Mar 14

ELTON JOHN – “Candle In The Wind ’97” / “Something About The Way You Look Tonight”

Popular147 comments • 21,197 views

#774, 20th September 1997

citw Every Popular entry starts with the same question: why this record? This time it’s especially loud. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” is the highest-selling single of all time in the UK, almost 2 million clear of its nearest competitor. This is as big as pop gets. But “why?” might strike you as a silly question here, because its answer is so obvious: Diana, duh. So reframe it: why Diana?

The death of Princess Diana is recognisably a global news event, in the way we experience them now: the sudden in-rush of information into a new-made vacuum of speculation; the real-time grapple for meaning; and most of all the flood of public sentiment, deforming the story and becoming the story. It was also inescapable in a way nothing in my lifetime had been. But there are elements which feel very distant, and this single is one of them. It pushed the machineries of pop – literal ones, like CD presses and distribution fans, and metaphorical ones, like the charts – to their limits. HMV stores carried signs warning of a limit of 5 copies per person, and still sold out. There were reports of people buying 50 copies – for a shrine, perhaps, or just because CD singles had briefly become, like flowers and bears, part of a currency of devotion.

And still, because Diana so inconveniently died in the small hours of a Sunday, it felt to me like it arrived at No.1 late, a week after the funeral and two after the death. If its copies sold had been evenly distributed it could have managed months at No.1 – instead it racked up 5 weeks, fewer than Puffy. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” sets itself up to be a tribute that will last, but really it only made sense at the funeral, still in the heat of the story’s first phase: part of a fight about what Diana did or meant, and what her legacy might be.

Narratives overlapped, jostled for attention. Everyone had an agenda, everyone claimed her for it. Tony Blair, mesmerised by unifying figures and great causes, saw her as one – the “people’s princess”. TV news announcers, wrestling the story at its source, spat the word “paparazzi” with sudden, fearful distance. What they dreaded seemed to come true with Earl Spencer’s funeral speech, the ancien regime emerging to set the bloodline and duty of old England against its hateful, media-ridden, fallen reality. Murdoch’s Sun, meanwhile, had seen its opportunity. It raged at the family Diana had detested, damning their reticence. When others were a step behind, wringing their hands at the media for killing Diana, the Sun brazenly took that outrage and turned it into a lever to crack open the rest of Royal Family. The remainder of the Establishment retreated to their diaries, writing in despair of a Britain drowned in sentiment, left stained and sodden by this freak tide of petals, plushies and tears.

Legacy is part of what “Candle In The Wind” was always about – Bernie Taupin’s self-satisfied, sentimental recovery of the real girl beneath a superstar. “Candle In The Wind” is a song that’s angry about how men in Hollywood used and reshaped Norma Jean Baker, but then casually asserts the right of other men – Elton and Bernie – to revise the story and define an “authentic” version of the woman. Even the private life of Marilyn becomes a commodity, to be piously invoked by people who never met her. They all sexualised you, Nice Guy Bernie makes Elton simper – of course that’s not what I’m doing, way back in the obsessive dark of the cinema. Sometime in her teens, Diana Spencer sold her cassette of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to her friend and flatmate, for 50 pence. She signed it before she handed it over.

A song about a dead woman whose place in our memory gets fought over by a vast establishment on one hand and people who never met her on the other: Taupin’s job here isn’t so much to bring the lyrics of “Candle In The Wind” up to date as to urgently make them less pointedly about Diana. The original “Candle” inevitably haunts this one – not just because it’s too resonant to be smothered, but because it makes it obvious how rushed, overdone, and fatuous the new version is. Forgivably so, perhaps. Elton didn’t know Marilyn but he did know Diana – he might have been at the funeral by right of friendship even if it wasn’t a gig. And compared to the knowing, late-night regrets and ruminations of the original, on “Candle In The Wind ‘97” he sings like he’s in a black suit and tie and nervously fingering the collar. (Flip to the ‘double A-side’ – yeah right – for a useful comparison: that’s what a relaxed Elton sounds like). He sings key words – “GROW in our hearts…the GRACE that PLACED yourself…” – with an unctuous precision. Peak smarm is hit on “now you belong to Heaven”, where Elton sounds like a Sunday School teacher explaining to a 5-year old where Bunny has gone.

For the biggest televised funeral of all time, though, some hyperbole is expected. Taupin certainly doesn’t risk caution – “from a country lost without a soul” sobs the lyric. Behind all this rending of garments, more intriguing touches lurk.

There’s the William Blake reference, for instance – “Your footsteps will always fall here, round England’s greenest hills”, an obvious nod to the verse which has ended up known as “Jerusalem”: “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?”. Blake was referring to the legend that the young Jesus visited Britain, making the reference the closest “Candle In The Wind ‘97” comes to tying up all its vague messianic imagery into an implication that really would be startling. But there’s something more here. “Jerusalem” in its most famous sung arrangement also has currency as an alternative national anthem: it’s what England might have if we finally got rid of the Royal Family. Referencing it in a song for a woman who had stepped outside that family is a very interesting choice.

This reading of “Candle In The Wind ‘97” seems tenuous – but it’s backed up by the version of Diana the song chooses to emphasise. What we’re hearing about is Saint Diana, Our Lady Of The Landmines – placing herself in the grace where lives were torn apart. This was also the version of herself she most enjoyed. I don’t think she was cynical about her good works – while obviously living a life of astonishing privilege, she seems to have been a genuinely kind person, and on the right side of social history on some important issues – but she also knew the extent to which they threatened the monarchy.

One of the ways in which the monarchy managed to survive, retaining its power in an age where things might have gone badly for it, was turning Elizabeth II’s personal talent for rapid intimacy into a defining asset. The Queen, like Bill Clinton, has a famously good memory for faces, names, and small personal details – and this is turned by monarchists into an argument in favour of the whole institution. The Royals are valuable because they work so hard, and have such a bond with their subjects.

Since Divine Right won’t cut it, and the economic case is too grubby and unglamorous, this feels like the most solid defence of the Royals that monarchists have. But fixing a job description to monarchy is a secret attack on its legitimacy. If the job of monarchy simply amounts to empathising with people and remembering their names, then the monarch should be whoever does that job best. Diana’s challenge to the monarchy was that she took its nickname – The Firm – literally. She had been fired by the firm, and like a true entrepreneur she set up her own business as its competitor, disrupting it by doing exactly the same things – touring the world, visiting the poor or sick or industrious – with less protocol and more agility. The ultimate 80s icon was taking 80s politics to its unthinkable conclusion: privatise the monarchy. To do it, she used things the Royal Family could hardly touch – the media; youth; even pop.

This was why Diana’s modest assertion to Martin Bashir that perhaps she might be a princess “in people’s hearts” was such dynamite. What if, she was sweetly suggesting, simple popularity is a higher legitimacy than custom and tradition? This is a destabilising question. It’s the question implied by the NME when it modestly begins, in a paper full of critics, to list the records that sell the most every week. Which brings us back round to the original question: why is this record the biggest-selling single of all time?

Because they’re only based on sales, the British charts are a very crude cultural seismograph, able in their barefaced capitalist simplicity to pick up tremors other methods might smooth over. A colossal global news event should always show up on them, even overload them. But the unprecedented scale of this (really bad and hard to listen to) single’s success goes beyond that. Diana’s entire project – acting as a competitor to the Royal Family based on popularity and affection rather than iron tradition – means that a colossal show of genuine, bottom-up public mourning wasn’t just an inevitable reaction from her fans, it was the right one. And even if “Candle In The Wind ‘97” was a little late by our advanced standards, it was released in time to catch that wave.

