Elton Darlo may look familiar. He’s one of the characters you’ve probably seen on the streets of Manchester – a place which, in the past, has been his home.
But you won’t have seen him busking or asking for money. You’ll have seen him sketching. He’s a prolific self-taught artist for whom art is therapeutic – a way to cope with homelessness and depression.
He’s old school Manchester and, as you might expect, a proper character with plenty of stories to tell about his colourful life.
Born Leslie Darlington in West Gorton 69 years ago, he had a tough upbringing. He was educated at the school of hard knocks and the university of life.
He had trials with Oldham Athletic, became an Olympic wrestler, trained with George Best at the old YMCA near the Midland Hotel, and spent time working as an ‘entrepreneur’ in the West End of London, where he met Mohammed Al-Fayed and characters like Royston Smith, a midget wrestler known as ‘the muscleman of Soho’.
He got the nickname Elton because of his resemblance back in the 70s to the billionaire singer with the hair transplant. A resemblance so striking that he was often stopped in the street and asked for his autograph. And rather than disappoint autograph seekers who mistook him for the singer, he would sign his name ‘Elton John’.
He started drawing as a child and reckons that he’s produced more than 5,000 sketches in his lifetime, many of them Manchester street scenes.
He’s an admirer of van Gogh and has had his work displayed at the Tate as part of an exhibition of outsider art – art that has a naïve quality, often produced by people who have not trained as artists or worked within the conventional structures of art production.
He was the first to start sketching in St Ann’s Square when it became a shrine to the victims of the Arena attack and spent 14 days there, producing 54 sketches and 22 canvasses in memory of those who died.
He says his legacy to Manchester is his art. Now he’s looking for a publisher for a book of his Arena paintings. The 22 paintings are on display in Fresh Loaf opposite Affleck’s on Oldham Street and they’re as colourful as his life.
If you’re interested, let us know and we’ll pass it on. If you’d prefer to write a book about his life story, you’ll probably need at least four volumes.