Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris, France, on 31 August 1997. Elton John, a close friend of the Princess, was grief stricken. Richard Branson contacted John to say that many mourners were quoting "Candle in the Wind" in the Book of Condolence at St James Palace. He suggested that John adapt the song for the Princess's funeral.
Candle in the Wind is a song by Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin. The original version of the song, written as a lament for the late Marilyn Monroe, appeared on Elton John's Yellow Brick Road album (1973). In 1974 it was released as a single in the UK, peaking at #11. After hearing from Branson, John immediately contacted Bernie Taupin.
Alongside Earl Spencer’s eulogy to his sister, Elton John’s solo performance of “Candle in the Wind” was a defining moment of Princess Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey on 6th September 1997. The new lyrics include the memorable opening lines: “Goodbye England's rose / may you ever grow in our hearts”. Immediately following the funeral, John recorded a studio version of the of the song for release as a single, with George Martin (famous for his work with The Beatles), as producer.
"Candle in the Wind 1997" was released on 13 September. It sold 658,000 copies on its first day of release and over 1.5 million in its first week, making it the UK’s fastest selling single. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is second biggest selling single of all times, worldwide. It sold 33 million copies against Bing Crosby's White Christmas at 50 million. All royalties and profits from "Candle in the Wind 1997" were donated to Diana's charities.
Elton John sole public performance of "Candle in the Wind 1997" was at the Princess's funeral. He continues to sing the original version at concerts, mostly as an encore, but refuses to sing the Princess Dianna tribute, as he vowed never to perform it again, unless requested by Diana's sons. He even declined to perform it for the memorial Concert for Diana in July 2007.
Documents released by the National Archives of the United Kingdom in December 2021 reveal that Buckingham Palace was concerned that “Candle in the Wind” was too sentimental for the Princess’s funeral. Westminster Abbey even hired a backup saxophonist to have on standby in case Elton John was unable to pay his respects.
The documents reveal that support for Candle in the Wind came from the Spencer family and from Dr. Wesley Carr, the Dean of the Abbey. Dr Carr wrote to Buckingham Palace: "Best would be the music of Elton John who known to millions and his music was enjoyed by the Princess. He wrote new words for the melody that is being widely played and sung across the country in honour of Diana. He's on the radio all the time." Dr Carr added that “boldness” was needed at that point in the funeral and that a choral or traditional piece, “even a popular classic such as something by Lloyd Webber”, would be “inappropriate”.
Interestingly, Bernie Taupin has revealed the original Candle in The Wind is more of a reflection on fame and celebrity than an ode to Marilyn Monroe.
He said it concerns, "the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison … how we glamorise death, how we immortalise people."
After Elton John performed the revised version of Candle in the Wind on 6 September 1997 at Westminster Abbey, Candle in the Wind will be always associated with Diana, Princess of Wales.