Even so there’s a bigger question – why did this event manifest so strongly in pop, specifically? What sort of pop figure was Diana? It’s tempting and easy to look at her unearthly celebrity and simply pronounce her a pop star, but during her life that wasn’t how she figured into pop music. Instead, she was the archetypal fan. Though not for her taste, which was never going to wow critics – there’s a case for saying that “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” is the real tribute here, in that a bombastic bit of AOR with vaguely de Burghish themes is What She Would Have Wanted.

Diana’s most famous encounters with pop were fannish ones: being thrilled to meet Duran Duran backstage, dancing in front of a Kensington Palace mirror to “Girls On Film”. That second one, in particular, is iconic pop behaviour, but not star behaviour. It’s one of the classic images of fandom and the fan’s self-definition through pop: singing or dancing into the bedroom mirror. Diana’s performance of it in a palace calls back the original public idea of her, before the good deeds and the hugs. Diana was a symbol of pop – youth, energy, blah blah – at the heart of the establishment.

By 1997, that Diana was almost redundant. It still seemed like it might be important – and not just a trick of the demographic light – that the President played the sax and the Prime Minister had been some kind of rock band longhair. But the other possibility – that simply liking pop or rock music had no implications whatsoever – looked increasingly likely. A pop fan at the palace – or even thrown out of it – was no longer much of a story.

Dancing-in-the-mirror fandom has never been the only role for young women in mainstream pop, but it’s tended to serve as a default. It’s a coincidence that Diana dies just as the record industry starts to get its shit together about the Spice Girls and how to sell to their fans, but as we’ll see it makes “Candle In The Wind ‘97” a weirdly cathartic moment. The longer term trends in pop, as we close in on the modern day, are towards more women in the Top 10 and more solo artists, and mainstream pop in the last fifteen years is more defined than it ever was in Diana’s lifetime by the stories, presence, creativity and image of individual women.

The world these women are negotiating, resisting or conquering is similar to the one Diana faced. In adapting “Candle In The Wind” at her funeral, Elton John gave an account of Diana that stressed her enormous popularity and linked it with apparent sainthood. It was not the only version available – the intimate portrait by her brother, Earl Spencer, made the headlines by excoriating the press for hounding his sister. “Candle In The Wind ‘97” sounds awkward and overstated now, to say the least – Diana’s “legend” may not burn out any time soon, but it’s settled into a dull, emberish glow. But Spencer’s speech has fared worse: the era of the paparazzi, of the press hunting and being used by the famous, manifestly did not end.

Instead of the world rejecting the paparazzi, it caught up to them. Diana was, through circumstance, a post-privacy pioneer. The conditions of her adult life – forever observed, forever performing, always improvising to use that to her advantage – are replicated today not just for the stars who have to master those skills, but for all the billions living part of their life in public, . Her question, the pop question – who is popular, and what does that mean? – is the architecture of the social media world, its algorithmic cement. The iconography of Lady Di is frozen in the 1980s – scrape it away and you find an uncomfortably modern, uncomfortably pop figure.



  1. 1
    Jim5et on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I don’t think there has been, or arguably could be, a better entry about a worse record. “Diana as disruptive tech startup” is a TED talk waiting to happen. 1, obviously; it was a ghastly song even before they mangled it.

  2. 2
    punctum on 27 Mar 2014 #

    OK, I have something of a dilemma. There is no TPL bunny to prevent me from commenting about this record here as neither song appears on any number one album. But I am also extremely reluctant to write publicly about matters in which I was personally involved (and it’s a cardinal Punctum rule that I never, but NEVER, write anything online about my day job), so the solution is that if anybody cares to read what I have to say about this record and the events which surrounded it, they can email me at marcellocarlin at yahoo dot com and I’ll send them a copy.

    That having been said, I’ll want evidence that there is demand for this writing. If I only get five or six people emailing me I probably won’t bother (too much TPL/IRL work to do) but if enough people are interested to make it worthwhile I’ll see what I can do.

  3. 3
    Cumbrian on 27 Mar 2014 #

    It probably began with Freddie Mercury – on death, an almost immediate whitewashing of the problems, the contradictions and the difficulties in favour of immediate raising to the pantheon. As celebrity deaths went by, we got more and more of the “never speak ill of the dead” mantra. Although there was distaste in some quarters for the reaction to Diana’s death, this whitewashing effect continued unabated, though at less feverish pitch, until Thatcher died. Finally, then, we saw people talk about a person as if they were real and were not perfect paragons of propriety once they died – but 20+ years of ignoring this when someone dies is still difficult to kick back against, and there was some backlash against those pointing out Thatcher’s problems. It still happens now, as people are creatures of habit; I have one friend on Facebook who will religiously put in an RIP and describe as a legend any Tom, Dick or Harry that has just died. I wonder what will happen when they face up to real grief and loss – where to go when everybody is to be venerated?

    Hopefully though, Thatcher’s death will be a watershed and the public and press will start to be more realistic about the lives of the recently deceased from now on. Anything else is at best silly, at worst dangerous – check out the spin machine that elevated Ronald Reagan, on death, into one of the greatest US presidents and the chilling effect it has on dissenting voices to the neo-con paradigm (whilst it ignored any of the damage he did or the stuff that happened on his watch – imagine if Iran-Contra were an Obama affair). Blair and Bush II, in particular, when they go deserve nothing less than an honest appraisal of their respective times on the planet.

    I managed to avoid watching the funeral. Sky One showed a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon with 15 minute reminders that the funeral was on Sky News (and every other channel with basically no exceptions). I am not a ST:TNG fan but I was grateful for it that day. That whole period was a circus – one of which I wanted no part. Impossible to avoid but my instinctive reaction was to recoil. It was a good time to disengage from the media, gather up a few books and set to reading – in retrospect, I should have done that on the day of the funeral, instead of watching sci-fi.

    As such, I didn’t see the performance of this on the day and have only recently listened to it. They elevate her to sainthood. They compare her to Jesus. Perversely they actually remove her humanity, whilst attempting to celebrate it. They are creating a cipher. In short, it is spectacularly ill-judged. On listening to it, I felt sorry for William and Harry all over again, two of the few people (immediate family of those involved essentially) in this whole sorry saga that I felt any sympathy for.

  4. 4
    iconoclast on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve little to add about the debate about Diana beyond mentioning a poll I remember about 25 years ago in a popular tabloid newspaper (not the Sun) which asked its readers who the most beautiful woman in the world was: Diana won with 30%, with approximately twice as many votes as whoever came second. Whether you consider this result totally justified or a symptom of the less pleasant aspects of reflexive British nationalism is entirely up to you.

    Back to the record. I’m not familiar with the original, and I’m not going to try to analyse it in terms of its socio-political context, since Tom has done a good enough job of that already. Taken on its own merits it’s *actually not that bad*; it’s a heartfelt piano ballad about a dead person, and very little about it is obviously wrong. Indeed it’s stately and dignified in ways perfectly fitted for its purpose, and as a Scot I can even forgive the references to “England”. However, as a song or a performance there’s little else remarkable about it: it’s made for a very specific circumstance and resonates little beyond it. SIX.

