3 min

Elton’s other half

Britain's partnership poster boys come to town

Credit: Xtra West files

“I’m one of the most fortunate, most privileged gay men in the world,” says David Furnish from his home in Nice, France. He is talking about being in a relationship with his partner of almost 13 years, Elton John.

Last December, they wed in a civil ceremony in London on the first day same-sex partnerships became legal in the United Kingdom. “We always said that when it was legal, we would do it. Given Elton’s level of celebrity and the impact that he’s had on people around the world with his music, to choose the very first day it was legal would have maximum impact.”

After the ceremony, “we walked out of the Guildhall in Windsor, [and] honestly didn’t know what we were walking into,” he recalls. “We weren’t sure whether there was going to be protestors, or we were going to get egged or flour bombed.”

They needn’t have worried. As they left, “we looked [at] the most fantastic cross-section of life. We saw moms and dads, grannies, teenagers, young people, gay couples, straight couples, business people, genuinely happy, supportive, and celebratory towards our union.”

Furnish met his future spouse one evening when a friend invited him along for a dinner party at the celebrated musician’s home. “I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t sure whether I’d get on with Elton or not. I hadn’t really followed his career that closely for a long time. I think the last Elton John album I bought was Too Low for Zero, so I wasn’t really switched on to all things Elton.

“There was a very, very strong physical attraction,” he continues, “a spiritual attraction and an emotional attraction. [I was] completely taken aback by his kindness, his humanity, his compassionate nature, his sense of fun. We had so many things in common. He asked for my phone number at the end of the night, and it just went on from there.”

Raised in Scarborough, ON, Furnish now works as a film producer and serves on the executive board of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He studied business administration at the University of Western Ontario and joined an advertising agency in Toronto after he graduated.

He transferred to England in 1989. “I spent most of my 20s trying to live out a heterosexual ideal. I certainly had sexual relationships with men in Canada but it wasn’t until I got over to Britain [that] I cut the cord between the person most of my friends back home expected me to be, and the person I knew I was.”

“When I told my parents in ’93 that I was gay and living with Elton John, their first response wasn’t, ‘Oh my God, Elton John! [We] love his music,’ [but rather] ‘How wonderful, we can all be a family again.’
“I had put an ocean between us,” he explains. “I was very guarded about my private life because I didn’t think they would accept it. They were happy that I was happy, and that we were in love. They felt that I had found someone to share my life with and we could all draw strength from that, and pull closer together.”

As for the fame and attention that now dog him and his famous partner, Furnish says it hasn’t been much of a burden, especially since they’re both naturally private people.

“It’s a bit of a drag sometimes when you want to do what I would call normal things,” he admits, “like sit in a café, or walk through a public museum, or stroll down a street and look in the windows of shops. Elton’s celebrity makes that a very difficult thing to do, but you learn to find ways to compensate for it.

“It’s not 100 percent happy all the time, either,” he says. “I don’t want to make it seem like we just breeze through it. We’ve had lots of debates and discussions. You know, grumpy moments and sad moments where you really miss each other, and you wish it wasn’t the way it was.

“We’re manic about always staying in touch,” he adds. “We’re never in a situation where we don’t know where the other person is. We have an unwritten rule where we can ring each other around the clock. If he wakes up in the middle of the night and it’s daytime for me or vice versa, and we’ve got something that needs to be discussed, we just want to say hi, or we’re missing each other, we always pick up the phone.”

Furnish is amused when asked how they feel about being partnership poster boys. “It’s wonderful if we can help create a more positive example that people can embrace, but first and foremost, we have to look after each other and the relationship, just as anybody has to.

“By and large, we’re very happy,” he says. “There are things about him that, in an ideal world, I’d love to change, and I’m sure he’d say the same thing about me, but then that’s not the person that I fell in love with. A relationship isn’t about making your partner perfect.”