Why the Royal Family Did Not Want Elton John to Sing ‘Candle in the Wind’ at Princess Diana’s Funeral

People around the world were shocked and saddened to learn about Princess Diana‘s death on Aug. 31, 1997. Six days later, millions tuned in to watch her funeral as a final goodbye to the People’s Princess.

One of the most touching moments during the service is when Diana’s longtime friend Elton John performed “Candle in the Wind.” That almost didn’t happen though. Here’s why there was “pushback” from the Palace against that song choice.

Sir Elton John after singing a revised version of 'Candle in the Wind' at Princess Diana's funeral
Sir Elton John after singing a revised version of ‘Candle in the Wind’ at Princess Diana’s funeral | Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The images so many remember from Princess Diana’s funeral

Princess Diana’s funeral took place on Sept. 6, 1997, at Westminster Abbey. One of the images etched in the minds of many is of her two sons Princes William and Harry, who were just 15 and 12 at the time, walking behind their mother’s coffin.

In the BBC documentary Diana: 7 Days That Shook the Windsors, the Duke of Cambridge spoke about that decision and how he felt walking in the procession that day with the world watching.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, that walk,” William recalled adding that he used his bangs as a kind of safety blanket. “I felt if I looked at the floor and my hair came down over my face no one could see me.”

Prince William, Charles Spencer, and Prince Harry walking behind Princess Diana's coffin
Prince William, Charles Spencer, and Prince Harry walking behind Princess Diana’s coffin | Adam Butler – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

The reason the royals didn’t want John to sing ‘Candle in the Wind’

Another image from that day people vividly remember is John sitting at the church piano performing a revised version of his song “Candle in the Wind.” The track’s original lyrics are about Marilyn Monroe, however, John’s collaborator Bernie Taupin rewrote the lyrics of “Goodbye Norma Jean” — Monroe’s legal name — to “Goodbye England’s rose” for the late princess.

According to papers newly released by the U.K. National Archives and obtained by Sky News, there were concerns and pushback from the Palace that John singing the new lyrics would be “too sentimental.” The Dean of Westminster then decided to send a personal note to a senior member of the household requesting that the royal family rethink its stance and support John performing the song with the updated lyrics.

“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. 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.”

In the end, John did perform the revised “Candle in the Wind” and the track went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide.

John and Diana had a falling out but made amends before she died

Some reports around the time of Diana’s death questioned if she and John had a falling out. The singer explained that they did but made up when they came together for another tragedy.

During an interview in 2002 on CNN’s Larry King Live, John talked about how he and the princess met at Prince Andrew‘s 21st birthday party. He also revealed what their falling out was about.

“A year before she died, just over something, you know, we were both pretty stubborn. It was one of her charity things that I’d organized, and she pulled out of it. And I wasn’t too happy, and I let her know that. And then she wrote me a very terse letter,” John recalled.

“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. It’s one of those things that friends sometimes do. You know, they’re too proud to pick up the phone. And it was just due to a tragic event like Johnny’s murder that brought us [back together].”

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