In many ways, Renate Blauel is the forgotten woman of the music business. In the recent Elton John biopic, Rocketman, she is featured in a very brief sequence portraying a whirlwind marriage and divorce from the flamboyant singer.
But the truth of it is that she was actually Elton John’s wife for four years. Nowadays, Elton is sanguine about the years he spent married to Renate. He is self-deprecating about the part he played in their failed marriage. But Renate herself has little to say.
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Who is Renate Blauel?
Details of Renate Blauel’s early life are hard to come by, but it is generally accepted that she was born in Berlin and began her career as a flight attendant for Lufthansa Airways. Her father, Joachim Blauel, was a successful publisher and she was brought up in surroundings of comparative luxury.
But like a lot of middle-class adolescents, she rebelled. She got her first position in the music industry working for Croatia Records. At age 22 she relocated to London to pursue her career in music production. And that was where she met Elton John.
By the early ’80s, Elton’s career seemed to be on the slide. He had been paying his dues as a smash hit recording artist for well over a decade, establishing himself as one of the most prolific and popular songwriters of his generation.
From his self-titled debut album, which boasted the gorgeous ballad “Your Song,” and smash hits such as “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Candle in the Wind,” he had scaled the heights of songwriting success.
But it was too good to last. His most recent album, Jump Up!, had yielded no significant chart success, and was widely considered to be both a critical and commercial low point. So with his next album, it was make or break. And that’s when he first encountered Renate.
Elton John – Renate Blauel
Elton John met Renate Blauel in London in 1983, while he was completing his Too Low for Zero album at AIR Studios. The album, which featured hits like “I’m Still Standing” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” was a comeback after a few years in the commercial doldrums.
But the writing and recording of it were far from easy. Elton was feeling the pressure. He was also very heavily mired in drug addiction, and his substance usage had dramatically increased in recent months.
As you can imagine, this was a tense and intimidating environment for Renate Blauel to walk into. This was her first-ever session as a full-fledged engineer after years as a sound recordist. She was nervous and anxious to do a good job, and it seems that she did.
In many ways, she had a positive, calming influence on Elton. It looked to be the friendship he didn’t know he needed. She found him funny and charming, while for him she represented a caring presence; a shoulder to cry on. Friends who saw the two of them together have stated that the chemistry between them was undeniable. But it was the natureof that chemistry which was to prove perplexing.
They were good friends from the very beginning. Elton was a fiery personality, and Renate was just what he needed to mollify him. She was quiet and subdued and provided a healthy dose of reality when he was in the throes of a creative crisis. But in her own understated way, she was just as devoted to the music as he was. It was something they bonded over.
Elton John’s Wife
While Elton was touring Australia in support of the Too Low for Zero album, Renate Blauel accompanied him as part of his entourage and one of his most trusted confidantes. He proposed to her over dinner in February of ’84, and the wedding was arranged for three days later.
The nuptials caused a media sensation, as well as a considerable surprise to Elton’s nearest and dearest. After all, many of them had taken for granted that he was gay and that his purported bisexuality was simply a publicity device. Publicly at least, Elton John was bisexual. He had come out in 1976.
Nevertheless, the event was a typically splashy affair, taking place on Valentine’s Day and boasting such illustrious guests as Olivia Newton-John and Rod Stewart. Somewhat perversely, Elton’s ex-lover and current manager John Reid was the best man at the wedding.
But behind the scenes, a scandal was brewing. No one was more shocked by the marriage announcement than Elton’s former lover Gary Clarke, who claims to have taken part in a three-way tryst with Elton and a male prostitute two nights before the proposal. Clarke wound up watching the wedding from his fifth-floor hotel room.
The event itself was typically lavish for such an impromptu affair, boasting a menu which consisted of lobster, prawns, scallops, salmon, lamb, crab, venison, beef, veal, quail, chicken, pork, turkey, ham and trout, not to mention oysters flown in from New Zealand.
As for Renate, her wedding dress was custom made and boasted a heart-shaped pendant encrusted with sixty-three diamonds. Suffice to say, Renate Blauel and Elton John made a handsome couple indeed, if not an altogether convincing one. Because there was no escaping the fact that they were getting married having known each other for less than eighteen months.
Why Did Elton John Marry Renate Blauel?
There has been a lot of speculation as to why exactly Elton John chose to marry at all, given his sexuality. Some more cynical commentators have drawn the conclusion that it was effectively a PR exercise, designed to win back some of the more conservative markets (like the Bible Belt in the USA) which had been alienated by his flamboyance and dubious sexuality.
Others, including long time Elton collaborator Bernie Taupin, viewed the marriage as a manifestation of Elton’s deep-seated desire for a family. It is reported that Elton’s mother gave them a baby stroller as a wedding gift.
