; there were no protests.

For Elton Hercules John, the mercurial son of a Royal Air Force lieutenant who changed his name from Reginald Dwight, the ceremony marks another well-publicized milestone in an anything-but-ordinary life. Having ridden the heights of the pop charts since the 1970s and struggled with the depths of despair after cocaine addiction and bulimia in the 1980s, Elton John, now long sober and steadily wealthier, said in a newspaper article this week that he expected his civil ceremony to mark "the happiest day of my life."

John may also be the first man in England to have been legally united to both a man and a woman. On Valentine's Day 1984 he married a German recording engineer, Renate Blauel, but they divorced four years later. Furnish, 43, a Canadian advertising executive and film producer, has been John's partner for more than a decade. Their ceremony was private, attended by their parents, a few close relatives and friends, and Arthur, their black-and-white spaniel.

Gay activists heralded John's symbolic decision to hold his headline-grabbing ceremony on the first day the government allowed it. Same-sex partnerships are not officially regarded as marriages under law in the United Kingdom. But as of Wednesday gay couples in England and Wales are legally allowed to register as partners, entitling them to the same legal status as heterosexual married couples.

The law came into effect in Northern Ireland and Scotland earlier this week, and more than 700 gay couples are expected to register throughout the United Kingdom this week, according to gay rights groups and local governments.

"It's a huge moment," said Andy Forrest, a spokesman for Stonewall, a gay rights group. He added that the marriages never would have been possible during the era of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was in office from 1978 to 1990.

Forrest said John's extravagant bash "might give people the impression that everyone will be having that kind of lavish wedding -- which is not the case," but he welcomed the worldwide attention to "the huge step forward" in British law.

Former president Bill Clinton sent a video message of congratulations. A spokesman said Clinton counted the pop legend as a friend and lauded his efforts to raise money and awareness to battle AIDS -- in lieu of wedding gifts, guests were asked to make a donation to the singer's AIDS foundation. In what may be a first for Clinton, his congratulations message was broadcast at a stag party in a Soho nightclub Monday night called Too2Much. According to British media reports, the former U.S. president said, "If there were more people in the world like Elton, then the world would be a better place," as bare-chested waiters dressed as cowboys served John and his many celebrity guests.

Elton John burst onto the music scene in 1970 with "Your Song," his first Top Ten single, and then produced seven consecutive No. 1 albums that decade. Since then, he has become one of the most successful, durable and recognized pop artists in history -- winning many Grammys and other awards along the way, including an Oscar for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?," a song written for the 1994 movie "The Lion King." He performed a rewritten version of his "Candle in the Wind" live at Princess Diana's funeral in 1997, and he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth the next year.

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