15 Years Ago: Star-Studded Concert for Diana Honors Her Legacy
On July 1, 2007, thousands gathered in London's newly built Wembley Stadium to commemorate the life and memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Concert for Diana, held on what would have been her 46th birthday, fell just shy of the 10th anniversary of her death.
The concert was organized by her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, and the first of 22,500 tickets were made available in December 2006 and sold out in less than 20 minutes. (The proceeds were given to various charities chosen by the brothers.) On the day of the concert, over 60,000 people packed into the stadium, but those who couldn't physically attend weren't left out: The show was globally broadcast in more than 100 countries, reaching millions more people.
William, heir to the throne, and his younger brother Harry had lived in the spotlight since their births. Their mom was one of the most iconic figures of the century and was constantly hounded by paparazzi. In the 10 years since Diana's death, her sons continued to wrestle with the world's obsession with her.
"I can't really see it ever ending," Prince Harry told NBC News in June 2007, just a few weeks before the concert. "I think that [there may be] certain sort of times when there's going to be peace when there's actually nothing to write about or when they're working towards something new. But I think people will always have a fascination about her."
The concert was an attempt to thoughtfully regain some control regarding the narrative of Diana's life and death at the age of 36. "We always wanted to do something for her," William added, noting that they didn't want to do a traditional memorial service but an event that more appropriately embodied their mother's spirit. "We wanted to have a concert for her life and energy and all things that we thought she brought."
The concert, which lasted just over six hours, was opened by Elton John, a personal friend of Diana's. The set began with a performance of "Your Song." (John played "Candle in the Wind," with newly rewritten lyrics, at Diana's funeral in 1997.)
“She was blessed with an incredible social ease, an ability to talk to anybody, to make herself seem ordinary,” John later wrote in his autobiography, Me. His friendship with Diana splintered years earlier when she dropped out of writing a foreword for a photography book whose proceeds went to John's AIDS Foundation. “I think Buckingham Palace didn’t like the idea of a member of the royal family having anything to do with a book that featured shots of naked guys with towels draped around them,” John wrote. The pair made up in July 1997 at the funeral of fashion designer Gianni Versace, but it was the last time John saw Princess Diana, who died a month later.
Watch Elton John Perform 'Your Song' at the Concert for Diana in 2007
“This evening is about all that my mother loved in life: her music, her dance, her charities and her family and friends,” Prince William said to the audience.
Several other of Diana's favorite artists performed, including Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, who played a medley that included "Dreamer," "The Logical Song," "Breakfast in America" and "Give a Little Bit." “I had laryngitis and didn’t know whether I’d sing or squawk, but I was happy to accept princes William and Harry’s invitation to appear,” Hodgson told Classic Rock in 2007.
“We never met, but I’ve nothing but admiration for Diana and all she stood for. Prince William told me that as kids they sat around and sang Supertramp songs with their mother, which touched me deeply. They both filled me with hope for England’s future."
Watch Roger Hodgson Perform 'Give a Little Bit' at the Concert for Diana in 2007
Another of Diana's favorites, Duran Duran, also appeared and performed"(Reach Up for the) Sunrise," "Wild Boys" and "Rio." The band had met Diana a few times — at the Prince’s Trust benefit concert in 1983 and the 1985 premiere of the James Bond movie A View to a Kill.
“It worked well for us,” drummer Roger Taylor later recalled. “It was genuine. I don’t think it was some sort of PR stunt. It was massive for us because she was the number one icon of the early '80s.”
In an interview shortly before the concert, Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon recalled a particularly memorable encounter he'd had with Diana. “She and I used to go to the same fitness club: Chelsea Harbour in London,” he told Radio Times magazine. “One day I was on the running machine. I jumped off because one of my shoelaces had come undone, and she wolf-whistled at me across the room, and yelled, like a brickie, ‘Nice legs! I’d recognize that bum anywhere!’ I was quite taken aback, actually, and quietly got back on the machine with a red face.”
Watch Duran Duran Perform 'Rio' at the Concert for Diana in 2007
Queen guitarist Brian May was reportedly asked to perform "Under Pressure" with singer Joss Stone but plans fell through.
"He was never confirmed although they were in discussions about it," a spokesperson for May said at the time. "Brian's up to his ears trying to complete his Ph.D. thesis [on astronomy] so he couldn't do it."
"Yes, the wonderful Joss Stone did ask me to play 'Under Pressure' with her, and initially I did say yes," May later explained. "But when I realized how very different the arrangement was from the original, I realized that I was not going to be able to do it justice. So we talked, and I apologized, and we agreed that we would get together and create something new instead sometime soon."
The performers who appeared at the Concert for Diana ran the gamut of genres and backgrounds — from Bryan Ferry and Rod Stewart to Kanye West and P. Diddy. Other prominent figures recorded video tributes that were played during the event, including former President Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair, the recently resigned U.K. prime minister.
At the end of the evening, a video montage was played with photos of Princess Diana as a child with Queen's "These Are the Days of Our Lives" serving as a soundtrack.
"There will be people there who are coming because it's a concert and not because of her," Prince William told NBC at the time. "But I genuinely believe that there'll be lots of people there who have come for her and want to, you know, see what they can get out of it. And I really hope that everyone just leaves with a really nice, warm feeling and are going, 'Yeah, that was the Princess of Wales I remember, that's her. That was the Diana I remember.'"