In the summer of 2018, the president spent an immoderate amount of time fixating on delivering a Donald Trump-signed CD featuring Elton John’s 1972 hit “Rocket Man” to Kim Jong Un. But he wasn’t only trying to please the North Korean dictator with a disc that included a track with a song title of the nickname he’d given him. Trump also thought it would bring a smile to the face of his estranged friend—Sir Elton John himself.
According to the new book by former national security adviser John Bolton, Trump made the delivery of the disc to the totalitarian North Korean leader a diplomatic priority, following his high-profile 2018 Singapore summit with Kim. The president is a massive Elton John fan who had reportedly heard from Kim that he had never heard the song “Rocket Man.” So, naturally, Trump wanted to give the supreme leader a recording and advised his Secretary of State to make the delivery.
“Trump didn’t seem to realize [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo hadn’t actually seen Kim Jong Un [during Pompeo’s follow-up overseas trip], asking if Pompeo had handed” the autographed CD to Kim, Bolton wrote. “Pompeo had not. Getting this CD to Kim remained a high priority for several months.”
The small detail in the upcoming book underscored Trump’s penchant for preoccupying himself with minutiae and personal infatuations, even in the context of high-stakes international negotiations over nuclear weapons arsenals.
But according to two people with knowledge of President Trump’s private remarks at the time, he also believed that Elton John would appreciate the overture because it would give the musician’s work additional publicity and international media attention.
“The president said something like, ‘Boy, I bet Elton will get a kick out of this!’” said a former senior Trump administration official. “It seemed like he hadn’t spoken to [Elton John] in a while…I know from my conversations with the president that he finds it regrettable that he and Elton John haven’t been closer during his presidency.”
The president’s obsession with Elton John and his discography goes back decades before his political rise and has bled into his presidential campaign and his time in the Oval Office. As The New York Times reported last year, during his 2016 campaign, “Mr. Trump would blast Mr. John’s music aboard his private airplane so loudly that people could not sleep,” citing ex- campaign aides. For years, Trump has considered Elton John a personal friend, to the point that when the future president was going through a divorce with Ivana Trump, and their celebrity buddies had to pick sides, tabloid media largely reported that Elton John was on Donald’s.
In the early days of his administration, when the president and Kim were busy saber-rattling their respective nuclear arsenals at one another, Trump co-opted the title of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic for perhaps his most notable taunt at the hereditary North Korean ruler. “Little Rocket Man,” Trump declared, adding that sometimes he just calls him the “Rocket Man.”
In 2017, Trump was so proud of his nickname that in the run-up to his first speech at the United Nations, the president quizzed several top administration officials, including the then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, on whether or not it would be prudent for him to denounce Kim as a suicidal “rocket man” during his address to the general assembly, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. Numerous advisers told Trump not to do it, with some thinking it was simply too childish to do in such an august setting. Trump ended up doing it anyway, unsatisfied with confining the insult to his Twitter account.
Unfortunately for the president, the world-famous singer has kept his distance from Trump since the days of the 2016 presidential race.
“I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign,” he told The Guardian at the time, regarding Trump blasting his music at rallies. “I’m British. I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, I’m not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted fucking Nugent? Or one of those fucking country stars? They’ll do it for you.”
The White House, as well as Elton John publicist did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story on Wednesday night.