Elton John‘s inaugural South of France fete was the hottest ticket of the summer circuit. It wasn’t just the 105 degree-plus heatwave, but the promise of seeing the legend perform with Coldplay‘s Chris Martin. “We’ve thought about it for years,” said John, who owns a home in nearby Nice. “It’s a wonderful part of the world and it’s been part of our lives for many, many years. We spend our summers here.”
John said he’s traditionally thrown a party during Wimbledon week at his home in Windsor, but was on tour this year, so decided to move the fete to France. “We thought a lot of people we know are here on holiday and it would be nice to invite our local friends. It’s always great to mix things up and surprise people.”
Added David Furnish, who was sporting an embroidered linen pajamas: “It’s always been a dream of ours to have an event down here. We’ve had a home down here for 22 years and this is a part of the world we love. It’s more relaxed, which is good – we’re not all tied up in black tie.” Even the red carpet was dressed down in sisal and surrounded by potted lemon trees.
Rocketman star Taron Egerton reveled in another invitation from John. “He keeps asking me to hang out, which is great,” Egerton told The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s an amazing man, as is David, and they’ve been very, very good to me. One of the great takeaways of being involved with Rocketman is that I’ve made some great new friends.”
He added: “Rocketman represents the single greatest achievement of my professional life. I’m fiercely proud of it, I’m fiercely proud of my friendship with David and Elton and it’s a great honor to be here.” But asked about the Oscar buzz surrounding his powerhouse performance, Egerton laughed and shut things down with an emphatic “no.”
“We hope everyone has a great time because they payed a lot of money to be here,” joked John of the event at photographer Jean Pigozzi’s Villa Dorane, where seats went for a minimum of $12,500. The garden grounds were dotted with hydrangeas and peonies, and guests sipped cocktails next to Pigozzi’s famous pool, immortalized in his series of pics of Elle Macpherson, Bono, Naomi Campbell and Sharon Stone frolicking.
Chris Martin took to the stage to play hits “Something Just Like This,” “Yellow” and “Viva la Vida” in a relaxed set before joining John for duets of “Rocketman” and “I’m Still Standing.”
Martin joked that he’s been working out lately and would pay $1 million if someone let him take off his shirt. There didn’t seem to be any objections from the audience, but he remained clothed on stage as he sang the hits. He also said that it was a dream performing in front of childhood hero Pete Townshend. The Who guitarist cited “Viva la Vida” as a tune he hums it in the shower. “Not sure if that was a compliment, but I’ll take it,” joked Martin.
It was Julian Lennon’s first time seeing John perform live, despite the fact the two are neighbors on the Cote d’Azur. “We have a lot of the same friends and we bump into each other, but I’m busy, he’s busy. I don’t know why but it’s just never happened so far,” he said. But the two have also discussed the idea of a musical collaboration. “We have talked about it so maybe that will happen this year,” he said.
In the auction, guests paid $90,000 for tickets to John’s annual Oscar party, and Elton himself bid $280,000 on a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II to add to his art collection. But the big bid of the evening came from American singer Hilary Roberts as Egerton and John were auctioning off the checkered Gucci jacket and Yamaha piano featured in Rocketman.
When bidding halted at $445,000, Roberts took the microphone to say she’d paid more for another one of John’s pianos at an L.A. event. When that failed to get the crowd to open their wallets wider, Roberts upped the ante, asking John if he would cameo in her upcoming music video. He agreed, and the package went for a cool $1 million.
The evening overall raised $6.1 million for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which is earmarked for testing and treatment programs in Kenya.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.