As his husband, Elton John, prepares for the U.S. finale of his absolutely-positively-unambiguously-final farewell tour Sunday night (Nov. 20) at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, David Furnish wants to clarify one thing: “It’s really important to make a distinction between Elton retiring from touring but Elton not playing his very last public performance for the very last time,” says Furnish, 60, a former advertising executive who has produced numerous films, including John’s 2019 biopic, Rocketman. “Will Elton return as a live performer? I hope so! It’s in his blood.”
In a wide-ranging phone interview from the family’s home, Furnish, also John’s manager, discusses the tour’s COVID-19 challenges, how high gas prices and supply-chain issues have complicated budgets and his entry into the music business. “I love working in this world,” he says. “We have the privilege of working with the very best in the business.”
As of last month, the Farewell Yellow Brick World Tour has grossed $661.3 million and sold 4.5 million tickets, including 30 U.S. stadium shows this year that totaled $133.4 million and 830,000 tickets. When the tour returned in January, Omicron loomed over the concert business, but COVID-19 fears have dissipated. How has your thinking about the tour changed throughout 2022?
From us, nothing has changed. COVID is still out in the world. It is still a risk to the health of our crew and to Elton and the band. We put in place a very strict testing protocol. We went back out on the road last January with a regular cadence of testing, keeping everybody up to date on vaccines and boosters. We’ve kept all of that in place. We have people in the tour in separate bubbles. Elton feels really badly, but he hasn’t been able to mix with his band. His band travels in one bubble. He and his assistants, the people who support him, his hairdresser and people in security — they’re in his bubble. It’s been very challenging for Elton, because he always loves being with his band before he goes on stage. He always sits with them and chats and has a laugh with them. That’s not been possible. While he’s been home, between shows or in hotels, he has to isolate. Everybody that supports him at home is also tested regularly — all staff in the household.
How difficult was it to reschedule the shows in Dallas when Elton himself came down with COVID?
We had to postpone, but it meant we lost two shows in Montreal to allow those Dallas shows to be rescheduled. There’s only so much wiggle-room in a tour schedule. This is a big behemoth of a tour. You suddenly just can’t jump to another side of the country or cross the Atlantic to make up a show.
How did fans’ excitement for the tour evolve as the COVID-19 landscape changed throughout 2022?
Thankfully, COVID hospitalizations have massively decreased and there are more medical treatments than there were at the beginning, so people can make the decision as to what medical risk is appropriate for them and still come to see a show. Lockdown was very hard for most people. It was very isolating, and nothing brings people and the world together like music. It’s emotionally and mentally and spiritually very healthy for people to get back out and see shows again. We just had to go back on the road in the safest way possible, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
How have you adapted to higher gas prices and supply-chain issues? Does Elton eat the extra expenses, or have you cut the budget or production?
We just eat the extra cost, because the tour we started with is the tour we intend on finishing with. We sold tickets in good faith and people bought tickets in good faith and it’s really important that we don’t short-change anybody and we honor our commitments. Elton is really committed to that. It’s the largest traveling-production tour Elton’s ever mounted, and it didn’t even occur to us to try to reconfigure it in any way to make it cheaper.
Please set the record straight: Will Sunday’s concert at Dodger Stadium be the last U.S. show Elton ever plays?
I know for a fact he will not be touring in any capacity. What you’re going to see is the possibility of a special one-off or a small residency in one venue for a limited period of time. I don’t think it will be Las Vegas. Elton feels he’s done the best he can in Las Vegas. He mounted two hugely successful residencies there. When you’re an artist and something’s in your blood, you don’t want to shut the door completely. Having said that, I know Elton, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t do any more live shows, either. He’s really looking forward to spending time with his family. That’s the No. 1 priority in his life. Any type of return to any type of touring is going to be a very well-considered situation, and definitely not a given, at all.
Given your background in other businesses, I wonder what it was like to transition into the music business as Elton’s manager.
I have a business-advertising-marketing background, but I’ve also worked in musical theater, I’ve worked in film production and I’ve been in Elton’s life for 29 years. So it’s not foreign to me at all. When you launch a tour like this, it’s like going on a dangerous mission, and you say to yourself, “I’m hurtling down rapids, and we’re about to go over the falls — who do you want to steady things in the boat and keep things under control?” I’m very fortunate. When I took over, Elton’s tour infrastructure was very, very healthy.
Am I reaching you at the family home in Los Angeles?
Yeah. The whole family’s here in Los Angeles. Obviously, I’m here for work, but I’m here to support my husband and our sons are here. This is a big, big moment in our family’s life.