It was the original football fairytale of a small club rising from the bottom to the top, and yet the story had never been told by one of the two men most pivotal in making it come true.

When Watford climbed from the old Division Four to Division One, an FA Cup Final and European football, the whole journey was driven by Graham Taylor and Elton John.

Regularly down the years until his untimely death, Taylor had shared his version of events in print and on screen. But nobody had heard the detailed thoughts of Elton – the rock star who bought a football club and made it almost as famous as him.

That is, until the publication of a new book – Watford Forever – written by award-winning journalist and novelist John Preston, in collaboration with Elton himself.

The hardback will be released tomorrow (Thursday) by Viking, and it charts the rise of the Hornets with, for the first time, the personal memories, thoughts and insights of the chairman at the time.

Watford Observer: A hopeful email led to John Preston collaborating with Elton John on Watford ForeverA hopeful email led to John Preston collaborating with Elton John on Watford Forever (Image: John Preston)

For Preston – whose recent book A Very English Scandal was turned into a multiple award-winning mini-series starring Hugh Grant – it was a piece of work that came about after a hopeful email.

“When Graham Taylor died, I have a friend – a fellow journalist – who had seen the statement Elton released at the time which said they were like blood brothers, and Graham had saved his life,” said Preston.

“She said to me she thought it was a fantastic story, and I had an email address for Elton’s husband, David Furnish, because I’d interviewed Elton once years ago. It was the year after Princess Diana died and he had agreed to do an interview about their friendship.

“So I wrote to David, saying I thought it would make a fantastic book, never expecting to get a reply. To my astonishment, I did get a reply! He invited me to go and talk about it with him, so I went and spoke to him.

“He was keen on the idea of a book from the word go because they wanted something tangible that they could show their boys that was about a side of Elton’s life that hadn’t had as much attention as the music.

“I then went out to the South of France and met Elton again, and it went on from there.”

Watford Observer: Graham Taylor and Sir Elton John on the cover of the new book

It was educative for the author too, as although he is a football fan and lived through the years the book describes, he was suddenly exposed to a level of knowledge about Watford that few had encountered.

“I have a definite interest in football. Was I an obsessive Watford fan? No, but I don’t think that really mattered,” he said.

“I’m the right age to remember the years covered in the book, and I had got to see Watford pretty soon after Graham had become manager.

“I was interested in the subject because on one level it was a fairytale of Watford going from the bottom to the top, but at the same time it was a fairytale that happened against a very unfairytale-like backdrop. Britain in the late 70s and early 80s was a place where you had racism, homophobia, massive unemployment, hooliganism and everything else.

“I wanted to show what effect the success of the team had on the town. I felt that was very important.”

Being such a remarkable story, would Preston have been confident of getting a commission if he had pitched the Watford story as fiction?!

“No, not at all. Certainly in a pre-Ted Lasso world!” he laughed.

“But one of the great beauties of this story is it happens to be true, and that is what gives it so much more emotional resonance than it could ever have if it was fiction.

“It’s unlikely to be repeated, and not only do you have the success of the team, which is amazing enough, but you have the relationship between Graham and Elton. It’s pretty hard to think of two more polar opposites.

“Elton was the most flamboyant man in the world, and Graham was quite possibly the most plain and simple. Yet they had this absolute deep love for one another.

“Graham and Rita kept Elton on his feet at a time when there was nothing else anchoring him, and I think Graham probably would have done very well at any club, but I think the peculiar chemistry with Elton took him to places he might never have gone to.

“Everybody thought Graham had just bought a team with Elton’s money. And that used to drive Elton mad when we talked about it, because he would say that you just can’t do that.

“Graham hated spending any more of Elton’s money than he had to.

“Elton wasn’t a sugar daddy for Watford, but he also wasn’t an absentee landlord. He was absolutely involved, and a very good and conscientious chairman.

“Sometimes board meetings took place when he was on tour, and the board members would be flown out to wherever he was.

“He was on top of every aspect of the day-to-day running of the club, along with Graham.

“One of the reasons the partnership worked so well was they respected one another’s boundaries.”

So, what was Elton like as a collaborator?

“He was actually great to work with,” said Preston.

“It would be very easy for someone in David’s position to say no to things as an automatic reaction, but when he likes an idea he really gets behind it and tries to make it happen.

“Elton was really helpful, very patient and easy to talk to. I would just roll up at his house in Old Windsor, and we’d sit on a sofa and chat for an hour or more.

“And we were talking about quite personal things. This was about a boy who had first been taken to Watford by a father he didn’t get on with, and only at Watford games did Elton feel he was a son his father approved of.

“It seemed to me as though there needed to be a lot about his childhood, and that must have been quite difficult for him to talk about. But he never ever said he didn’t want to talk about anything.

“In order to get a good interview with someone there can’t be an imbalance between you. You need to be able to talk on equal footing, and that was not a problem with Elton at all.

“He didn’t, in any way at all, stand on ceremony.”

For a man famous around the World, with huge success on every continent, Elton knew there was a small corner of south-west Hertfordshire he could always rely on to be there if he needed it.

“Watford Football Club kept him anchored to reality. It was a link back to his life back as Reg Dwight from Pinner Hill Road,” Preston explained.

“It was the one place on Earth where he could be himself, because he became famous very, very quickly.

“Vicarage Road was the place he could go where nobody made a huge fuss of him. When we talked he would say how much he used to enjoy to go to the supporters’ club and have a few drinks with fans and chat about Watford and football. He loved that.

“Watford has been a constant throughout his life, and he is passionate today as he was back then. His love for the club hasn’t waned at all.”

That reference to his ongoing passion for Watford, coupled with the comments he made during his recent Vicarage Road concerts about wanting to get back involved with the club, are bound to make fans wonder what his plans are.

“I think that he would like to be an ambassador for the club, helping to raise its profile and generally being involved,” said Preston.

“That’s speculation on my part, but that’s the impression I got.

“He’s not one of those people to sit on the sidelines showing lukewarm enthusiasm. He likes to grasp both electrodes.

“My guess would be that whatever he does will be pretty full on.”