  5. 5
    leveret on 27 Mar 2014 #

    When I turned on Radio 1 that Sunday morning and heard a long loop of the instrumental version of the The Aloof’s ‘One Night Stand’ – its mournful strings punctuated briefly every couple of minutes by an announcer gravely intoning that Diana had passed away – I thought for a few crazy minutes that this might be an audacious satirical spoof by Chris Morris. He had, after all, caused controversy a few years earlier by announcing the ‘death’ of the still-living Michael Heseltine live on Radio 1, and so my first thought was ‘Christ, he’s really surpassed himself this time. I can see the Daily Mail demanding the BBC be shut down.’

    Maybe I was just young and naive, but with Morris’ Blue Jam for Radio 1 in the pipeline at the time, a Morris stunt seemed a genuine possibility for at least a minute or two. I had to turn on the TV to discover that Diana had really died in Paris.

  6. 6
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Great entry, Tom. Eye-opening to learn that the original was one of her teen cast-offs. So is this the exact opposite of having one of your favourite songs played at your funeral?

    “The other possibility – that simply liking pop or rock music had no implications whatsoever – looked increasingly likely”: hello David Cameron, Smiths fan.

    I just listened to both versions back-to-back, and although the ’73 version isn’t one I particularly venerate (I’d probably give it a 5 or 6), it’s amazing how much it loses by being sung in 1997 Elton’s lower register. There’s a lightness to the earlier version that suits the wistfulness of its “I was just a kid” line, i.e. I was too young to know of you as a fan living in your moment, and am sorry it can only ever be retrospective. I’ve talked here in the past about how my own Beatles fandom was shaped by being a latecomer, and I’m sure that this is more and more something that new music fans have to deal with, as the legacy of All Recorded Music grows ever larger. We’ve all missed any number of boats. Interesting to hear it expressed within a cultural artifact itself, which in turn became the object of others’ fandom – the original “Candle” was a steady radio presence when I was a teenager in the 1980s.

    None of which remotely applies to CITW97: they were actual friends, and so all that stuff has been excised. The wistfulness of the tune is instead put to a purpose that I’m sure was affecting for many at the time (well, obviously) but now sounds unbearably sentimental. “Wings of compassion”, “stars spell out your name” – this isn’t Saint Diana, this is the Archangel Diana. With friends like these, who needs votaries.

    Six weeks at number one in Australia. I wasn’t there, though. This being one of those “you always remember where you were when you heard the news” events, I know I was standing on the corner of Montana Avenue in Christchurch, a mercifully long way away from the subsequent mountains of flowers and teddy bears.

    I figured I’d better listen to the other A side (while sharing Tom’s eye-roll at the “A”) before voting. It’s unremarkable, a 4 or 5 I suppose. So I’ll give the whole package 3.

  7. 7
    Ed on 27 Mar 2014 #

    A marvelous piece.

    One thing I would add: you say Diana was a pop fan, rather than a star, but the fan-who-became-a-star is a classic pop trajectory.

    That point is made brilliantly here: http://georgeanddiana.tumblr.com

  8. 8
    anto on 27 Mar 2014 #

    What I really remember about that week.
    – My Grandparents had only just been to visit. My Grandad was looking a lot older than he had before. Not quite the last time I saw them but the last time they came to see us together.
    – Applying for a Saturday job at the local branch of Our Price (now a Liverpool FC merchandise shop) – I didn’t get it.
    – My Mum calling upstairs at about 5 am on the morning of the 31st just as the main news story was breaking and my Brother, in the same room, leaping towards the door momentarily in possession of the speed and agility of Mike Powell – I stayed in bed until about nine.
    – Robbie Fowler walking past me in the street, seemingly dressed in his training gear.
    – ‘Summertime’ by The Sundays coming on the radio following 48 hours of nothing but turgid music across the airwaves. After the chilly, grey end to August the sunlight seemed to briefly make it’s way through the curtains at that moment. Harriet Wheeler’s voice is the best of England for some of us.
    – Returning to school on the Wednesday. The obvious talking point came up almost immediately. Curiously enough one of our teachers had been fairly keen to promote Diana’s work with landmine victims in the previous term.
    – Trying a cigarette for the first time and not liking the taste this particular brand left in the mouth.
    – The public mourning, the funeral, the break with royal protocol and everything else.

    I agree with Jim5et (#1) about the review and the song. It’s a reasonably good tune for a love ballad but Bernie Taupin’s writing is an acquired taste at the best of times. I recently heard him say he was never especially interested in Marilyn Monroe which suggests his real intention was to write a song about press intrusion, the perils of fame and early death which makes it seem a touch macabre that this is where ‘Candle In The Wind’ should end up.

  9. 9
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Punctum @2, my email to your yahoo address just bounced, but if you do bring yourself to write it I’d certainly be interested to read it (email address here).

  10. 10
    Mark G on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Just in case you thought the achievements of Pop Music meant anything, it is nothing when compared to the sudden death of Royalty.

  11. 11
    Izzy on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Interesting, thoughtful review of a version I’ve managed to never hear, which today is not the day for changing. However, this bit:

    “Candle In The Wind” is a song that’s angry about how men in Hollywood used and reshaped Norma Jean Baker, but then casually asserts the right of other men – Elton and Bernie – to revise the story and define an “authentic” version of the woman

    Is this really how you want pop’s magnificent twisted magpieing to fizzle out? Unless group-of-choice is all that matters, I should have thought the difference was obvious and that Elton and Bernie carry no moral stain. Certainly I’m not comfortable with a critical reading based primarily on – to cite a better Elton song – Original Sin.

    Or to put it another way, is Popular any more legitimate, and if so why?

  12. 12
    Mark G on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #2 Tried a different email, you never know..

  13. 13
    Ed on 27 Mar 2014 #

    @3 “I wonder what will happen when they face up to real grief and loss – where to go when everybody is to be venerated?”

    Many people argued in the aftermath of Diana’s death that it’s real significance was that it sanctioned public displays of grief in a traditionally buttoned-up, inexpressive culture. Even the Royals – against protocol! – flew the flag at half-mast eventually.

    Some complained about the enforced official mourning, found it oppressive. But for others it was liberating, allowing them to express grief in ways that would have been seen as weak and embarrassing.

    We’re back to the Richard Aschcroft quote at the top of the entry for ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’: ‘Candle in the Wind ’97′ performed the same function for the great majority of the British population who are not rock blokes.

    Even as the memory of Diana’s life fades into history, that still feels like a way she changed British culture for good, and for the better.

  14. 14
    Alfred on 27 Mar 2014 #

    In America the experience, of course, was different. I don’t remember “Candle in the Wind ’97” getting much airplay — I still hear the top ten live version released in late ’87 while the original and Diana versions have vanished — but “Something About The Way…” dominated radio for more than a year. It was inescapable. Its #1 position almost diminishes its impact.

  15. 15
    Cumbrian on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #13: It’s a valid argument but I am squarely in the first sentence of your third paragraph. My view is let’s be realistic about what the event and the person actually mean/meant. People describing a different death, Mandela’s, as “tragic” as I saw in a few places, are just throwing up socially acceptable signals. It is not tragic, except for his family. He was an old man, living with increasingly poor quality of life. But if every death is elevated to tragedy, what emotional level do you go to when an actual tragedy takes place?

  16. 16
    Jonathan on 27 Mar 2014 #

    This is a political record, in that it argues post-mortem for the legitimacy of a political figure. Here, then, are my politics.