Realistically, the most credible explanation is that Elton was looking to make a drastic change in his life. He was depressed and addicted, and his self-consciously outrageous lifestyle was getting him nowhere.
Perhaps he anticipated that a conventional, heteronormative married scenario might jolt him out of the inexorable slump he had entered into. Non-conformism had not worked, but conformism might. And in some ways, it did. His career began a steady resurgence, and he continued to impress with sold-out live performances.
What makes this story poignant rather than simply a bizarre curiosity is the fact that there was genuine affection between Elton John and Renate Blauel. They had a certain chemistry of their own, even if it was not with hindsight a romantic one.
But Elton genuinely cared for her and did his best to help her acclimate to her newfound celebrity. Yet the question remains, did she know he was gay? It would appear not. Elton John’s wife was as frustrated and distressed by the press speculation as he was.
Throughout the years of the marriage, a kind of informal reclusiveness prevailed. They were seldom seen together in public, with the frequent excuse that Elton’s touring schedule kept them apart. But the truth of it is, they actually spent more time apart than together.
Rumors abounded that the marriage remained unconsummated and that the couple had separate sleeping arrangements. It was a marriage in name only. Elton has blamed the decision on his drink and drug dependency, which had him in their thrall throughout the decade. Both before and after his marriage to Renate Blauel. He has said that the pain he caused her has been one of the great regrets of his life.
In March 1987, Elton turned forty. He threw a predictably decadent party for himself, with a guest list featuring some of the most famous names in show business. But one guest was conspicuous by her absence. Renate did not attend. In fact, she was absent during some of the most significant events in Elton’s life during those few years. That included the time he underwent serious throat surgery, risking his vocal cords.
There was a time when it looked as though Renate was set to assume the role of manager for her friend, recording artist Sylvia Griffin on Elton’s Rocket record label. This career move was discussed a number of times in the press but ultimately came to little. At one time, Sylvia Griffin was a vocalist with the synth-pop band Kissing the Pink. Notably, she recorded a song co-written by Elton, “Lonely Heart.”
Another single of hers, “Love’s A State of Mind,” would feature George Harrison on guitar. But the singles sank without trace, and she was never destined for mainstream success. These days, Sylvia Griffin is a largely forgotten name. But at the time, it looked like she might’ve been going places.
In 1988, reports surfaced of Elton’s infidelity with numerous male lovers. The negative press proved too much for the megastar and following an emotional breakdown of sorts, he barricaded himself in his home. Somewhat absurdly, it was also reported that Renate climbed up a ladder to his bedroom window, like some kind of inverted Romeo and Juliet.
Months later, the marriage ended, not with a bang but a whimper. Renate was typically reticent on the subject but did confide to friends that she and Elton intended to remain on good terms. It was perhaps a concession that Elton’s true sexuality had been an irrevocable barrier between them; something neither of them could control or predict. There was no rancor. At least, none that ever made it into the public domain.
But the sad truth is that Renate Blauel was devastated by the split. While it’s impossible to know for sure, it has been claimed that she was genuinely shocked by Elton’s betrayal, and by the revelations regarding his sexuality. Of course, she has never breathed a word to the press since the divorce, so these questions are now likely to go unanswered. For his part, Elton has said he would genuinely love to revive his friendship with Renate.
Around 2007, he claimed to have met with her, wined and dined her and chatted about old times. It seems the pair reconciled to a degree, and made amends for the emotional tribulations they went through as a married couple. But of course, Renate has remained silent on the subject.
After the dust settled, Renate settled down in the £600,000 Surrey home Elton had bought for her. But soon after, she returned to Germany to care for her ailing elderly parents. Neighbors have commented to the press on her subdued, unassuming nature.
You would never have guessed simply by looking that this woman had once been married to one of the biggest stars in the world. But those same neighbors have also pointed out that for Renate the wounds were still fresh. They made a point, they claimed, of not mentioning Elton’s name around her.
Who is Elton John married to now?
In 1993, Elton John met David Furnish, who proved to be the love of his life. The two married in 2014, and Elton’s long-held dream of becoming a father came true. The couple has two young sons, born through a surrogate.
Recently, while touring Australia during the nation’s battle to legalize gay marriage, Elton revisited the time of his marriage to Renate Blauel. He reminisced about this somewhat perplexing chapter in his life and lamented the way it all ended.
The settlement Renate received from Elton was rumored to be as much as $45,000,000. Though that is likely a liberal estimate, it is little wonder that she has since receded into the shadows, and refused to talk to the press about the marriage at all.
Renate Blauel Now
Renate Blauel’s current whereabouts are unknown. But she has certainly left her mark in music history, if only through her association with Elton. The creative influence she had on him and the well-intentioned if ultimately misguided relationship she had with him throughout the tumultuous 1980s remains an indelible part of Elton John’s life.
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