Just a few weeks after a pair of Russian pranksters fooled Elton John into thinking he was speaking with Vladimir Putin, the actual Russian president did call him up on the phone. "He was so nice and apologetic," John tells Rolling Stone. "And couldn't have been friendlier."
Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed the conversation took place back in September. "Putin called him and said, 'I know you were pranked by those telephone guys. Don't be offended by them, they’re harmless, but that of course doesn’t excuse them,'" he said. "And Putin said he knows how popular a performer Elton John is. If in the future their schedules allow, he’s ready to meet with him and discuss any questions that interest him."
John says that he eagerly awaits that day. "I’m looking forward to having a date in the diary and going to see him and discussing some important things," he says. " But I'm not going to go in there with a sledgehammer. I'm going to go in there as a musician — I'm not a politician — and try and sort things out. We'll have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and hopefully have a lovely conversation about music, sports and then the political thing about gay people."
Russia's recent crackdown on LGBT rights alongside an uptick of homophobic violence has led to worldwide condemnation of the country, though Putin insists he has no trouble with homosexuality. John has been playing shows in Russia for decades, and during a 2014 show in St. Petersburg, he addressed the issue. "As a gay man, I've always felt so welcome here in Russia," he said. "Stories of Russian fans – men and women who fell in love dancing to 'Nikita,' or their kids who sing along to 'Circle of Life' – mean the world to me. If I'm not honest about who I am, I couldn't write this music. It's not gay propaganda. It's how I express life.”
Although a formal meeting between Putin and John hasn't been officially set, the singer recently announced a show at Moscow's Crocus City Hall on March 30th, 2016. When they do meet, John says he won't lecture Putin. "I’m not going to go there and say, 'You’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that,'" he says. "That’s just not the way to do things. You take things very slowly. It’s about moving things forward. I don't want to say, 'You must do this. This is wrong,' because he’s a politician and I’m not. I have to take things very gradually. But I want to do it and I want to make things a better place for the LGBT community in Russia."
This won't be the first time that Elton John met with a controversial figure opposed to equal rights for the LGBT community. In 2010, he performed at Rush Limbaugh's wedding. "I could not believe I was asked to play," John said in 2011. "I though it was a joke … I'm probably the most famous homosexual in the world, and I love that. With that, I have a responsibility, and I sometimes annoy other homosexuals by playing Rush Limbaugh's wedding and things like that. But I try and do what I believe is right."