Sir Elton John‘s performance of “Candle In The Wind 1997” at the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 is largely considered to be one of the singer’s greatest performances. But a new report shows that the star was almost denied permission by the royal family to perform.
A set of newly released government papers from Britain’s National Archives, which were first reported on by Sky News, reveals that Buckingham Palace did not want John to perform his updated version of the song during the Princess of Wales’ funeral in 1997. According to the report, the royal household was concerned that the song was “too sentimental” for the event, with Westminster Abbey even going as far as to have a solo saxophonist on standby to perform a rendition of the song as a “very second best shot.”
However, the Dean of Westminster at the time, The Very Reverend Dr. Wesley Carr, appealed to the family, urging them to allow John to perform the song as a show of goodwill to the public. Carr argued that the performance would provide an “imaginative and generous” gesture to the grieving public, adding that the song was “all the time on the radio.” In a plea to keep the singer as part of the ceremony, Dr. Carr said that John’s music better represented what Diana meant to the rest of the world.
“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 in his note to Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Ross, a senior member of the royal household. “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.”
“Candle In the Wind 1997,” alternatively known as “Goodbye England’s Rose,” went on to become one of Elton John’s biggest hits in his extensive career. The updated version of his 1973 track (which was originally written about Marilyn Monroe) peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the chart dated Oct. 10, 1997, where it stayed for 14 weeks, making it John’s longest running No. 1 on the chart.