Palace Did Not Want Elton John to Sing at Diana’s Funeral

Newly released government documents show what went on behind the scenes of Elton John‘s famous performance of “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana‘s funeral in 1997.

Buckingham Palace appeared to have pushed back against the performance of the song with the singer’s reimagined lyrics, according to papers newly released by the U.K. National Archives obtained by Sky News. However, the Dean of Westminster sent a personal note to a senior member of the royal household urging the performance to go on.

Elton’s lyricist Bernie Taupin had rewritten the song, which was about Marilyn Monroe, with new lyrics about Princess Diana. Instead of “Goodbye Norma Jean” — Monroe’s legal name — the lyrics were changed to “Goodbye England’s rose,” in a nod to the late princess. According to the government papers, it appears there were concerns that the new lyrics to the song were “too sentimental.”

“This is a crucial point in the service and we would urge boldness. It is where the unexpected happens and something of the modern world that the princess represented,” the Very Reverend Dr. Wesley Carr wrote in his plea.

“I respectfully suggest that anything classical or choral (even a popular classic such as something by Lloyd Webber) is inappropriate,” he continued. “Better would be the enclosed song by Elton John (known to millions and his music was enjoyed by the princess), which would be powerful.”

“He has written new words to the tune which is being widely played and sung throughout the nation in memorial to Diana. It is all the time on the radio. Its use here would be imaginative and generous to the millions who are feeling personally bereaved: it is popular culture at its best,” he added.

“If it were thought the words too sentimental (although that is by no means a bad thing given the national mood), they need not be printed — only sung.”

Westminster Abbey also put a saxophonist on standby to play the song in case the palace refused John’s performance.

Furthermore, a first draft of the funeral service had the iconic musician noted as performing “Your Song,” although it was listed as “Our Song.”

John’s performance of “Candle in the Wind” went on and became one of the most memorable aspects of the funeral.

“There was a sense in which it was the biggest gig of my life — for four minutes, I was literally going to be the center of the world’s attention — but equally, it wasn’t an Elton John moment, it wasn’t about me at all,” John later said.

John and Princess Diana met at Prince Andrew’s 21st birthday party in 1981, the singer recalled in his 2019 autobiography Me.

“She was blessed with an incredible social ease, an ability to make people feel totally comfortable in her company,” he wrote. “That night in 1981, she arrived in the ballroom and we immediately clicked. We ended up pretending to dance the Charleston while hooting at the disco’s feebleness.”

John said that Diana was “fabulous company, the best dinner party guest, incredibly indiscreet, a real gossip: you could ask her anything and she’d tell you.”

The friends had a falling out about a year before her death when Princess Diana pulled out of contributing to a book for charity that John had organized.

“It was only really when Gianni Versace was murdered that we both got on the phone to each other and said, ‘This is so stupid. We haven’t talked,’ you know,” John said on CNN in 2002. “It’s one of those things that friends sometimes do. You know, they’re too proud to pick up the phone.”

The singer maintained a relationship with Diana’s two sons. In 2007, 10 years after the royal’s tragic death, Prince William and Prince Harry joined John on stage at Wembley Stadium in London for a tribute concert for Diana, where he performed “Your Song.”

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