Westminster Abbey Dean campaigned for Elton to sing at Diana's funeral

Westminster Abbey Dean campaigned for Elton John to sing at Princess Diana’s funeral and told senior royal it would be ‘generous’ gesture after public turned against the family in wake of the tragedy

  • Elton John’s performance was one of most memorable moments of the service 
  • Candle In The Wind was widely taken up as memorial to the Princess Diana
  • Papers released by National Archives suggest there was resistance to the plan
  • Concerns rewritten lyrics, including opening line, would be ‘too sentimental’ 
  • The Dean of Westminster personally appealed to Buckingham Palace to allow Sir Elton John to sing Candle In The Wind at Princess Diana’s funeral.

    The performance was one of the most memorable moments of the service at Westminster Abbey. 

    However, papers released by the National Archives suggest there was resistance to the plan amid concerns that the rewritten lyrics – including the opening line ‘Goodbye England’s rose’ – were ‘too sentimental’. 

    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 after the princess’s death.

    Dr Carr’s note to a senior member of the royal household was copied to No 10, although there is no record of the reply. 

    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.

    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 rewrote the lyrics, changing the opening line from ‘Goodbye Norma Jean’ (Monroe’s real name) to ‘Goodbye England’s rose’. 

    Elton John performing a rewritten version of his song 'Candle in the wind' as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at her funeral

    Elton John performing a rewritten version of his song ‘Candle in the wind’ as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at her funeral

    Queen Elizabeth  pictured with the Dean, Wesley Carr at Westminster Abbey in 1997

    Queen Elizabeth  pictured with the Dean, Wesley Carr at Westminster Abbey in 1997

    Earl Spencer delivering his address to the congregation inside Westminster Abbey during the funeral service for his sister, Diana

    Earl Spencer delivering his address to the congregation inside Westminster Abbey during the funeral service for his sister, Diana

    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 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’.

    Comments are closed.