The London premiere for Disney’s The Lion King remake was one of the hottest tickets of summer 2019. As well as Beyonce, who voiced Nala, and her husband Jay Z heading up the guestlist, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were in attendance alongside Sir Elton John and Pharrell Williams.

But there was one person who was wishing he’d turned down his ticket.

‘I really regret not staying for the World Cup,’ lamented Sir Tim Rice, a devoted cricket fan, after choosing to attend the premiere of the remake over watching England claim their first World Cup title over New Zealand. And it’s not like he could have dipped out of the screening early, considering his and Sir Elton’s only new contribution to The Lion King was played over the credits. 

The stars’ contribution to The Lion King arguably made the 1997 animation the success it became, with Sir Tim penning the lyrics to the classics Circle Of Life, I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, Be Prepared, Hakuna Matata and Can You Feel The Love Tonight. The pair were invited back to contribute to the 2019 computer animated remake, but in the end, just one new song made the cut, despite Sir Tim writing two especially for the movie.

‘To be honest, I should have, in a way, got more involved in that film,’ the 75-year-old told Metro.co.uk. ‘I assumed rather stupidly that they would be keen to make the most of the material they already had. But they had so many commitments, they had other artists wanting to get their songs in. I think they should have probably got me and Elton to write some stuff first. 

‘I rather liked the reflective ballad Light Of The World. It’s one of those songs that really grows on you. I can see why they thought “oh, this is too serious and too heavy”.’

So Light Of The World didn’t see the light of day, while their other offering Never Too Late made it into the film – albeit barely.

‘It should have been just laid down in the film somewhere, only maybe a minute of it, and then the whole thing would have been heard at the end of the film. But as it was, Never Too Late – which I think is a great song – is not in the film. At the end of the film you think, well, here’s a nice song by Elton – so what? Those lyrics are strongly related to the story, but you wouldn’t know it. 

‘I think we were very low on the food chain in that one. Whereas on the first film, we were involved right from day one, and it was very fun creating the songs, which really did well and they were very much part of the film being a success.’

Sir Tim gives Light Of The World an outing on his podcast Get Onto My Cloud, in which he reflects on his shows and songs from throughout his astonishing career as a lyricist. And while he is happy to have been involved in the new Lion King, his disappointment is not held back. ‘I hope it comes over that I wasn’t 100% happy with the music in the film, but on the other hand, I don’t want it to come over as ungrateful or p***ed off. Elton, I don’t think was too happy, to put it mildly, but luckily he had a really good song in another film at the same time that he won the Oscar for ((I’m Gonna) Love Me Again from Rocketman) and I was delighted for him. It would have been nice to be nominated again, because I thought the song was quite a nice song, but it was only in the end credits and looked like it was just something stuck in.’

The Lion King was the second Disney remake Sir Tim wrote new lyrics for, after 2017’s Beauty And The Beast, which he was called to contribute to following his work on the Broadway production. ‘I liked the new song we wrote, although again, I was a bit surprised that they didn’t want to use one or two of the songs that were in the stage show,’ he said. ‘One of the songs, A Change In Me, is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written, it would be in my top 10, but it wasn’t used in the film. Funny that, really, because people like familiar songs. 

‘But I was lucky to get called in to do one or two extra songs. It wasn’t my film in the first place, I didn’t feel I had the right to boss people around with Beauty, because it wasn’t [mine]. But [with] The Lion King, I think I should have come in and said, “hey, look, think about the music, mate!” The music was the last thing that people thought about in a way, and I think it suffered slightly.’

And if anyone knows music, it’s Sir Tim. Since his break into musical theatre alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1968 with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he has written the lyrics for beloved stage shows including Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Chess and Aida, as well as writing songs for the aforementioned Disney films and Aladdin (yes, A Whole New World is all Sir Tim). His achievements have won him a knighthood, a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, a reported £155million fortune, and following his 2018 Emmy win for Jesus Christ Superstar, a coveted EGOT, meaning he has an Emmy, Tonys (three), Oscars (three) and Grammys (five). So it’s no real surprise that he struggles to pick a favourite tune from his back catalogue.

‘A lot of the songs that are not really well known,’ he said, when asked what would make his top 10 alongside A Change In Me.  I like High, Flying Adored from Evita, I think that’s a good one. In [Jesus Christ] Superstar, I Don’t Know How To Love Him is a pretty good song.

