The Fight to Have Elton John Play at Princess Diana’s Funeral
Recently released papers from the British National Archive revealed a priest’s battle to have Elton John play at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.
The Very Rev. Wesley Carr had only recently been installed as Dean of Westminster Abbey when he used his position as someone who directly reported to the Queen to argue for something from the “modern world” at the ceremony. The royal family had faced heavy criticism for a low-key response to Diana’s death in a car wreck, sticking to centuries-old tradition rather than adopting an approach that matched the expectations of ‘90s society.
As a result of Carr’s involvement, John performed a rewritten version of the classic track “Candle in the Wind,” with new lyrics referring to Diana’s public image as “England’s rose.” The update went on to sell over 33 million copies and remains the biggest-selling single in Billboard chart history. An estimated 2.5 billion people watched John’s performance in the abbey.
The BBC reported that Carr, who died in 2017, wrote to the royal household and said it would be an “imaginative and generous” move to have John perform for those feeling “personally bereaved.”
He accepted it required “boldness” to agree to the “inclusion of something of the modern world that the princess represented,” but added that it was a “rare opportunity for the abbey to bring together pageantry, history and the common touch.” Carr told a senior member of the royal family’s staff that he was prepared to “discuss the significance of this suggestion over the phone with anyone.”
The papers also revealed that a backup musician had been arranged after opera singer Placido Domingo’s offer to perform had been rejected. A young saxophonist was ready to play an emotional solo piece, but Carr described it as “a very second best shot.”
Had John collaborator Bernie Taupin’s new lyrics been regarded as “too sentimental” by the royal family, Carr also said he’d ensure they didn’t appear in the order of service – although he claimed any such sentimentality was “appropriate given the public mood.”
Speaking before the performance, John said it was “quite a daunting thing” to do, but he wanted to deliver because Princess Diana had been there to support him during the funeral of fashion designer Gianni Versace a few weeks before her death. “She kept her cool for me at Gianni's funeral and she held her composure,” John said. “I’ve got to do the same for her.”
Taupin later said it was “very important” to present the new version of “Candle in the Wind” “from a nation's standpoint,” adding: ”I wanted to make it sound like a country singing it.”
Watch Elton John Perform ‘Candle in the Wind 1997’ at Diana’s Funeral