    Diana Spencer was a woman born into immense privilege who consciously chose to adopt a life of unimaginable privilege. To be dismayed by the paparazzi’s fascination with her is to misunderstand the monarchy; that institution invests in living people the essence and grandeur of the state. Journalists, then, should scrutinize those people as fiercely, as unceasingly, as they scrutinize other mechanisms of state. She was not a representative of the people, nor an alternative to the monarchy: for that look to people elected by democratic institutions, of whom this post mentions a couple: Tony Blair, Bill Clinton.

    This is a horrible song for a woman whose charity dinners will never erase the disgusting life she chose to live.

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Declaration of interests: I grew up in a monarchist, tory-leaning working class family. My grandmother for a time in her youth, worked at the Plymouth Sutton constituency office of Lady Astor. My grandfather was a successful market gardener, former RN able seaman. My dad served in the RAF, and met my mum serving in the WRAF. On my mum’s side, there’s an Army Cook Sergeant, 2 Merchant Navy Stewards, the list goes on. All small-c conservative, deferential to and servants of King/Queen and Country. I’m probably the only Labour voter in this family and as a result, I have learned to remain tight-lipped when it comes to political discussions with my rellies. But it has skewed my thinking. I like the idea of a Constitutional Monarchy, but this one is too big, too privileged, too mired in history. Much as I’d like to see change, I can’t imagine not having them around. Just what exactly would a President do that the Queen doesn’t do at the moment? A Roundhead, or Republican I could never be.

    Having got that off my chest, on to Diana. Aristocratic? Yes. She famously rebuked Prince Phillip by telling him her lineage was more “authentic” than his. That word again. But even a noble-born Lady Diana Spencer was absolutely unprepared for becoming part of “The Firm”. She was painfully uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the press lens. She had to train herself to be more at ease, build up a rapport and importantly become more media-savvy than the family she married into. Ironic then, that one arm of the media may have facilitated her demise in the Pont De L’Alma road tunnel in Paris.

    Where was I when I heard? On holiday in Sandown, Isle Of Wight with my then-wife and daughter. The quaintest and fairest of islands and a former retreat for Queen Victoria, that mourner-in-chief from over a century ago. If anyone taught a nation how to mourn, it was her. We spent the day driving around the island bathed in glorious sunshine. Radio 1 played as much sombre, downtempo music as it could muster that day. Minimal DJ prattle. Frequent news reports. I seem to remember hearing a lot of George Michael that day. Oldies, that never went furher back than early 80’s as though they never dared to prick the Diana bubble. The music never got more uptempo than “Unfinished Sympathy”. It always struck me as odd, when someone like Breznhev died in the old Soviet Union, news reports always told us the state broadcaster played continuous “sombre music”. And here was Bannister’s BBC Radio 1 adopting what was, in my mind at least, a curiously Soviet practice. She had officially been booted out of The Firm 368 days ago. “Bye, leave your HRH at the door and mind it doesn’t hit you on the way out”. She kept her Kensington Palace apartment and £17m divorce settlement. Camilla was already installed at Highgrove.

    We returned home on the Tuesday, and all eyes, thanks to The Sun’s hysteria were on Balmoral. That bit stuck in the craw. But she was the media’s Princess after all, and the media demanded some act of Royal acknowledgment, even if it was just a lowering of a flag. The day before the funeral, The Queen broadcast to the nation. But the nation was well ahead of her. They had set up their shrine at Kensington Palace and propelled The Verve to #1. Tears behind sunglasses. Mourning in summer pastels. What would Queen Vic make of that?

    This is the bit that nobody ever talks about: after the funeral, when the Hearse exits the gates of Westminster Abbey, and the public are gathered outside in that still glorious sunshine, a single voice, an anguished scream “DIANA” rings out. Breaking the silence. The chink in the armour of British reserve. After witnessing The Firm doing their duty in the cool Abbey, that scream was probably the only honest gesture afforded her that day. Save for the stifled agony of her sons.

    And for her funeral, Elton & Bernie decided to sacrifice on the altar, their tribute to Marilyn. Change the lyrics, add a verse. Elton was already morose after losing his and Diana’s mutual friend Gianni Versace. The pain etched on his face as he fought back tears at the Grow-Grace-Placed line. He vowed never to play the song again. So here we are, 33 million sales Worldwide and all it was, was a compact disc in a jewel case with a nice picture of a rose on the front.

    Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on the same day as Diana. Nobody wrought a memorial CD in honour of her memory.

  18. 18
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #11 I don’t think, as a criticism, it’s any different from the one I made in the “Vincent” review. CITW ’73 is a lot better than “Vincent” – even though I find it kind of smarmy – because I think Elton at least knows there’s a contradiction in there, he HAS fans so he’s aware of how dodgy the fan construction of “I, who have never met you, know the real you” is. (Is Bernie – who knows? “Self-satisfied” is probably too harsh).

    The ‘moral stain’ is what makes the song interesting – ‘who decides legacy’ is what it’s about. I think it’s definitely possible to make records about that kind of thing while foregrounding your potential complicity (sexual or fannish) a lot more, though – “Little Baby Nothing” springs to mind. (I’d still take Britney’s “Piece Of Me” over either).

    Is Popular any different? Popular has a comments box. But it’s a risk I run.

  19. 19
    Ed on 27 Mar 2014 #

    The pictures of Diana and Elton at Versace’s funeral became very eerie in retrospect. Eg: http://www.corbisimages.com/images/Corbis-42-18828454.jpg?size=67&uid=901d6f81-ef20-4d12-b22d-c1526d300eb2

  20. 20
    Auntie Beryl on 27 Mar 2014 #

    “Something About The Way You Look Tonight” somehow manages to be listed as an A side on the best selling UK single of all time, and yet a strong candidate to be a Pointless answer.

    (Well done if you got that at home.)

  21. 21
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve tweaked a couple of sentences in the review to better reflect that I am not, in fact, a monarchist! I’m not suggesting Diana was an alternative to monarchy in any political sense, any more than two privatised train operators offer ‘alternatives’ to one another – “privatise the monarchy” is meant as a description of Diana’s trajectory, not an endorsement. It’s running two bad British political ideas up against one another.

  22. 22
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #5 When I broke the news to top comics writer Al Ewing, the first thing he said was “This is a Chris Morris thing, right?”

    #14 Was “Something…” really the big tune in the US? That’s amazing!

  23. 23
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    My most vivid memory of That Week – sitting in a supermarket car park with my girlfriend and her looking round and winding up all the car windows before feeling able to say she had never liked Diana.

    Was I the only Popular commenter who was In Paris when it happened?

  24. 24
    inakamono on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Is it really true, as wiki claims, that “Candle In The Wind ‘97” spent 46 weeks at number 1 in Canada?

  25. 25
    Chelovek na lune on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Will write more later. For now, give me a Dies Irae anyday over this. Although I *am* a monarchist, I will feel awkward and unenglish (which, well, I am) in the meantime contemplating this …mistaken.. record.

  26. 26
    mapman132 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Couple of quick replies before I start my main comments:

    #17 Mother Teresa actually died a few days later. But the proximity was noted at the time. I almost wonder if Mother Teresa’s death actually got more publicity than it would have otherwise as people were feeling guilty about all of the gushing over Diana.

    #24 Apparently, yes, on the national sales chart. Canada had an even weaker singles market than the US at the time, but still based their national chart on sales, so a big seller like this could really rack up the weeks. Most bizarre fact: some (like me) may have originally heard this record quoted as *45* weeks. The reason for the discrepancy: Apparently one final week at the top in *January 2002* (according to Wikipedia). No idea why.

    wrt US airplay: “Something” was the airplay champ over the long haul, but “Candle 97” got a lot of airplay in the first couple weeks. I’ve only heard “Candle 97” on the radio maybe twice in the years since, although I still hear the original version.

