The Surprising Reason Elton John Almost Didn't Perform At Princess Diana's Funeral

The tragic death of Princess Diana in a 1997 car crash was a time no one will soon forget. The funeral that followed was an awe-inspiring spectacle of beauty and grief, highlighted by the appearance of the incomparable Elton John. A dear friend of the princess, John played his hit song "Candle in the Wind," with new lyrics written by his longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin. "Goodbye, England's Rose/May you ever grow in our hearts/You were the grace that placed itself/Where lives were torn apart," it began (via Genius). It concluded, "And your footsteps will always fall here/Along England's greenest hills/Your candle's burned out long before/Your legend ever will."

The revised song became an instant hit, and still remains the second best-selling single of all time, next to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" (via ABC News Radio). It's hard to imagine the ceremony without this poignant memorial, but newly released documents reveal that the song almost didn't make it into the service.

Per CNN and other outlets, the UK National Archives made public the drafts of the order of service for the funeral, which include comments by the Dean of Westminster to Buckingham Palace. The Dean urged the royals to allow an "unexpected" piece of music in the service, rather than a classical number; even a classical arrangement of an Andrew Lloyd Webber song, he argued, would be "inappropriate" for a princess known for her public appeal and love of pop music.

"This is a crucial point in the service and we would urge boldness," the Very Reverend Dr. Wesley Carr wrote (via People).

The palace apparently thought Candle in the Wind would be too sentimental for a royal funeral

A first draft of the service shows that Elton John's "Your Song" was meant to be the music of choice for Princess Diana's funeral. However, Westminster Abbey's dean, Dr. Carr, later suggested the more "powerful" song "Candle in the Wind," the hit single about Marilyn Monroe. "He has written new words to the tune which is being widely played and sung throughout the nation in memorial to Diana," Carr wrote to Buckingham Palace. "Its use here would be imaginative and generous to the millions who are feeling personally bereaved: it is popular culture at its best" (via People).

The palace apparently thought the lyrics were too "sentimental," but the dean argued that they were appropriate to "the national mood" and suggested that the words could be omitted from the printed program. As a "very second best shot," Westminster Abbey arranged to have a saxophonist ready to play an instrumental version of "Candle," just in case the palace denied the request to have John perform in person (via CNN).

Ultimately, of course, the royal family allowed John to perform his song, and it went on to become a part of history. Elton John, on the other hand, is rather baffled by its lasting success. "Why would anyone want to listen to it?" he wrote in his recent autobiography (via Time). "It seemed unhealthy to me: morbid and unnatural. I really didn't think it was what Diana would have wanted."