Former England rugby player Ben Cohen has said that Elton John “changed his life” by convincing him to get a hearing aid, and said that Sir Elton does more charity work than people realise.
The 34-year-old human rights campaigner, said he had been told by doctors that he had lost a third of his hearing, and had tinnitus in his mid 20s, but he refused to wear a hearing aid because he thought they were “cumbersome and ineffective”.
Cohen said that, after he set up the Stand Up Foundation, which seeks to eliminate homophobia and transphobia from professional sport, Elton John showed an interest.
“He called me, out of the blue, and introduced himself,” Cohen told the Daily Mail.
“He said, ‘I hear you’re deaf. I love the work you’re doing and I’d love to help you. When you’re next in America, I’m going to send you over to [hearing aid manufacturer] Starkey and fit you out with new state-of-the-art hearing aids. While you’re there you might as well see the head guy, the owner.’ It was an amazing day.”
After he attended Starkey, Cohen found that he had lost 50% of his hearing, and that his ability to hear was deteriorating over time.
“I’m into the profound hearing loss category. I’m going deaf,” says Ben. “Certain sounds – such as the letters T and K – I can’t really hear at all. But my new hearing aids are directional, so they pick up the sound in front of me, like the person I’m talking to, more than background noise.
Elton John is an ambassador for the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a charity which helps children in Third World countries suffering from hearing loss.
The rugby star now says he uses the hearing aids often, and that they have helped with his professional, social and home life.
On Elton John, and whether he still sees him now, Cohen said: “Yeah, I do, and he’s a big supporter of my foundation. My wife and I went round there for dinner. He helps whenever he can.
“He’s a very kind man and he does a lot of stuff that people don’t realise he does and will never know because he doesn’t want people to know.”
He said doctors didn’t know how much worse his hearing might get, saying: “At the moment the hearing seems to have reached a plateau but we’ll have to wait and see. There’s no point worrying about it because it’s out of my control.”
Cohen recently gave a speech at ParliOut, the Houses of Parliament’s gay staff network, where he said more needed to be done to combat homophobia in sport.
He also attended National Student Pride in Brighton, of which Sir Elton is an ambassador, where Cohen sat on a panel for a debate which emphasised the importance of tackling homophobia and transphobia in sport.