Harrow has, as the past months has shown, no shortage of famous figures – which is why it is no small thing to say that the subject of this week’s article is one of the borough’s most famous. The subject of this week’s article is a pop icon known across the world, one whose formative years were lived within our borough. The name that he is now known by is Sir Elton Hercules John – one of the most acclaimed and successful solo artists of all time.
The pop icon was born in Pinner in March 1947 – the eldest child of Stanley Dwight and the only child of Sheila Eileen. Named Reginald Kenneth Dwight, the boy was raised in the council house of his grandparents in Pinner for the first years of his life. John’s family life as a child was a turbulent one – his parents not marrying until he was six years old, and his father having a number of children alongside him. When his parents did marry, he moved out of his grandparents’ council house and into his parents’ new home, also in Pinner.
It was during these early years that the young Elton John first found his love of music. Teaching himself to play the piano in his grandparents’ council home, at the age of three the young boy amazed his family by playing The Skater’s Waltz by ear. Perhaps this shouldn’t have been quite so surprising, however. Both his parents were musically-talented, his father having been a trumpet player with the Bob Millar Band – a semi-professional band that had played at military dances. More than this, his parents had also been avid record-buyers, in so doing exposing the young Elton John to the popular music of the time. John has said how he remembers being immediately hooked on rock n’ roll when his mother brought home records by the likes of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets in 1956.
Growing ever-more apt at the art of music as he grew up, John in the meantime was educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School and, later, Pinner County Grammar School – which recently had a school reunion that John attended. Whilst at these schools, John continued to practice his music, having taken up formal piano lessons at the age of seven, and gaining a certain amount of fame for playing at school functions. In between this, the young musician attended the Royal Academy of Music as a Junior Exhibitor after winning a scholarship at the age of eleven. By the age of seventeen, John was properly eying a career in music – and at the cusp of entering his A-levels, the soon-to-be icon left his Grammar School in pursuit of this career.
This did not sit well with his father. His father having served as a flight lieutenant in the RAF, John was encouraged to take a more conventional career like banking instead of music. Yet his father had been rather absent in his childhood, and, since he had been fourteen, his parents had been divorced – an event that had been especially distressing for the young popstar. Following this, John had moved into a new home at Frome Court in Pinner with his mother and her new husband Fred Farebrother, who John affectionately came to call ‘Derf.’ With all this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that John did not in the end listen to his biological father.
From his new flat in Frome Court, John wrote the songs that soon would make him known the world over, while practising his craft in the local area with the help of his mother and stepfather – notably at the Northwood Hills Hotel, playing Thursday to Sunday nights from the age of fifteen. Here he became known as ‘Reggie,’ playing a number of popular songs alongside those that he had written himself. A mere few years later, and Reggie would have the audience of the nation and the world under a new, now legendary, name.
Pinner, then, was Elton John’s springboard in a number of ways – not only honing his craft in the council houses and flats of Pinner, but also gaining a love of music and the support system to help him pursue a career in it. In this, the local area intangibly shaped the pop icon that is now so globally loved. It was from Pinner that the likes of ‘Tiny Dancer’ and ‘Skyline’ came to be; from Pinner that even the wearing of wild stage costumes came to emerge.
Safe to say, then, it was from Pinner that Elton John rose to prominence; from Pinner, that Elton John was born.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: Elton John Instagram