Princess Diana's funeral in 1997 was a tragic but memorable event. Stars attended the service while millions of Britons lined the streets and mourned. In the middle of it all was Sir Elton John, performing his hit 1973 song “Candle in the Wind 1997,” which at the time, had been newly rewritten.
The song was well received, making the Billboard Hot 100 list, and John's performance was one of the most memorable parts of the service — but it almost didn't happen.
Newly released documents from the British prime minister's office reveal that the royal family was opposed to John performing the song at the service. The documents, released by the U.K. National Archives, chronicle the early years of former prime minister Tony Blair's time in office and range from 1998 to 2000.
The royal household expressed concern that the new lyrics of the song were "too sentimental." However, Dr. Wesley Carr, who was then the Dean of Westminster, wrote a personal plea to the family and argued for the song's inclusion.
“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 one of several notes attached to a letter. “I respectfully suggest that anything classical or choral (even if a popular classic such as something by Lloyd Webber) is inappropriate."
Carr said that it would be "better" to use the revised "Candle in the Wind" because John was "known to millions and his music was enjoyed by the Princess." Not only was Diana was a fan of John's, they were also close friends.
In addition, the revised tune had already hit the airwaves, Carr noted.
"He has written new words to a tune which is being widely played and sung throughout the nation in memoriam of Diana. It is all the time on the radio," Carr continued. "Its use here would be imaginative and generous to the millions who are feeling personally bereaved: it is popular culture at its best."
Carr conceded that the lyrics to the song didn't need to be printed if the lyrics seemed "too sentimental," though he added that that feeling is "by no means a bad thing given the national mood."
Carr ended his letter with a note saying that he would be happy to discuss the music over the phone. According to the National Archives, the office of the prime minister was copied into the message, but there is no record of a reply from Downing Street.
According to Carr's notes, he even offered to put a solo saxophonist on standby to play "Candle in the Wind" in case the palace did not allow John to perform. The backup option later proved unnecessary, and John's landmark performance went forward.
That remains the only time he has performed the revised version of "Candle in the Wind" in public. The original song was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe and had the lyric "Goodbye Norma Jean." The revised version, which was rewritten with John's lyricist Bernie Taupin, changed the lyric to "Goodbye England's Rose."