Rock’s best frenemies: Inside Rod Stewart and Elton John’s 50-year ‘war’

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The bad cover was forgiven, clearly, because by the early Seventies, when Elton’s then boyfriend lived near Rod, the two young singers became so inseparable that Baldry christened them Phyllis and Sharon. They’ve called each other by those names – or simply “dear” – ever since.

The pranking began soon afterwards, almost as a way of staying in touch while each jetted around the world. In 1978, Rod set off on the Blondes Have More Fun tour. Elton arranged for him to be followed by a sign that read: “But Brunettes Make More Money.”

Things then escalated in the Eighties. They really were mates – “We try and publicise the fact that we always have a go at each other in the papers, but in fact we do that for reasons only known to us, really. We’re actually very good friends,” Elton said in 1983 – but they were also persistent chart rivals. As Elton once quipped, “We’re all right until we both get in the Top 10.”

In 1985, Rod had a run of dates at Earls Court, publicising them by flying “massive footballs, the size of blimps” above the venue. As he recalled in Rod: The Autobiography, “Elton hired a sniper to shoot them down with an air rifle.”

Or as Elton put it: “So I called my management and they hired someone to shoot it down: apparently it landed on top of a double-decker bus and was last seen heading toward Putney. About an hour later, the phone went. It was Rod, spluttering about the disappearance.”

Hell hath no fury like a preening rock star scorned, of course. A year later, Elton was playing Olympia, with a banner of his face across the street. “It was mysteriously cut down immediately after it was put up,” he said. The phone rang. “Such a shame about your banner, love,” came Rod’s voice. “I heard it wasn’t even up five minutes. I bet you didn’t even get to see it.”

There were good times, like when Elton convinced Rod to dance at a club by giving him poppers; and easy shots, like when he called Rod to let him know he’d just seen Johnny Rotten on TV calling Rod “a useless old f—–” (“You’re only 32. How awful for you…”), and their own version of support through the bad, too.

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