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New files reveal plea from Westminster Abbey for Elton John to perform at Princess Diana’s funeral

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Anwar Hussein/WireImage

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales on September 6, 1997 was Elton John‘s emotional performance of his rewritten version of “Candle in the Wind,” in which he sang, “Goodbye England’s Rose.”  Now, new files released from the British National Archives reveal that the head of Westminster Abbey, where the funeral took place, made a personal plea to Buckingham Palace to have Elton included in the service.

According to the BBC, the files reveal that the Very Rev. Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster at the time, wrote to the Palace and pointed out that having Elton sing at the service would be “imaginative and generous,” and would help the millions of people who felt “personally bereaved” by the Princess’ tragic death.

Carr urged “boldness” and the “inclusion of something of the modern world that the princess represented” in the service.  If Elton was a no-go, the files show that the backup plan was to have a saxophone player perform a solo.

In his autobiography ME, Elton writes that a few days after Diana’s death, Richard Branson called him and told him that many people were signing the book of condolence at St. James’s Palace by quoting from the original “Candle in the Wind,” and that radio stations were playing it a lot as well.  According to Elton, it was Branson who then asked Elton to rewrite the lyrics and sing it at the funeral, and he surmised that Branson had been contacted by Diana’s family to make the request.

After singing the song at the funeral, Elton went straight into the studio and recorded “Candle in the Wind 1997” as a charity single. It went on to became the best-selling single in both U.K. and U.S. history.   But Elton has never performed the song since and says he never will, unless Princes William and Harry ask him to.

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