Buckingham Palace ‘resisted plans to let Elton John perform at Diana’s funeral’, new papers show

Sir Elton John performed ‘Candle in the Wind’ as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at her funeral (PA)
Sir Elton John performed ‘Candle in the Wind’ as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at her funeral (PA)

Buckingham Palace initially resisted plans for Sir Elton John to perform at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, new papers have suggested.

Top clergyman the Dean of Westminster appealed to the royals back in 1997 to allow the famous performance of Candle in the Wind, the lyrics of which were rewritten by Sir Elton and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin for the late princess.

However, papers released by the National Archives suggest there was resistance to the plan due to concerns that the rewritten lyrics – which changed the opening line from “Goodbye Norma Jean” to “Goodbye England’s rose” – were “too sentimental”.

The Abbey even arranged for a young saxophonist to be put on standby to deliver a solo instrumental version of the song, although this was considered to be a “very second best shot”.

Candle In The Wind, originally written in memory of Marilyn Monroe, was widely taken up and played as a memorial to Diana after she died in a car crash with partner Dodi Fayed in 1997.

The new papers show a note from the Dean, the Very Rev Wesley Carr – who was involved in negotiations over the service between the Palace and Diana’s family – to Lt Col Malcolm Ross, who was a senior member of the royal household, over plans for the funeral.

He offered the suggestion of the words being sung but not printed if deemed “too sentimental”.

The Dean suggested a performance of “anything classical or choral” would be “inappropriate”.

“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 wrote.

“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.”

The Dean said he was willing to speak about the “significance of this suggestion” on the phone with anyone.

After he performed the reworked version of Candle in the Wind at the funeral, Sir Elton rerecorded the song.

In his memoir, he recounted how this became “the biggest-selling single since the charts began”.

The pop singer said the longevity of the song made him feel “really uncomfortable”.

“Its success meant there was footage of Diana’s funeral week after week on Top Of The Pops – it almost felt like wallowing in her death, as if the mourning for her had got out of hand,” he said.

“I really didn’t think that was what Diana would have wanted and I didn’t want to do anything to prolong it any further.”

Sir Elton said he refused to discuss the funeral during TV appearances and had not included the reworked version in greatest hit albums.

Buckingham Palace has been approached for comment.

Additional reporting by Press Association