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Dean of Westminster urged Royals to allow Elton John's Diana tribute

by Donna Birrell

The Dean of Westminster made a personal appeal to Buckingham Palace urging them to allow Sir Elton John to sing his rewritten version of ‘Candle In The Wind’ at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Newly released papers from the National Archives show that the Dean, the Very Reverend Wesley Carr, wrote a note to Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Ross, a senior member of the royal household who was involved in negotiations over the service between the Palace and Diana's family.

Dr Carr said the song had captured the public mood in the days following the Princess’ death and allowing it to be sung at her funeral would be an ‘imaginative and generous’ gesture. 

Sir Elton, who was a friend of Princess Diana had written the song, with lyricist Bernie Taupin in memory of the actress Marilyn Monroe, but he changed the lyrics to read ‘Goodbye England’s Rose’ after Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris on 31st August 1997.

The papers show that Westminster Abbey’s first draft order of service had shown Sir Elton would sing ‘Your Song’ although it was wrongly listed as ‘Our Song’.

The papers reveal there had been initial reluctance for ‘Candle in the Wind’ to be sung, fearing it was overly sentimental. But the Dean urged ‘boldness’ and said the words could be sung but not printed if preferred. 

In the event, Sir Elton’s emotional performance at Westminster Abbey on 6th September 1997 became one of the most memorable moments of the service and the single went on to sell 33 million copies around the world.

Dr Carr’s note which changed the course of the service, was also copied to Number 10, but there is no record of a reply.

"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.

"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.

"He has written new words to the tune which is being widely played and sung throughout the nation in memorial to Diana. It is all the time on the radio.

"Its use here would be imaginative and generous to the millions who are feeling personally bereaved: it is popular culture at its best.

"If it were thought the words too sentimental (although that is by no means a bad thing given the national mood), they need not be printed - only sung.

"I would be prepared to discuss the significance of this suggestion over the phone with anyone."

Dr Carr was Dean of Westminster from 1997 to 2006 and died in 2017 at the age of 76.

As well as conducting the funeral service of Diana, Princess of Wales, he also conducted the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 and, in the same year, a memorial service for Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.

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