‘Some of them, I hear so much I get a bit fed up with them. It depends on the mood you’re in. Sometimes you think, oh no, not that one again. Other times you think, I remember writing that when I was young and I remember finishing the song and thinking “this is quite good” and when it became a success… I couldn’t do a show of my greatest hits, if that’s what it’s called, without doing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. If I go to an Elton John concert, I want to hear the hits. I’m quite happy to hear one or two new songs, but if you have a great back catalogue, you have to play the hits.’

‘If you say “I’m going to play my entire new album”, there will a rush for the bar, however good it is. I can’t say, let’s not do Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, let’s do that B-side I wrote in 1993,’ he joked. 

Evita in particular holds a special place in Sir Tim’s heart. While Joseph is now a mainstay of school play season and beloved by Phillip Schofield and Jason Donovan fans, it wasn’t until Jesus Christ Superstar that Rice and Lloyd Webber had a real hit on their hands, and they had to prove they weren’t just a flash in the pan. ‘We had that one mega hit in the theatre, and I think everybody thought we were one hit wonders. When we began working on Evita, which was a bit of a bonkers idea – even Andrew took time to convince that it was a good idea – and we were working with the best people and it worked out so well and the audience thought it was good, the opening night was the night I thought, “even if we don’t do anything else, we’ve made a mark”. 

‘With Superstar, we could have been considered a fluke – which maybe we are – but with Evita, we made a point, and for better or for worse, that was my job from now on. If Evita flopped, I probably would have become a carpet salesman’ – quickly adding: ‘Nothing wrong with being a carpet salesman.’

Now, Sir Tim has some of musical theatre’s biggest productions on his CV, but he still has plenty of projects ahead, and was planning a revival of From Here To Eternity and a reworking of Aida before Covid-19 struck. While industries across the board have been ravaged by the pandemic, theatre is among the worst hit, with venues across the West End and Broadway turning off their lights and theatres shuttering worldwide. With many venues unexpected to open until 2021 at the earlier, there is a real fear about what the future of theatre holds.

‘Your guess is as good as mine,’ Sir Tim said. ‘I came back from Scotland a week ago on a pretty full train, and I was sitting quite close to people, and I thought, “why can’t these people all be sitting together in a theatre?” And I think most people given the opportunity would be quite happy to go to a theatre, even without masks. And if you don’t want to go, don’t go. 

‘It’s just very depressing and I have no idea when things will come back. Once restrictions come in, they hardly ever go. I do hope the Covid restrictions do go. I think people will find ways to perform theatre even if restrictions continue, but it will take a while to get back to normal.’ 

While Sir Tim doesn’t see socially distance audience restrictions (‘ghastly phrase’) as a solution for the theatre’s comeback, he isn’t placing the blame at the government’s door. ‘One can easily say they haven’t handled it very well, and that’s probably true, but on the other hand, I don’t think anybody else would have handled it better. It’s such an unknown area.

‘Nobody really knows anything and it’s a ghastly situation. But I think at the end of the day, we have to say life is full of risks, and Covid is a nasty virus but then again, there’s a lot of other diseases. People die of different diseases and the Covid virus is probably not that much worse than the average deadly virus – I mean, I don’t know. I get annoyed with the government and all the rules which seem a bit shambolic; on the other hand, I feel sorry for them.’

So until he can get back in a room with his collaborators and bring Aida to Europe, Sir Tim will be using the continuing state of lockdown to walk down memory lane on his podcast – and may also turn to writing volume two of his memoirs while he’s at it.

‘I did volume one about 20 years ago and I’m overdue to finish the story. I’ve got a loyal group of followers – I wouldn’t say the entire theatrical world is waiting on every word, but I think I’ve got an interesting story to tell and some of the shows I’ve been involved in have been really quite successful and have had an impact. 

‘As I revisit some of these old shows, I do remember things that I had sort of forgotten or hadn’t thought about for ages. There’s enough interest out there to make [Get Onto My Cloud] worthwhile – I’m not doing it for money, it’s just quite nice to put something down on record.’

Get Onto My Cloud is exclusively from the Broadway Podcast Network and can be listened to wherever you find your favourite podcasts.

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