How do you close Glastonbury Festival – and the final chapter of a touring career spanning more than 50 years – when you’re Sir Elton John?
While many Pyramid stage headliners before him have ended with fireworks over the years, when you’re the Rocketman you set the tone from the off and light up the sky at both the start and end of your set.
Sir Elton, resplendent in gold, chose his version of Pinball Wizard to open, a song he has not played in 10 years but a brilliant choice to make his mark.
After The Bitch Is Back, the showman told the crowd: “I never thought I’d ever play Glastonbury. It’s a very special and emotional night for me because it might be my last show ever in England, so I had better play well and I had better entertain you, you’ve been standing there so long and I really appreciate all the outfits and everything. Amazing.”
The audience for Sir Elton’s first ever Glastonbury performance was enormous, building in the early hours on Sunday morning with fans who remained in place for the entire day – loo breaks permitting – to secure their spot.
Different eras of his career were reflected in the many glittering and elaborate costumes worn by fans in the audience, while others dedicated those famous Glastonbury place-marker flags to the star.
In an interview a few days before the momentous performance, Sir Elton’s husband David Furnish told Sky News he would bring out no less than four special guests, as is often tradition at Glastonbury; last year, Sir Paul McCartney was joined by Dave Grohl (prolific again this year) and Bruce Springsteen, while in 2019, The Killers had Johnny Marr and the Pet Shop Boys.
The rumour mill beforehand went into overdrive – some Glastonbury-goers were convinced they had spotted Lady Gaga enjoying the festival incognito and would therefore make an appearance, others favoured Taron Egerton – who played Sir Elton in the Rocketman biopic – to recreate his performance alongside the man himself. Dua Lipa, Britney Spears, Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran were also in the mix, along with, after appearances on site earlier on in the festival, Grohl and McCartney.
But in the end, Sir Elton, known for championing younger performers, “wanted to have newer artists save for one person”. He was joined by Jacob Lusk of Gabriels and The London Community Gospel Choir for Are You Ready For Love?; Stephen Sanchez for a performance of the younger singer’s song Until I Found You; and Rina Sawayama for Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.
For those expecting huge names, this might have been a slight disappointment, but what a platform for the star to provide to young stars just starting out in their careers.
He also welcomed The Killers’ Brandon Flowers to the stage, telling the crowd the star was “the first person I thought of” when he was deciding on guests. Having played Glastonbury no less than six times himself, Flowers is no stranger to the festival, and the pair performed Tiny Dancer together.
Sir Elton had promised to deliver and his set provided hit after hit after hit, from Crocodile Rock, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, to I’m Still Standing, Your Song and Candle In The Wind – bringing the house down again and again and again.
Towards the end of the set came Cold Heart, his collaboration with Dua Lipa, who appeared on screen but not as a guest. Fans were encouraged to sing along to her part “and sing it loudly”.
He also paid tribute to the late George Michael, his “friend” and “inspiration”, noting that the day would have marked his 60th birthday and thanking him for the “gorgeous” music he left behind. “This is for you, George,” he said, before none other than Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.
The set closed with an extended version of Rocket Man – and of course, more fireworks. But not before the star thanked once again those in the crowd who had made the effort to dress up.
“I want to thank you all for dressing up in your costumes, your glasses and your outfits, it makes me feel so happy and so loved.”
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Sir Elton then said goodbye, thanking his fans for 52 years of “amazing love and loyalty”. Glastonbury will be, he has said, his last ever UK performance, his final ever tour set to end next month.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” he told Glastonbury. “I’ve had the best time, I will never forget you, you’re in my head and my heart and my soul, you’ve been amazing. You’ve been an incredible crowd tonight. I wish you love and health and happiness.”
There is no doubt this will go down as one of Glastonbury’s all-time legendary headline sets. And if this really is Sir Elton’s final farewell, there is no better stage on which to say goodbye.