with additional update on Thursday 24 September 2015 and Monday 14 March 2016
I cannot begin to imagine how embarrassed Sir Elton John must be feeling now that his call from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has been shown to be a prank. Earlier this week the British singer, who in the UK has had 71 top 40 hits since the 1960s and who is gay and lives with his husband David Furnish, went on social media to announce that Putin had called him to discuss gay rights and that he would use the call as a means to influence the Russian President over gay rights.
Firstly, how dumb must Elton be for believing the call was genuine? Secondly, why on earth would the Russian President – hardly known for his belief in gay rights – want the advice of Elton John? And thirdly, and most significant, how full of himself is Elton John? In order to suspend belief that this wasn’t a hoax or to get past the idea that Putin isn’t going to phone anyone about gay rights – let alone him – Sir Elton must have a very high opinion of himself.
After Sir Elton had been reflecting on his future role in world politics on social media and before the hoax was revealed, President Putin released a statement saying, incredulously, that he had made no call to Sir Elton. Then yesterday the two pranksters – Vladimir Krasnov and Alexei Stoyalov went on Russian TV to broadcast the prank call. They revealed that Krasnov had pretended to be President Putin, speaking Russian, and Stoyalov acted as the President’s translator. The call is now going viral.
The hoax call starts with Putin telling Elton that he respects Sir Elton for all he has achieved in music culture and human rights, to which Elton replies that he is honoured that he is calling him and is privileged to be speaking to one of the most influential people in the world. “It’s amazing,” he gushes to the translator. To Elton’s credit, he then brings up the issue of violence against LGBT people in Russia and how they don’t feel safe in their own country. He said, however, that he didn’t want to discuss this over the phone and he would welcome having a face-to-face dialogue with the President – because things get done better when you meet them and see them. He even suggests that their respective offices can discuss how to arrange a meeting, which would “be a miracle and fantastic.”
The good side to Sir Elton’s embarrassement is that the media coverage of the call is focusing attention for a while on gay rights in Russia – or the lack of them. The call has been braodcast in Russia, but I don’t know how much of it has been heard by the Russian people or what angle the commentators took – whether they used it as a chance to attack the West or whether they even mentioned gay rights.
Elton, on believing that the call was genune, was right to engage – nothing changes without dialogue. But his sycophantic tone was distasteful taking into account that Elton John is well aware of the plight of gay people in Putin’s Russia. With hindsight, it seems ridiculous to think that President Putin would have the slightest desire in engaging in dialogue with anyone over gay rights or would have any self-interest in highlighting the differences in gay rights between Russia and the West by making such a high-profile call that would attract worldwide meda attention.
You can listen to the prank call at Guardian article published on 14 March 2016
UPDATE: Thursday 24 September 2015
The Kremlin has announced that the real President Putin has now phoned Elton John after the hoax phone call last week when Sir Elton believed he had been called by the Russian President in order to discuss gay rights.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the President urged Elton not to be offended by the hoax call. Putin had already said after last week’s hoax that he was happy to meet Sir Elton and discuss “any issues of interest.”
Elton John described Putin’s attitude to gay rights as “ridiculous,” and “isolating and prejudiced.” Russia’s record on gay rights and discrimination against gay people has been criticised worldwide. In 2013 the Russian parliament passed a Bill that prosecutes people who disseminate information about homosexuality to anyone under 18. The group Human Rights Watch also said Russia was not prosecuting people for hompohobic attacks.
Elton now says he wants to speak to the President after the genuine call but expressed concerns they “may laugh behind my back … and call me an absolute idiot.” – No, Elton, that was last week when you went on social media and told the world Putin had called you.
It will be interesting to see if Elton and Vladimir will meet and discuss gay rights. The whole idea seems preposterous to me. Putin has no interest in extending or protecting gay people’s rights – quite the opposite. I really can’t see what Elton will get from meeting him, except maybe some sort of self-grandising ego trip. If Putin expresses his desire to recognise gay rights in his country, and Elton accepts this then he is going to look like a naive fool who is giving credibility to Putin. I can only imagine that Putin is reaching out in some sort of bizarre publicity stunt but does he seriously think that people in the West are going to believe any platitudes he gives on gay rights?
What I want to know more than anything else … how the hell did Putin persuade Elton he was the President of Russia? After last week’s hoax the singer and lyricist must have taken some persuading. David Furnish: “Honey, it’s Vladimir for you.” Elton: “David, you promised you wouldn’t do that anymore.”
Did Putin tell Elton to hang up and ring the Kremlin and ask to be put through … “I’ll be waiting for your call, Elton.” Do they have pet names for each other, so Elton would know it was him? “Hi Elton, it’s your little Vlad the Impaler. How is my Rocket Man?” Or did he convince Elton by singing Your Song to him?
Now that Elton and Vladimir are best buds they can change the world together.
Update: Monday 14 March 2016
The two Russian pranksters, Alexei Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov (pictured above), who pranked Elton John in September to believe that he was being called by President Putin to discuss gay rights have struck again. This time with some serious implications and consequences. They persuaded a Ukranian woman, Nadezhda Savchenko, to end a hunger strike. She has been charged, in Russia, with killing two Russian journalists. The two pranksters managed to persuade her, via her lawyer Mark Feygin, that Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko had made a personal request for her to stop her hunger strike.
Unlike the Elton John, and other pranks from the duo, this one doesn’t seem in anyway funny. They are playing with the emotions and very life of a woman in a desperate predicament – whether she is guilty or innocent of the alleged crimes. Nadezhda Savchenko, with her lawyer, is pictured below in a Donetsk, Russia, court earlier this month.
In an article in the Guardian, the pair have been discussing the Elton John prank. They seemed surprised how easy it was to get through to Elton John while pretending to be President Putin and his translator. “They didn’t do any checks on us at all, it was really easy to get through,” said Kuznetsov. After the hoax was revealed the real President Putin called Elton John, but had more trouble proving that he was the real Putin – “From what I heard they had to get the Russian ambassador in London involved to convince them it was the real Putin this time,” said Stolyarov. “But anyway, I think Elton John owes us. If it wasn’t for our call, the real Putin would never have called him.”
This answers a question I raised in my update on 24 September to my original 17 September post on the prank, as to how Putin managed to persuade Elton he was the real President of Russia – though my ideas on how he did so were much funnier.
Guardian article cited above, includes a ink to the prank call from last September.