Did Elton John Really Stay At A 2-Star Guesthouse In Cambodia?

The signed photo that hangs proudly at the Fancy Guesthouse.

With news Elton John is about to release his 33rd studio album (entitled Wonderful Crazy Night*), there’s one lingering question that remains tantalizingly unanswered for fans:

Did he or did he not stay at a 2-star guesthouse while in Cambodia a few years ago?

According to the proud owner of the Fancy Guesthouse in downtown Phnom Penh, it most certainly was Elton John who decided to forgo his traditional penchant for 5-star luxury and settle for something a bit more budget conscious. Maybe Elton was going through a rough patch financially? More likely, according to Mr Fancy, he was tired of being recognised at the plush hotel across town. At the Fancy Guesthouse Elton could enjoy the privacy, comfort and more reasonable price he deserves.

Having stayed at the Fancy Guesthouse myself in 2010, I can attest that the rooms are very clean and start from just US $15 before rising up to a bank-busting US $25 if you prefer a balcony. Bedding is changed daily, there is TV and even a hot shower. While there isn’t a lift, at only four-storeys not even a baby-boomer like Elton needs one.

It was while dipping roti-canai on the Malaysian island of Tioman in May 2010 that I’d first heard whispers about the South East Asian accommodation choices of a man whose successes once accounted for 2% of the entire world-wide music industry. Fellow backpackers were insistent there was a signed picture of Elton hanging above reception at the encouragingly named Fancy Guesthouse. These backpackers would launch into enthusiastic platitudes like, “Isn’t it cool he’s so down to earth he can stay at budget hotels while traveling through third world countries!”

Touching down in Phnom Penh several weeks later, I made a tuk-tuk bee line for Mr Fancy and his house. I had to find out if this unexpected story was true. Sure enough, at reception for all to see was the picture of Elton. Emblazoned with a fat red marker in true Elton John flamboyance was the grammatically unusual and curiously jumbled caps and lower case sentence: “To FANCy GUEST House, ThANK’s foR ALL.”

Mr Fancy explained he’d never heard of Elton and was only informed by other guests just how famous this portly, middle-aged Westerner is. At the time the Fancy Guesthouse had only recently opened and the man who once had seven consecutive US #1 albums was said to be “very impressed” with the accommodation, not to mention the savings he was making.

Phnom Penh’s Fancy Guesthouse

Not comfortable in accusing the sweet Mr Fancy of being a little liberal with the definition of “stayed at my guesthouse,” I researched if in fact Elton had been in Cambodia at the time in question (2008). To my surprise he had. What!? Could Mr Fancy’s photo be legitimate? Unfortunately, I couldn’t verify which hotel Elton had chosen during his stay, but I could compare the signed picture with other published Elton autographs.

And that’s where the story becomes…how do I put this? Less fun? Over? That feels so mean-spirited! Let’s just say that the overwhelming online evidence when googling “Elton John’s autograph” is conclusive.

Detective work finished, I realised that whatever the motive, Mr Fancy tells his story with such pride that who am I to burst his bubble? And maybe Elton John, the man who placed at least one hit in the US top 40 every single year for three straight decades (that’s every single year), did stay in the Fancy Guesthouse, even if it wasn’t him who picked up that big red marker.

Regardless, it makes for a half-decent yarn and one I’d love to one day put to the man himself. Could make quite an alarming first question in an interview: “So Sir Elton, new album to one side, what everyone really wants to know is did you or did you not stay at the Fancy Guesthouse while in Phnom Penh, Cambodia back in 2008?”

The backstreets of Phnom Penh.

2015 Followup: It was only a couple of years after writing the first version of this story that I noticed the name signed on the picture is not “Elton John” but the less well-known “Eldon John”! Perhaps there really is an Eldon John out there who looks just like his near namesake…

2017 Update: Click here to read an updated version of this story that I wrote for the NZ Herald.

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