  27. 27
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #24 Apparently so. Seems there were odd things afoot in the Canadian Singles Chart in the 1990s. (I have to laugh at the BBC article’s comment that “with barely 30m people, a record requires only relatively modest sales to ensure a high chart placing”. Barely 30 million! Why, that’s barely as many people as the UK had in 1865, when it ruled half the world.)

  28. 28
    swanstep on 27 Mar 2014 #

    As Alfred@14 remarks CITW97 didn’t get that much airplay except for a week or two in the US (and I don’t remember SITWYLT being played at all in Chicago, maybe a little on VH1). Diana’s death was still an incredibly big deal, however, all the crucial funeral and memorial events were covered live on all the broadcast networks (i.e., not just the cable news channels), there were nightly updates on the public mourning and the apparent mass hysteria, and so on. Note that reports that Diana had been in a car accident hit early Saturday evening, so US TV was right on it as a breaking story. I heard the first news then went out to dinner (where there was some chat about the accident story), and when we got back home the story had grown and she was dead.

    I’ve got more time for CITW73 than a lot of people here – it’s some kind of masterpiece I reckon, a song that everyone if they’re honest, wishes they’d written, and in the context of the album, where it kicks of one of *the* great three-track stretches, CITW, Benny ‘n’ the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick, it feels like it announces the arrival of an unstoppable MOR pop genius. CITW97 is OK – the underlying song’s so strong nothing can kill it completely – but it’s hard not to miss the backing vox and (killer) guitar of the original, and even to hate the less natural, more syncopated title phrasing in the choruses. The new lyrics seem mostly quite good under the circumstances – it’s bloody hard to write for tightly proscribed official occasions. If only Elton hadn’t felt the need to spice up the vocal rhythms. Original is for me an 8 or 9 easy whereas CITW97 is a:
    4 or 5

  29. 29
    Kat but logged out innit on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I remember having to do TWO (x)-minute silences (must have been…first week of school?), one for Diana and one for Mother Teresa, and my being annoyed that Diana got the longer one (3 mins instead of 1, I think?).

  30. 30
    PurpleKylie on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I was only 9 when it happened, and I still remember that morning. I woke up quite early, turned on the TV to find the rolling news about the car crash, after about 10 mins of shock, I decided to wake up my mum and younger sister to tell them what happened, they wouldn’t believe me until they saw the TV news for themselves. I can’t remember much else about that week, other than recognizing that “this was a really sad moment”, and I remember my primary school had a book of condolences which I signed.

    These days I really cannot listen to this song, or the original. Not because I care about the Royals in any way (adult me couldn’t care less), but it’s just so overwhelming with its grief that it’s just really unlistenable for me. And that’s saying a lot given that I usually love depressing music.

  31. 31
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I think if I’m being honest I wish I’d written any enormously successful pop song. Ker-ching.

  32. 32
    mapman132 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Well, we finally get to the big one. So much to say about a historically significant single – I’ll probably break it into multiple entries.

    First the event itself: Obviously a car accident that killed three people is a tragedy however you look at it. But from the perspective of 17 years later, and all of the much bigger horrors the world has seen in that time, the international freakout over this one seems especially odd. In a way the hugeness of this news story shows how good we all had it in the 1990’s compared to the 21st century. It’s worth noting that one sarcastic commentator at the time referred to it as “recreational mourning”.

    Interestingly, this was the last major breaking news I ever learned about from a printed newspaper. I had gone to the office to catch up on extra work that Sunday morning and had skipped my then-ritual of checking the headlines on yahoo.com, because nothing interesting ever happens on a weekend anyway, right? So around lunch, I head to the local bagel shop, sit down to eat, realize a newspaper might be worth reading, walk over to the paper pile, and…well, yeah. I immediately realized this was a big deal, but how big….

    I wasn’t planning to watch the funeral which of course was in the early morning hours in the US, but as luck would have it, I was having trouble sleeping due to anticipatory excitement over a flight/vacation to Colorado that day, so I got up and turned on the only thing on at that hour. Thus I got to see the only live public performance of what would become “Candle in the Wind 1997”. It, and the whole procession and funeral, were moving of course, and I allowed my usual cynicism to go away for a few hours. The reworking of lyrics was a bit clumsy, but what do you expect on short notice while mourning in front of an audience of billions? While I certainly understand those who hate it, I’ll be charitable and give it a 5/10. Anyway, the chart geek in me wondered if it would be released as a single, and what types of records it would inevitably break, but I’ll save that for a later posting…

  33. 33
    Andrew Farrell sent back from the future on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Best story about Diana and pop = Freddie Mercury dragging her up and dragging her out to the Vauxhall Tavern.

  34. 34
    Alex on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Was I the only Popular commenter who was In Paris when it happened?

    I wasn’t, but I was in France, trying to watch the Liverpool/Newcastle match. When I heard it had been cancelled I assumed there had been a football riot.

    I quite agree about the guitar on the original; the ’97 version is English Heritage fudge.

  35. 35
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #28, 34: I agree, the guitars were a key attraction of the ’73 version. The ’87 Live in Australia version now sounds like a staging post between the ’73 and ’97: Elton’s voice still hadn’t dropped as it was just before his throat surgery, but the guitars were replaced by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

  36. 36
    Alan not logged in on 27 Mar 2014 #

    A couple of commenters have alluded to it but “the event” took out Radio 1’s playlist for DAYS after. A very narrow range of songs were played and there was no messing about by the DJs between. And IIRC (at least R-ing from the way it’s retold in The Nation’s Favourite) that was it for Radcliffe’s breakfast show. He was on holiday at the time, and was never put back.

  37. 37
    punctum on 27 Mar 2014 #

    nb if my email address in #2 doesn’t work, try marcellocarlin at yahoo dot co dot uk. Apologies to anyone whose emails have bounced back but some are getting through. Alternatively if you follow me on Twitter you can DM me.

  38. 38
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #36 There’s a fascinating post buried deep in the Verve thread from Hardtogethits detailing the playlist – probably worth reposting on this one HTGH!

    Someone told me that R1 had different levels of protocols, depending on the seniority of royal dead, and that Di was still only Def Con Two, so to speak.

  39. 39
    Chris on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Good piece on a terrible record. It was an awful time for me, as I have written about here (if anyone is interested) http://chrisbarratt.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/september-1997-the-beginning-of-the-end/
    I recall ‘Karma Police’ was out around the same time, and that really resonated.

  40. 40
    Kinitawowi on 27 Mar 2014 #

    The bus station in Hunstanton sits across a car park from the Princess Theatre, revitalised and renamed for Diana in 1981. Four* bus services ran variants of routes to and from Kings Lynn; two buses a day through long-abandoned Wolferton, five a day skipping most of Heacham to visit Sedgeford, and the 410 running the main route through Dersingham.

    But every two hours, the 411 took a left turn at Chapel Road to rumble through West Newton via the vistor’s centre at Sandringham.

    The main Norwich Gates were coated in flowers, of all kinds. Piled to the top of the gate, covering the whole width, and the frontage, and nearly spilling into the road. (Her Maj and co weren’t in – they were at Balmoral at the time, of course.) Everybody wanting to leave their mark, a gesture, to acknowledge this passing.

