“The people’s princess” was the label Great Britain’s newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair chose to use in describing the late Princess Diana in his first public statement following her death. It was a sensitive and understated way to refer to Diana’s tremendous popularity among the British public despite her estrangement from England’s royal family. Pop legend Elton John chose a more dramatic form of tribute: On September 6, 1997, at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, Elton John—a man not given to understatement—gave a tear-jerking performance of “Candle in the Wind,” his 1973 Marilyn Monroe tribute rewritten in honor of the deceased princess.
It is safe to say that Westminster Abbey had never seen a performance quite like the one Elton John gave on this day in 1997. But then Westminster Abbey had never seen a royal funeral quite like Diana’s, what with her brother, Earl Spencer, openly criticizing the royal family for mistreating her while television cameras beamed a live feed to the hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered directly outside and the millions more watching on television around the world. But it was Elton John’s performance, seated alone at a grand piano, which stole the show.
The version of “Candle in the Wind” that John performed that day included entirely new lyrics–he replaced the opening “Goodbye, Norma Jean…” with “Goodbye, England’s Rose“–hastily rewritten by Elton’s longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin. Recorded that same afternoon in a London studio with the legendary Beatles producer George Martin, the reworked song was released as a single under the name “Candle In The Wind 1997″ and went on to become a #1 pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic. While the song also managed to take the #4 spot on the “100 Worst Pop Records” list compiled by Britain’s Channel 4 in 2004, “Candle In The Wind 1997″ is one of the biggest-selling singles in the world since formal records have been kept, eclipsed on the all-time list only by Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”