Though she had been a loving mother to him throughout his childhood, and supported him through all of the ups and downs of his career, Elton John severed all contact with his mother after a catastrophic argument.
The precise nature of what sparked their rift has hitherto never been explained. But in a new interview with DailyMail, 90 year old Sheila revealed exactly what took place between them — and the enduring hurt she feels. Her decision to talk publicly was sparked in part by the pictures that appeared of her 90th birthday party two weeks ago, for which she hired an Elton John impersonator to entertain her 80 guests.
It all began, she reveals, when Elton telephoned her out of the blue and ordered her to cut off all contact with two of their oldest friends, Bob Halley and John Reid, with whom he had fallen out.
Bob had been Elton’s driver turned personal assistant, whom he had fired after more than 30 years of loyal service as part of a series of changes he was making to his team.
John, meanwhile, had been Elton’s brilliant manager — and briefly his lover — and is the man who guided his career from its earliest days through to global superstardom and a £235 million fortune.
Since Sheila had known these two men for decades, and particularly valued their support and companionship in her later years, she flatly refused to cut them out of her life. As far as she was concerned, they had always taken care of her throughout the years she had spent travelling the world with Elton and thus deserved her loyalty.
And unlike so many of Elton’s entourage, she was not afraid to refuse her son’s demands.
‘I told him: ‘I’m not about to do that and drop them. Bob is like a son to me. He has always been marvellous to me and he lives nearby and keeps an eye on me.’ ‘
Elton, not used to being defied, flew into an expletive-filled rage.
‘Then to my utter amazement, he told me he hated me. And he then banged the phone down. Imagine! To me, his mother!’
A mother, moreover, who was then 83-years-old.
Yet despite Elton’s cruel words Sheila does not regret standing up to him and indeed is capable of giving as good as she got.
‘I’m not a person to be controlled or told what I’ve got to do,’ she says with a defiant look in her hazel eyes. ‘I’m not being controlled by anybody. I don’t care what it is.
‘Even if I was destitute I wouldn’t be controlled by anybody. Also, why should I be alone and not talk to nice friends nearby and people I’ve known all through his career?
‘I had no intention of dropping John and Bob and I told Elton so. He told me I thought more of Bob Halley than I did of my own son.
‘And to that I said to him, ‘And you think more of that f***ing thing you married than your own mother.’ ‘
By that ‘thing’ Sheila is referring to David Furnish, Elton’s long-term partner and now husband.
‘Those were the last words I spoke to him. That’s what it’s all about. I suppose he was horrified because I dared to disobey.’
Sheila regrets that, provoked by Elton’s foul-mouthed outburst, which the Mail has chosen not to print, she resorted to similar language in the heat of the moment. Her feelings towards his partner she said, did not stem from any form of homophobia as she is a tolerant and open-minded woman who has many close gay friends, and long ago accepted her own son’s sexuality.
Rather, her anger centres on what she sees as Furnish’s attempt to take control of all aspects of Elton’s life, at the expense of his old friends and family.
‘It’s pretty obvious if anyone thinks about it. Elton didn’t even fall out with Bob [Halley] really. The relationship ended abruptly. Everybody was got rid of all of a sudden. That’s what happened and everybody has gone — me included.
‘Everyone who used to be invited to the parties doesn’t get invited any more . . . and we know who is behind that!’
Sheila believes that the only people who matter to Furnish and Elton are the celebrities and the super-rich with whom they now consort.
‘It appears all they are interested in these days are people with wealth and fame. And that is exactly what happened. There are none of his old loyal friends around — they have all been dropped. Look how John Reid has been outcast.
‘Without John, when they started off, they’d never have been where they were. Elton would not have become what he became.
‘Bob was like a brother to Elton, they got on, they had the same sense of humour, they travelled around the world together for over 30 years.’
But after Elton met Furnish —then working as an advertising executive — through a mutual acquaintance in 1993, things were to change dramatically.
‘At the beginning of their friendship I was glad he had found someone to settle with after so much disruption with all the various boyfriends coming and going,’ she says. ‘They would get what they wanted out of him, they’d get their houses and whatever they wanted and then they wouldn’t love him any more. And then I would be dragged into it.
‘We had all this to put up with. But you are there for him because he’s your son.’
For Sheila, the first hint of trouble came at Elton and David’s civil partnership ceremony at Windsor Guildhall in 2005, for which she was invited to be an official witness.
‘I wouldn’t comply with everything they wanted me to do, that was the trouble,’ she recalls. ‘One thing I didn’t do was to wear a hat. That didn’t go down well with Furnish because he wanted it to be the Wedding of the Year.
‘Then a call came through from Furnish’s secretary saying if we wouldn’t mind, we were not going to be in the photographs.
‘And we weren’t allowed to leave the building until after they had gone and had photographs taken.
‘It seemed odd to me because Elton saw me as he arrived and said: ‘Mum, you look lovely.’
‘But we didn’t have our picture taken because we were told not to be in the photographs. So ridiculous. I don’t think Elton knows half of what goes on, really. And I’d never run to Elton telling tales. I never have done.
‘But when we’ve been so close and I never, ever interfered in his life . . .’ she trails off.
Which brings us, of course, to her 90th birthday party. Although Sheila wasn’t expecting her son to make a surprise visit from America — where his current tour includes playing for a reported £340,000 a night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas —she wasn’t going to let that stop her celebrating her birthday in style.
Eighty of her friends turned out to toast her at a party thrown at a converted barn near her West Sussex home. And to add to the fun she hired ‘The Ultimate Elton Tribute Band’ — led by amazingly realistic Elton lookalike Paul Bacon.
The party, which Sheila paid for herself but was organised by her old friend Bob Halley, started at 4pm and didn’t end until midnight, and the spirited Sheila enjoyed dancing to all her favourite Elton hits.
She roars with laughter as she said:
‘Paul Bacon was the absolute image of Elton. He must have studied him in every possible way, all the actions and moves and the sound of his voice, the way he spoke, the way he looked.
‘The whole hall thought at first it was Elton walking in, then they thought he was looking rather young! He got a standing ovation. We had kept it a secret and everyone was taken aback.
‘People just gasped. Then everyone was crying because of me, I suppose, and knowing the situation that has existed.’
Few families go through life without a row or two along the way, but most learn to make peace eventually. Surely, after seven years, it is time for Elton and Sheila to be reconciled?
‘It’s up to him. Maybe, I don’t know,’ she says. ‘I’m happy now. I’ve got over all the hurt of those seven years. I’ve got over all the nasty things and the hurtfulness.
‘And really, Furnish doesn’t want to be with me and I certainly don’t want to be with him.’
More than that, she says that if she and Elton’s husband were to come face to face, she may not be able to contain her rage.
‘I’d like to give Furnish a punch right on the bloody earhole! If I had the chance, I’d do it.’
Even so, it is to Elton’s credit that despite his harsh words, he continues to support Sheila financially as well as providing a roof over her head and paying for her medical bills.