    And my Dad and I, sat on a passing 411 observing this scene, said “but the Royal Family hated Diana!”

    All those tributes, those gestures, left at the front door of somebody who couldn’t have cared less. It suddenly felt so plasticky, that people knew of the relationship the family had with Diana and still thought they had to go there and leave something; or worse, they didn’t know at all. Or they didn’t know Diana’s life and works but had to do something. Or be seen to do *something*. Like go to HMV and buy ten copies of this record.

    That’s the only explanation I can see, because I can’t fathom buying one copy of this. The original incarnation didn’t trouble the top ten, never mind the top spot, and that’s just about what this song really is; a song not worthy of bothering Popular at all, blown up to a position it scarcely deserves but obtains by little more than default. At no point in human history has anyone ever said “You know what, I feel like listening to some music. Let’s put Candle In The Wind ’97 on.” Nothing dared challenge it; George Michael’s You Have Been Loved wasn’t going to get there, Dario G’s Dream Academy-homage needed to be released a month earlier to have a chance of making the top, Oasis had shot their bolt and Sash! were… well, Sash!. This song was a juggernaut, and following Oasis’ failure, there was only one other juggernaut left in 1997 big enough to stop it.


  41. 41
    CarsmileSteve on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #36 I think that’s right, and the gainer in this situation was Kevin Greening or, as he became after that week, Kevin Grieving…

    We had, as usual, been out that Saturday night and, for some inexplicable reason we switched the telly on when we got in, which we never usually did and heard about the crash and, at that point, the broken arm. Waking up to hear Massive Attack as previously mentioned, I worked out pretty quickly what had happened.

    I’d boasted about how I’d go and walk down Cheltenham High Street during the funeral, to see how empty it was, but I didn’t, I watched it on telly, getting tissues for our new Canadian housemate who said she used to get called “Diana” when she was backpacking around the world (she was white and had a blonde bob but that was about it…)…



  42. 42
    wichitalineman on 27 Mar 2014 #

    CITW ’73 I have a lot of time for, but it became hard to listen to in quite the same way after the ’87 version was a (bigger) hit, let alone the ’97 one (of which I’ve still only heard the first couple of lines).

    If Elton John really wasn’t much of a Marilyn Monroe fan, then the original lyric could be seen as being from a Joe Schmo fan’s perspective, not Elton’s or Bernie’s. I don’t think it’s meant to be “I, who have never met you, know the real you”. That’s not what I’m thinking when I listen to a Dusty Springfield record, or watch a Veronica Lake film – I’m a big fan of both and understand how their story has been skewed and screwed up by the media and by other fans who want to claim them (the latter in Dusty’s case). I never met either, but I can understand what they went through was grim without ever thinking I know exactly how they felt. They are both heroines of mine and hold a special place in my heart – I’m a fan, pure and simple. That’s how the lyric of CITW ’73 has always come across to me.

    On top of which, I really like the chord change on “and I *would’ve* liked to know you…”, the massed bv’s, the guitar hook, and the post-Spector rumble of the whole thing.

  43. 43
    mapman132 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #36-38 The whole playlist thing is interesting to me, as even after 9/11, US playlists weren’t affected nearly as much as UK playlists apparently were in 1997, even with the infamous Clear Channel Banned Songs list. Charts of the time show two particular songs suffering huge airplay drops and not recovering (one of which is a bunny, good riddance to that one, btw). The two decade old track “God Bless The USA” appeared in the Top 40 out of nowhere as did Whitney’s version of the national anthem. Both disappeared the following week, only to return later as charity releases. There’s another bunny that may have debuted high due to the tragedy, but it was by an already popular singer and may have debuted high regardless. Over the following weeks, there were a few 9/11-inspired country records that appeared. Finally, “Only Time” by Enya, already in the top 40, got an airplay bump due to a newsclip remix.

    Other than that, business as usual on the radio and Hot 100.

  44. 44
    wichitalineman on 27 Mar 2014 #

    How I heard the news… coming back late and my flatmate Andy leaning over the bannister and saying “Have you heard that Lady Di’s dead?”, then a bit of a pause, “AND Dodi?”

    I much preferred Cosmetique’s Diana tribute to Elton’s:


  45. 45
    wichitalineman on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Poor Massive Attack, forced to change their name when the Gulf War broke out, then being used to calm the nation down when Di died.

    It’s written in his rather irritating pointy-finger way, but the (officially sanctioned) facts and figures in this Johann Hari piece on the Queen Mum should make any monarchist blush: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/can-we-finally-tell-the-t_b_299297.html

  46. 46
    Martin on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Outstanding job, Tom. I was very pleased to see that “2” down there. I’d give the ’73 version maybe a 3. Or maybe– well, let me explain. I’m an American who was weaned on MTV in the early/mid 80s. Never had much connection to or fondness for Elton. The one I knew first, he performed “I’m Still Standing.” My first CITW was that ’87 live version, just before university years, and my will to be skeptical was powerful, and I just could not believe how incredibly bad it was. “Bad” — meaning what? Bad meaning fake, utterly fake, regardless of its formal merits. The whole construct of “I wish I could have known you” etc. and the candle metaphor just reeks of inauthenticity. So fast forward to ’97, I watch Diana Fever from afar, watch this song, which I had at times labeled my least favorite song EVER, become this new token of the 90s. I judged everyone harshly, I couldn’t wait for it all to go away, I really enjoyed the Frears movie.

    But here’s the irony. Just four months ago acquired an LP player for the first time since I was quite young and have acquired, with it, the habit of trolling bins for old LPs. I’ve got quite a few Eltons in there by now, and I’m beginning to construct an appreciation for the man. 11-17-70 is a pretty terrific album, ditto Tumbleweed Connection. I have Goodbye Yellow Brick Road but haven’t listened to it yet. I still think Elton’s gaping inauthenticity is something he’ll always have to overcome, at least in my own estimation, and I wish he’d written a lyric occasionally, the Taupin teamwork bothers me. I guess they can’t all be Dylans (I’m not a big Dylan fan either). Even as I come to admire the early Elton, CITW in any version will always be a wince-inducing false violin note to me, the worst reason to gravitate to pop.

  47. 47
    Andy M on 27 Mar 2014 #

    The wikipedia page for SATWYLT implies that it was released as a standalone single and “released later also as a double A-side single…” even though it lists identical release dates for A and AA. Anyone know what’s going on here?


  48. 48
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I count myself lucky to have been able to vote for a republic (two years after this; our side lost), and wasn’t drawn into the mass grieving in ’97; Diana’s death struck me the same as that of any other inoffensive celebrity, although the nature and timing of it were a shock. But I can’t bring myself to impugn her memory. She was privileged by birth, but we can’t choose our birth; she chose to marry into royalty, but I can only imagine how hard it would be to turn down a proposal from the heir apparent at the age of 19 when you’d grown up in that world (and were, presumably, in love). She was, to mid-’90s me, effectively one of those celebrities who were famous for being famous, rather than for doing or creating anything especially laudable, but she was hardly alone in that. The one I always remember being perplexed by as a kid was Zsa Zsa Gabor: such a ubiquitous presence, for no reason that I could fathom. At least with Diana, the reason for her prominence was obvious.

  49. 49
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #42 Fair enough. Like Lady Di, I sold my copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, so it’s not a song I know well. It still seems smarmy to me, though, even more so if Taupin wasn’t a fan – then it really does feel like he’s using someone’s life as an illustration under the guise of sympathy, projecting stuff onto Marilyn and then projecting himself as the understanding latecomer (aaaand we’re back at “Vincent”). He puts enough in ambiguities in the song to let its singer flag all this up, though.

