Princess Diana: Declassified papers reveal plea for Elton John to perform at funeral

Goodbye England’s Rose included in service after dean of Westminster urged ‘boldness’

Westminster Abbey originally anticipated that Elton John would sing Your Song at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, rather than Goodbye England's Rose, his reworking of Candle in the Wind, newly released records have shown.

An early order-of-service draft included the lyrics of Your Song, although it was mistitled Our Song. A second draft, sent for approval to Buckingham Palace by the dean of Westminster Abbey, Dr Wesley Carr, substituted Candle in the Wind.

In the draft, Carr said “boldness”, the “unexpected” and “something of the modern world” should be included, and suggested “anything classical or choral (even if a popular classic such as something by [Andrew] Lloyd Webber) is inappropriate”.

Better would be something by John, a favourite of Diana’s and “popular culture at its best”, the dean wrote, adding: “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.”

John has previously said he and his songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, reworked Candle in the Wind at the suggestion of Richard Branson. It became the second biggest-selling physical single of all time, after Bing Crosby's White Christmas, selling 33 million copies.

The circumstances of the death of Diana led to concerns within No 10 that then British prime minister Tony Blair might be bounced into publicly addressing the "sensitive" area of privacy and media intrusion by Jacques Chirac, the National Archive documents showed.

In a telephone call with Blair, Chirac, the then French president, proposed “tightening existing privacy law”, leading Downing Street officials to instruct the British foreign office to warn them if it got wind that the French intended to make an announcement on the issue.

Chirac told Blair that the deaths of Diana and Dodi Fayed, in a car crash after being chased by paparazzi, "called into question the whole issue of media intrusion and he proposed to [Blair] that they look at toughening existing privacy laws", according to a No 10 letter to the foreign office.

The prime minister "agreed that public feeling would be running high, but (deliberately) made no commitment to look at the UK privacy laws", wrote Blair's private secretary, Angus Lapsley. But if the French government made an announcement on those lines, "this would present us with a sensitive handling issue in relation to the UK government's stance on media intrusion", the letter continued.

“The prime minister would therefore be grateful if you could endeavour to give us as much prior warning as possible of any sign that the French do indeed intend to make an announcement.”

Downing Street’s view was that tighter legislation was not the answer and the biggest impact would come from a change of heart by the media itself, briefing documents released by the National Archive showed.

Downing Street was also relieved when Hillary Clinton, the then first lady, changed her mind about attacking the media at a press conference in London before the funeral. "Her personal inclination is to attack the press, but her staff are stopping her from doing it," Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, wrote to the press secretary Alastair Campbell, who scrawled "good" on the memo.

As conspiracy theories over UK security and intelligence involvement in the deaths continued, the Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle, who had tried unsuccessfully to raise questions in the Commons on the subject, wrote to Blair asking him to make a public statement about the rumours.

Hoyle, then the newly elected MP for Chorley, and now the Commons speaker, was described as a "publicity-mad loony" in a Post-it note by a No 10 official, who said the foreign office's strong advice was for Blair not to reply in writing. The foreign office feared Hoyle would relay any reply to the media and that a public statement "out of the blue" by Blair would give fresh wind to the conspiracy theories, another memo showed.

Blair, who was advised by his private office to “put this in writing clearly and definitively”, wrote back to Hoyle in a personal letter stating: “Any suggestion that any British official organisation or department had anything to do with this tragic event is both ridiculous and deeply distressing for the bereaved families.”

Before Diana's funeral, the Conservative leader William Hague unsuccessfully urged Blair to delay the referendum on Scottish devolution as national mourning suspended campaigning. "This inevitably means that the referendum campaigns will effectively close down, and only three days will then remain for the Scottish campaign. This cannot, in any respects, be regarded as satisfactory," Hague wrote. – Guardian

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