Palace Questioned Lyrics for Elton John's Diana Tribute

Queen's team feared words about 'England's rose' were too sentimental
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 30, 2021 1:54 PM CST
Palace Questioned Lyrics for Elton John's Diana Tribute
Elton John plays a rewritten version of "Candle in the Wind" during the funeral service for Princess Diana on Sept. 6, 1997.   (AP Photo/Paul Hackett, Pool)

The reworked lyrics for "Candle in the Wind," which Elton John sang at Princess Diana's funeral, were not an immediate hit with Buckingham Palace, according to just-released government documents. In fact, CNN reports, there was a Plan B: A saxophonist was ready to play the melody instead. Not printing the lyrics also was proposed—evidently so they'd be fleeting. Sky News obtained documents from the UK National Archives that show the back and forth between the dean of Westminster Abbey and palace officials over funeral arrangements after Diana's death in 1997. The palace's concern was that the lyrics were overly sentimental.

Exactly, the dean wrote back. "That is by no means a bad thing given the national mood," Dr. Wesley Carr told the palace. Bernie Taupin, John's longtime lyricist, had changed the lyrics, which originally were about Marilyn Monroe. "Goodbye Norma Jean," which used Monroe's birth name, became "Goodbye England's rose." Carr said he wasn't interested in a classical piece, or even anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber, per People. "This is a crucial point in the service and we would urge boldness," Carr wrote. "It is where the unexpected happens and something of the modern world that the princess represented."

The new version of the song went on to sell 33 million copies, per the BBC, after Carr assured the palace it was "popular culture at its best." The princess and the singer became friends after meeting in 1981 at Prince Andrew's 21st birthday party, fell out, then patched things up shortly before her death, John wrote in his autobiography. In preparing for the funeral, John later said, "There was a sense in which it was the biggest gig of my life—for four minutes, I was literally going to be the center of the world's attention—but equally, it wasn't an Elton John moment, it wasn't about me at all." (More Princess Diana stories.)

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