    But! I think I am a really weird fan, in that I never read biographies or even make any attempt to track down biographical details – my personal identification has never really been with the creator of anything. So I probably just find ‘fandom’ in that sense hard to empathise with, and have a very wonky radar for when something is condescending.

  50. 50
    JLucas on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I would have been nine in 1997, but even at that relatively tender age I remember having a strong sense that something momentous had happened. I don’t think my parents wanted me to watch the funeral but I snuck upstairs and watched it anyway.

    I also remember the day she died we were due to go on a family outing to Rhyll Sun Centre, and my dad phoned them up to double check they were still going to open, because after all she had been the Princess of Wales.

    You have to slightly feel for the number two hits blocked not by more traditionally popular records, but by events outside the usual way of things. In this case we were denied ‘You Have Been Loved’ by George Michael, ‘Sunchyme’ by Dario G and my personal favourite – ‘Stay’ by Sash!

  51. 51
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    My “where were you”, as mentioned upthread, is Paris. I was travelling back home after seeing my old Grandad in Geneva, and stopped over in a Paris hotel. It was the first time I’d had CNN on demand, so I turned it on and watched it well past midnight, quite excited to see this world of fast-moving rolling news action.

    But it was really boring, so after a while I switched off. The next day I worked out I had turned the TV off 5 minutes before the news broke (I was a couple of miles away from “the action” though).

    My other main memory is on the Eurostar back to England that morning. The woman opposite me looked drained and red-eyed, slumped in her seat while her young sons were rampaging up and down the carriage, yelling and pissing everyone else off. The older one eventually tugged on her arm asking for a story, and the woman said in a cut-glass voice, “Sorry, Tarquin. Mummy’s too sad.” That’s what I think of now when I remember the mourning, I’m sorry to say.

  52. 52
    wichitalineman on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Re 49: I do find that “really weird”, but then I’m probably at the other end of the spectrum, and equally weird.

  53. 53
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    (I do track details down when I’m working on something critically – then it’s part of the job – but for preference I follow creators through the work. I don’t follow any celebrities on Twitter who I don’t personally know) (Unless I4n Lev1n3 counts) (He doesn’t).

  54. 54
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #53 Some celebrities (well, comedians, anyway) have made Twitter part of the work, and are worth a follow on that basis.

    (Just realised I expressed myself far too ambiguously at 48: “Diana’s death struck me the same as that of any other inoffensive celebrity” = affected me in the same way as, not “seemed to me only as important as”.)

  55. 55
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Oh totally, I know. In fact it’s a very strong part of my ideas about how pop now is different (and works in different ways) – gestured at in the final paragraphs of this review. So I’m writing myself out of legitimacy as a critic to some extent!

  56. 56
    Alfred on 27 Mar 2014 #

    “But! I think I am a really weird fan, in that I never read biographies or even make any attempt to track down biographical details – my personal identification has never really been with the creator of anything. So I probably just find ‘fandom’ in that sense hard to empathise with..” – so OTM. I rarely have patience for biographical crit.

  57. 57
    Alfred on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Mother Teresa was a more horrible human being than Di, I reckon.

  58. 58
    Kinitawowi on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #51: that is literally perfect. “Sorry Tarquin, Mummy’s too sad” sums up everything about this phase of history; the mourning, the record, the hysteria…

    Where Was I: in bed. I found out when I got to Paul’s Newsagents (opposite the aforementioned Princess Theatre) for my morning paper round and my boss told me. I stuck Sky on when I got back home and Every. Single. Channel. was scrolling “don’t watch this, go put Sky News on instead”. Well, except Sky News, obviously.

  59. 59
    James BC on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I wonder where all those CD singles are now. I don’t remember ever having seen one in a charity shop.

  60. 60
    Cumbrian on 27 Mar 2014 #

    59: Landfill mimsy.

  61. 61
    Rory on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #55: For this kind of project I wouldn’t have thought your critical legitimacy was too much at risk by avoiding celebs’ own feeds. Fans might follow a pop star’s Twitter feed, but the masses driving any particular song to number one probably won’t be.

    I don’t follow many bands or musicians either, because their work isn’t about spouting snappy one-liners. But for comedians, Twitter is perfect.

    #59: Murdoch has made himself a palace out of them at the North Pole.

  62. 62
    fivelongdays on 27 Mar 2014 #

    So much stuff said, so much better than I ever could.

    All I can say is

    *Naff song made even naffer (although when anyone of vague import dies it’s worth a parody.

    *I am sure school started up again a couple of days after (and there was plenty of pisstaking about Di)

    *I watched the funeral because it seemed to be such a Big Thing, and it felt wrong to miss such a Big Thing (I suspect people in the Provinces were more likely to have watched it than people in The Cities/Suburbs – Urban cool vs semi-rural naffness, with me, sadly, on the wrong side as bloody always).

    *Still better than The Drugs Don’t Work.


  63. 63
    James BC on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I follow some bands and musicians on Twitter simply as a reliable way of finding out when they have a record out. I don’t like ones that tweet all the time, though, unless they’re actively funny or adorable.

  64. 64
    James BC on 27 Mar 2014 #

    And answering my own question at 59, a couple of dozen of them are on eBay right now. Someone wants £18 for the Brazilian edition.

  65. 65
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I’d honestly not considered the idea that some people might be buying them as a collectible. Not that it ought to surprise a veteran of the early 90s comics boom.

    (Speaking of which: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/3054310.stm – alas it was mostly scotched.)

  66. 66
    lonepilgrim on 27 Mar 2014 #

    @64 has the Brazilian version had a few minutes ‘shaved’ off?

  67. 67
    mapman132 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    For some reason that I never really understood, CITW97 was released about a week or two later in the US than the rest of the world. It was a midnight release which was common for big albums at the time, but unheard of for singles to my knowledge. I had no interest in purchasing the single myself, but being the chart geek I was even then, I was curious to see how big an event this was going to be exactly. So that evening I headed to my local Tower Records and tried to nonchalantly browse the books and records until midnight (its normal closing time), making sure as best I possibly could that no one actually thought I was there for THAT single. The store wasn’t crowded – a few people were milling about. I remember overhearing one girl trying to sweet talk a sales guy into selling her the single early. Around 11:45 an announcement said the store would soon be closing in 15 minutes except those wanting to buy the new Elton John single (no explicit mention of Diana).

    So at midnight I made my way out while inconspicuously noting who the diehards were who were lined up the way people would be for a new Harry Potter book a few years later. There were about 20-30 people, not as many as I had expected, but then not bad for what was technically only a single. I had expected the average buyer to be a white woman my mom’s age, but in fact no demographic group was dominant: there were teenage girls, middle-aged men, and a variety of racial and ethnic groups were present. After a couple minutes I left and that was that. So now the question was what would the chart impact be?

