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The Dean of Westminster personally appealed to Buckingham Palace to allow Sir Elton John to deliver his famous rendition of Candle In The Wind at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, according to newly released government files.
The singer’s emotional performance of a reworked version of his hit song was one of the most memorable moments of the service at Westminster Abbey and the single went on to sell 33 million copies around the world.
However, papers released by the National Archives suggest there was resistance to the plan amid concerns that the rewritten lyrics by Sir Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin 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”.
In the event the dean, the Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, successfully argued that allowing Sir Elton to appear would be an “imaginative and generous” gesture to the public who had turned against the royal family in the days following the princess’s death.
Diana and her lover, Dodi Fayed – son of Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed – died in a car crash in Paris on August 31 1997, prompting a huge outpouring of public grief.
The princess’s divorce from the Prince of Wales had been finalised the previous year and there was widespread public anger at the perceived indifference of the royals to her fate.
Candle In The Wind, originally written in memory of Marilyn Monroe, was widely taken up and played as a memorial to the princess, who had been a friend of Sir Elton.
In response, the singer and Taupin rewrote the lyrics, changing the opening line from “Goodbye Norma Jean” (Monroe’s real name) to “Goodbye England’s rose”.
In a note to a senior member of the royal household, Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Ross, Dr Carr – who was involved in negotiations over the service between the Palace and Diana’s family – said it had captured the public mood.
“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,” he wrote.
“I respectfully suggest that anything classical or choral (even a popular classic such as something by Lloyd Webber) is 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 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.
“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.
“I would be prepared to discuss the significance of this suggestion over the phone with anyone.”
The note, which was copied to No 10, is included in Downing Street files released by the National Archives, although there is no record of the reply.
The papers also show the Abbey originally believed Sir Elton intended to sing Your Song, which was wrongly listed as Our Song on the first draft order of service.
In the notes, it is described as “a different style of music, popular and associated with the princess”.