Rod Liddle says that celebrity adoption has become an unsavoury game of Top Trumps, and that the Ukraine would be right to turn down Elton John’s bid for a baby
The world may indeed be shrinking and its people becoming an undifferentiated morass, but east of the Oder-Neisse line they are not quite the same as us just yet. There is a certain infelicity when dealing with sensitive social issues, the sort of thing you hear over here only when no one is listening. Take the response from a senior Ukrainian politician to Elton John’s request to adopt a 14-month-old Ukrainian baby called Lev. ‘You won’t be allowed because you’re too old and you’re a poof,’ is what Sir Elton was told, pretty much in those words. ‘Gay marriages,’ the Ukrainian said, ‘don’t count.’ No messing around. I suspect if you’d asked the Ukrainian about Jews, Gypsies and Soviet collaborators he’d have responded in similarly vigorous fashion. As I say, things are different east of Szczecin; that veneer of western civility has not yet been imposed, which is why David Cameron has had so much trouble with his new allies in the European parliament, such as the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party, whose views would make Heydrich wince.
Sir Elton had been doing a spot of shopping in the Ukraine after a gig. When international slebs these days wish to acquire the sort of finely crafted accessory which might fulfil their emotional and spiritual needs, they head not to Prada and Gucci, but to the local orphanage. Sir Elton and his missus, David Furnish, were touring a Ukrainian orphanage when they chanced upon little Lev. They fell in love and simply had to have him — come on, you know how it is. Sod off, said the Ukrainians, you’re old and queer. Now, we should allow for the possibility that, as he says, Elton was simply smitten and motivated by the most decent of charitable impulses when his eyes fell upon baby Lev. But still, there are a few people in Britain who view this latest adoption craze among slebs as thoroughly vile; I assume the view from Kiev is unanimous. A craze is what it seems to be, to non-slebs, though — and watching the public antics of Angelina and Brad, Madonna and now Sir Elton, you wonder if they are engaged in a giant high-stakes game of Top Trumps: my two cut-price Vietnamese brats beats your Malawian piccaninny, but I’ll raise you one with a little mite with HIV from Kiev, etc.
It is only a few years ago that Sir Elton told the press he didn’t want kids, even though this may have seemed a superfluous question at the time. Now, however, he does. Probably for good charitable reasons, rather than out of a wish to have the child frozen in liquid nitrogen as a talking point for guests and an attractive and unusual receptacle for cocaine. It is less than a year since Sir Elton proudly told the singer Lily Allen, during an awards ceremony, ‘I could snort you under the table.’ I assume he was referring to cocaine, although it could have been snuff, I suppose. Sir Elton, in the manner of almost all slebs, has confessed to using cocaine in the past and, in the manner of almost all slebs, how he is clean now. The first ‘I’m clean now!’ stuff I read from him was in the early 1980s, just before he released one of the campest songs ever heard in the British pop charts, ‘I’m Still Standing’.
The Ukrainians needed no recourse to the singer’s sexual preferences, mind. They could have simply quoted one of his own lyrics back at him: ‘Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids’, from one of the few songs he has written which may stand the test of time, ‘Rocket Man’. Wherever Elton John exists, it is certainly not here, and it is not in the Ukraine — it might as well be Mars, so fabulously alien is it to the rest of us.
It is hard to imagine an environment less suited to the rearing of a child than that inhabited by Sir Elton John and David Furnish. Are we really to believe that Elt and Madge and Angelina and Brad are going to put their careers on hold to care for the children they have acquired? Perhaps they all are — but this is the point, I think, a more salient point than the argument about whether kids should be adopted by same-sex partners (which is for another time). One consequence of improved IVF treatment, same sex partnerships, welfare dependency and the retreat of any notion of deferred gratification within society as a whole is that children have become little more than lifestyle choices. Everybody should be allowed to have them, no matter how old, no matter how they have lived their lives, nor how unsuitable they might be — it is an inalienable right which carries with it no responsibilities whatsoever. Sir Elton and the rest are simply a highly visible tip of an iceberg.
The problem is far greater for society much lower down the income scale, with single mothers having children in order to win for themselves a nice council flat (yes: it does happen. It’s not a myth). Families on welfare benefits having ever more children despite their utter inability to provide for them financially: well, we can give them love, they say, provided the state gives us more money. Love isn’t enough, though. The notion that we all have a beholden right to children, regardless of whether we have the financial or psychological means to bring them up, is comparatively new and would have been thought absurd even 40 years ago. Do you remember Eric Idle, in the Life of Brian, playing the part of a member of the Judean People’s Front, a man who wished to be a woman called Loretta and have a baby? ‘How’s the baby going to gestate,’ said Reg, played by John Cleese, ‘you going to keep it in a box?’ The big joke was that these ludicrous revolutionaries all voted that Loretta should have the right to have a baby. Hilarious at the time, in a sort of surreal way. Today Loretta’s claims would not raise an eyebrow, west of the Oder-Neisse, and it would be paid for on the NHS and those who cavilled would be abused as bigots. The Life of Brian was released less than 30 years ago.
Sir Elton has made his bed, a very comfortable bed, and he should lie in it. It is no use suddenly deciding at the age of 63 that he has missed out; children are time-consuming, they demand sacrifice, the stuff he was not prepared to give. There are plenty of other things he can have to keep himself cheerful, anyway. Not so long ago he was seen trying a very expensive Tom Ford fragrance, ‘orchid voile de fleur’, which had the subtle aroma — the critics said — of a man’s crotch. I do not know which man’s crotch: hopefully, for Elton’s sake, not mine. But that’s the sort of stuff our pop stars should spend their money on, not children. Otherwise the next visitor to the bloody orphanage, clasping a rattle and a baby blanket, might be Iggy Pop.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated September 19, 2009