‘Candle In The Wind’: A timeline of Elton John and Princess Diana’s precious friendship

13 May 2022, 11:43

Elton and Diana took an instant liking to one another when they first met.
Elton and Diana took an instant liking to one another when they first met. Picture: REX/Shutterstock/Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

2022 marks a quarter of a century since we lost Princess Diana.

It was one of the great tragedies of the 20th century, and her loss can still be felt today.

Fondly remembered for her philanthropy, charm, and spirited personality, Diana, Princess Of Wales will also continue to be remembered as “England's Rose”.

That’s because of her dear friend Elton John and his touching tribute ‘Candle In The Wind’, that captured the emotion of the British public after her sudden death.

But how did he come to perform at her funeral, and how did Elton and Diana become friends?

Here's all you need to know:

When did Elton John and Princess Diana meet?

Diana, Princess of Wales with Sir Elton John in 1993.
Diana, Princess of Wales with Sir Elton John in 1993. Picture: REX/Shutterstock

Both the Queen Mother and Princess Anne were huge fans of Elton since his early days, and had been invited to several intimate family events.

He was asked to perform at Prince Andrew’s 21st birthday party in 1981, but before he got the chance he found himself dancing with Princess Anne and Queen Elizabeth II in the ballroom.

Slightly taken aback by how the surreal events unfolded, he was when Princess Diana arrived at the party that his discomfort evaporated.

Elton said in his 2019 autobiography Me that “was blessed with an incredible social ease, an ability to make people feel totally comfortable in her company.”

They formed a bond almost immediately, with Elton recalling: “That night in 1981, she arrived in the ballroom and we immediately clicked. We ended up pretending to dance the Charleston while hooting at the disco’s feebleness.”

How did Elton and Diana become such good friends?

Diana chatting to Elton and George Michael backstage at Wembley during Live Aid in 1985.
Diana chatting to Elton and George Michael backstage at Wembley during Live Aid in 1985. Picture: Getty

Both Elton and Diana gravitated towards each other at major public events such as Live Aid, with John performing for Diana at the Prince’s Trust concert in 1997.

At one particular party, Elton had to break up a fight between Richard Gere and Sylvester Stallone who both took a liking to the Princess Of Wales.

Elton wrote in his autobiography: “If I was bowled over by Diana, it was nothing compared with the impact she could have on straight men.

“They seemed completely to lose their minds in her presence: they were just utterly bewitched.”

What made the pair inseparable was the fact that they both suffered devastating losses in their friendship circles, and ensured they were each other’s shoulder to cry on.

Only weeks before Diana’s death, and after a minor falling out, they both attended the funeral of mutual friend Gianni Versace who was tragically murdered.

There’s a famous photo of Diana leaning over to console Elton, though he debunked the media story with the typical kind of humour in the face of adversity that was the cornerstone of their friendship.

“The warm words of comfort coming from her lips at that exact moment were actually: ‘God, I'd love a Polo.’”

Who came up with the idea to perform ‘Candle In The Wind’ at her funeral?

Diana famously comforted Elton during Gianni Versace's funeral.
Diana famously comforted Elton during Gianni Versace's funeral. Picture: Reuters

Six weeks after the death of Gianni Versace, Elton was confronted with the news that he’d lost another beloved friend: Diana.

Having been close to the royal family for some years, Elton was deemed a natural choice to pay tribute to Diana in front of the entire nation.

It was in fact Sir Richard Branson, with the blessing of the Spencer family, who approached Elton with the idea of re-writing the lyrics of his 1973 song ‘Candle In The Wind’.

Elton previously wrote the song about the loss of Marilyn Monroe with Bernie Taupin, and some of the funeral speakers even quoted it in their eulogies.

Most notably, the opening lyrics were changed from "Goodbye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all," to "Goodbye England's rose, may you ever grow in our hearts."

What happened at Princess Diana’s funeral?

The unwavering support of the dean, Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, proved to be the deciding factor in Elton performing at Diana’s funeral, after the royal family initially resisted.

Documents that were released years later stated Dr Carr successfully argued that Elton’s tribute would be an ‘imaginative and generous’ gesture to the public who had turned against the Royal Family after the princess’s death.

And his performance encapsulated what Diana meant to the British public, symbolising the national outpouring of emotion after her life was tragically cut short.

It was considered one of the most iconic performances of the decade, and has since become synonymous with the late Princess Of Wales.

How well-received was ‘Candle In The Wind’?

Elton bravely performed 'Candle In The Wind' at Diana's funeral which was televised to millions, despite grieving himself.
Elton bravely performed 'Candle In The Wind' at Diana's funeral which was televised to millions, despite grieving himself. Picture: Getty

Support for ‘Candle In The Wind’ was inextricably tied to the British public’s deep love for Princess Diana.

On its release it reached No.1 in the UK charts, and became the best-selling single in UK history at the time.

In the US, ‘Candle In The Wind’ became Elton’s 9th No.1 single in the US where it stayed for 14 weeks on the Billboard Charts, somewhat indicative of Diana’s global adoration.

It won Elton a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance, and is the highest selling single of all time, since records began.

Most importantly however, it was a heartfelt tribute from one of Diana’s true friends that resonated with the entire world.