Sir Elton John is the star of this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert with his performance of Your Song the soundtrack to a festive-tinged retrospective of his life and career.
The ad, called The Boy and the Piano, opens with a dressing-gown clad Sir Elton gently tapping out the opening notes to Your Song – his first major hit – before viewers are taken back through key moments in his life with scenes of him on stadium tours, travelling on a private jet, recording Your Song, playing the piano in a local pub and performing in a school recital.
It ends with a four-year-old Elton running down the stairs on Christmas morning and unwrapping his grandmother’s gift of her piano – a scene “inspired by real events” but involving “some creativity”, the department store said.
With the exception of the present-day opening scene featuring Sir Elton himself, actors take on the role of him at various stages of his life, while the images of the stadium based on a concert in Portland in the US were entirely recreated with computer-generated imagery.
It is the second of the retailer’s Christmas ads to feature Your Song after singer Ellie Goulding recorded a cover for the 2010 campaign.
Sir Elton said: “The John Lewis Christmas campaign has so many warm memories for me and my family.
“It’s been a lovely opportunity for me to reflect on my life in music and the incredible journey I have been on, and how first playing my grandmother’s piano marks the moment when music came into my life.
“The ad is absolutely fantastic and I’ve truly loved every minute of being a part of it.”
John Lewis customer director Craig Inglis said: “The ad tells the story of why Elton’s piano was more than just a gift and we hope to remind customers of that special moment when they’ve given a gift at Christmas time that they know will be treasured forever.”
John Lewis addressed speculation about the cost of this year’s ad, describing reports that it had paid Sir Elton £5 million as “wildly inaccurate”.
It added that Sir Elton had requested that a portion of his fee be donated to the Elton John Charitable Trust when he was first approached to be involved.
The retailer, which reported a 98.8% profits crash for the first half of the year in September, said the ad was a “crucial part” of its overall marketing campaign and “one of the most effective marketing campaigns in the industry, delivering an excellent return on investment”.
John Lewis and Waitrose employees have been given the first opportunity to share the two minute and 20 second ad at 6am on Thursday before its launch on the store’s social media channels, its website and in shops at 8am.
The ad first airs on television on Thursday at 9.15pm during ITV’s Dark Heart, although ITV viewers may have noticed that the theme tunes to some of the channel’s shows including Coronation Street and This Morning were played solely in piano notes on Wednesday to tease the advert’s premiere.
Customers at the retailer’s flagship Oxford Street branch can also step into a 2,000 sq ft recreation of the ad production set to try on some of the costumes, listen to recordings from Elton John’s 17-11-70 album and have photos taken at the piano.
But shoppers might be disappointed to learn that there will be no plush toys available in Sir Elton’s likeness this year, with the retailer instead selling four pianos – two uprights for around £800 and two keyboards starting at £150 – and a range of vintage tour t-shirts.
John Lewis adverts have become Christmas fixtures
The John Lewis Christmas campaign has become a fixture of the consumer festive calendar, with this year’s star turn by Sir Elton John following characters ranging from a lovelorn snowman and his snow girlfriend to a trampolining dog, lonely penguin and mischievous monster Moz.
Here is a rundown of the ads and their soundtracks since the first one screened in 2007.
The ad shows a group of people stacking a pile of gifts including a desktop lamp, a computer and a leather satchel in an empty room. The finished product ends up creating a shadow that looks like a woman walking her dog through the snow, accompanied by the tagline: “Whoever you’re looking for this Christmas.”
2008: From Me To You
Culminating in the tagline: “If you know the person, you’ll find the present”, it shows a succession of characters followed by a matching gift.
The soundtrack is a cover of The Beatles’ From Me To You recorded for the campaign, with vocals by Matt Spinner, a member of the John Lewis IT department, and its music society.
2009: Sweet Child O’ Mine
This was the first of the store’s Christmas campaigns created by advertising agency Adam & Eve, now adam&eveDDB, and the first to feature a musical cover by a current artist, on this occasion a Taken By Trees version of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses.
The ad shows children opening gifts for adults including a laptop, coffee machine and handbag, followed by the tagline: “Remember how Christmas used to feel? Give someone that feeling.”
2010: A Tribute To Givers
Ellie Goulding’s cover of Elton John’s Your Song was the soundtrack to this ad, which showed parents sneaking a rocking horse upstairs while their children watched television, a man struggling to wrap a pair of candlesticks, a mechanic attempting to wrap a teapot at work and a young boy hanging a stocking on his dog’s kennel.
2011: The Long Wait
Set to Slow Moving Millie’s cover of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want by the Smiths, the ad shows a young boy impatiently counting down to Christmas, only to show that his real motivation was to give presents to his parents.
2012: The Journey
A snowman traverses mountains and motorways to get to a shop to buy his snow girlfriend a scarf to keep her warm.
The soundtrack is Gabrielle Aplin’s cover of The Power Of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and the tagline is: “Give a little more love this Christmas.”
2013: The Bear And The Hare
Lily Allen’s cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know accompanies an animated tale that opens with the line: “There was once an animal who had never seen Christmas.” It goes on to show the friendship between a bear and a hare until the bear departs to hibernate when snow starts to fall. The hare thinks of the perfect Christmas present for the bear, an alarm clock to allow him to wake up and experience Christmas.
2014: Monty The Penguin
Monty, who hopes for love at Christmas time, is the imaginary character created by a boy whose favourite toy is a stuffed penguin. A female penguin toy happily arrives under the tree for Monty on Christmas Day.
The ad features a Tom Odell cover of John Lennon’s Real Love.
2015: Man On The Moon
The biggest tearjerker of them all shows a young girl who spots a lonely old man on the moon and decides to send him a telescope to give him a connection to Earth. The partnership with Age UK had the tagline: “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.”
Norwegian artist Aurora provided the soundtrack with a cover of Half The World Away by Oasis.
2016: Buster The Boxer
The story of Buster, who makes a break for the new Christmas trampoline after having to suffer watching foxes, a badger, squirrels and a hedgehog trying it out first, was accompanied by a cover of Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away by electronic trio Vaults.
2017: Moz The Monster
A friendship develops between seven-year-old Joe and his imaginary monster under the bed, Moz, based on a mutual love of late-night Scalextric and piggyback games. Moz eventually realises that their late nights must end when he sees the toll they are taking on Joe. Joe wakes on Christmas morning to find a clumsily wrapped present of a night light under the tree.
The ad was set to a cover of The Beatles song Golden Slumbers by Manchester band Elbow.