  68. 68
    lonepilgrim on 27 Mar 2014 #

    my wife and I had to attend a Church service that morning and we were running late so didn’t hear anything about events in Paris until the Vicar said “We begin our service with prayers for the Royal family…” so it came as a shock.
    We live in Northampton, so after watching the service on TV we ambled over to the junction where the road turns for Althorp House and watched the hearse pass by.
    The crowd were cracking jokes and making chit chat until the moment Diana’s body went past – there was a moment of quiet and then the conversation resumed and the crowd dispersed.
    Diana had begun to use the potential of social media – with the Panorama interviews and the photo of her alone in front of the Taj Mahal. One wonders what she would have done in the age of Twitter. Her story was like a fairy tale and the continuing success of Hello magazine and the like shows that there is an appetite for the ups and downs of celebrity life to reflect a belief that money couldn’t buy you happiness.
    The UK population has traditionally been portrayed (wrongly) as stiff upper-lipped emotionally reticent but we also have an appetite for drama. The arc of Diana’s life and death is like some dreadful pantomime that allowed people to cry, boo and hiss, buy their souvenir CDs and then return home to the daily grind.
    I’m not a huge fan of the original song and if I’m honest I don’t care for this version that much but it is a fascinating document of a brief time when the nation went a bit bonkers.

  69. 69
    Tommy Mack on 27 Mar 2014 #

    A very astute piece, Tom. This may just be your masterpiece.

    As sixteen year old boys we were dutifully cynical about all the public grieving. Elton’s ‘cash-in’ single was just the icing on the cake. Since getting older, I dislike that ‘huh, everyone is stupid except me, I refuse to engage emotionally with anything, look at them crying, the idiots, they didn’t even know her’ attitude possibly even more than the hysterical over the top grieving.

  70. 70
    mapman132 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    After lags due to release date and chart tabulation, SATWYLT/CITW97 finally debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated October 11, 1997. After a single week of sale it was already America’s biggest selling single of the year. Its combined sales/airplay points made it the fourth biggest Hot 100 hit of 1997 in its first week. In its second week, it officially became the biggest hit of the year. After eight weeks, the Hot 100 chart year ended (end of Nov.), and CITW had enough points to make Elton John the biggest Hot 100 act of 1997 despite the fact he had not released anything else that year. It eventually lasted 14 weeks at #1 (6-way tie for second place) and would also be the tenth biggest hit of 1998.

    To my knowledge, CITW97 is the only single ever to be simultaneously #1 on every one of the national singles charts listed on Billboard’s Hits of the World page.

    One last thing and then I’ll shut up: the fourth edition of Fred Bronson’s Book of Number One Hits was delayed so that CITW97 could be included at the last minute. Since they had no idea how long it would be #1 and apparently didn’t want to delay any longer, the book was sent to press without a “weeks at #1” listed for CITW97’s entry. The book in fact reached shelves while CITW97 was still number one, so for a couple months, it literally included every Hot 100 number one in history.

  71. 71
    MikeMCSG on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Like a lot of previous news events (e.g. Lennon’s death ) I first heard about this from my Mum shouting it up the stairs while I was still in bed. I mumbled some response and she said “She’s been killed in a car crash (Pause) With that Dodi ! ” in a tone that suggested he was probably responsible.

    I’m fully with Cumbrian in dismay at these public mourning events ( see also the Soham girls a few years later ) ; I always wonder how often the “mourners” visit their aged, annoying parents . I was determined to avoid the funeral altogether and had the perfect excuse – painting the kitchen of my newly-acquired TV-less house. My wife is probably hoping for another royal death to get me to pick up a paintbrush for a second time.

  72. 72
    Tom on 27 Mar 2014 #

    (By the way, the artist circle on the header is not black as a mark of respect to the late Princess – Steve M hadn’t identified a picture he wanted to use.)

  73. 73
    Mark G on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Mine was a “Where you was”, as we were at that very underpass about 6 months previously, watching the final stages of the Tour-de-France, some lorries were doing a procession and one threw a t-shirt in my wife’s direction.

    I know, wow,eh?

  74. 74
    Tom Lawrence on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I was in the car on my way to a karate lesson when I heard, via the radio.

    I’ve lived in Northamptonshire for nearly all my life, and so got caught in one of the more protracted whorls of public mourning that centered on Althorp House. My mum went along once or twice to look at all the flowers and so on.

    My lasting memory of the whole thing, though, is this record, or rather the performance at the funeral, because of Elton John’s eyebrows. During the performance, he keeps hiking one eyebrow into the air for some reason. My dad and I became very distracted by this, eventually deciding that Tony Blair must have some fishing wire attached to it and was quietly pulling on it. Our giggles over this were disapproved of by my mum, who (sharing her name) felt some more affinity for the princess and for the dignity of the occasion. But my impulses for such things remain as they were in that moment: to make jokes.

  75. 75
    thefatgit on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #51 Tom, the Paris theme continues some Popular years in the future, when Dubya unleashed Shock And Awe upon Baghdad, I was staying in Paris for a long weekend. I stayed at the hotel directly opposite Gare De Nord, with CNN in English on TV. Later in the evening, I was in a nearby cafe talking in my schoolboy French to some teenagers who were very down on Blair and Bush. I made it clear to them I did not support the war in Iraq any more than they did, but I did assert that Saddam was “un salaud”. Everyone burst out laughing.

  76. 76
    Mark M on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve had a bad habit at various points in my life of sleeping with the radio on, which until the arrival of BBC Radio 7/4 Extra meant the risk of news messing with my dreams. Anyway, I must have drifted awake at some point early on that Sunday morning to hear the news of the crash, with deaths not yet confirmed. I didn’t leap out of bed or grab the phone…
    My memory of that week was a sense of two Londons – the one I was living in, and the one shown on the news. Only a couple of people I knew seemed strongly affected by the death, everyone else just carried on as normal. I remember having an interesting, edge-free chat about it with the (white, local) minicab driver the evening of that first Sunday*. At the places I was working, there was little reaction at all at PA Listings (again, like after the election, everyone seemed too busy with their own hip young lives), and unsurprisingly plenty of jokes at Neon magazine (most notorious coverline: Movie violence is good for you). There were no public outpourings of grief on the Victoria Line, the streets of central London, the streets of Crystal Palace… it all felt massively at odds with the mood that had supposedly swept the nation. And at PA on Vauxhall Bridge Road, we were only half a mile or so from Buckingham Palace…
    And that, I think, made me angry. I certainly didn’t watch the funeral – I’m pretty sure I was busy that day, but wouldn’t have done anyway.
    In retrospect, I can see that the media struggle with the difference between ‘an unexpectedly large segment of the population feels something’ and how they chose to convey it – ‘everyone feels the same way.’ It’s no dissimilar from more benign (in some ways) events like the Olympics or the World Cup. They’re striving for a consensus, but mistake that for unanimity.
    At least, when everything was taken into account, the actual outcome on media policy of those weeks in August 1997 was to have less blanket coverage of the death of a famous person, not more. Maybe the market had something to do with that – it would be interesting to know if there was a boost to the early multichannel providers, or indeed the video rental places. Certainly nowadays, it’s very easy to find refuge from the overbearing coverage of the death of the famous that so infuriates people who write in to Radio 4’s Feedback.

    *Minicab from Greenwich to Crystal Palace on an early Sunday evening? Such decadence in my twenties.

  77. 77
    AMZ1981 on 27 Mar 2014 #

    One fact that I don’t think anybody has yet picked up on is that CITW was not only a double A side but it was actually track 2 on the CD. I think this was mainly done for convenience; Elton John just so happened to have a new single ready to roll so attaching CITW to it solved the problem of having to find a B side.

    You can’t deny that SATWYLT did quite well out of it. From memory The Chart Show never even mentioned the other side, let alone played it (probably due to the absence of a proper video). Top The Pops played CITW for the first two weeks at the top, accompanied by clips of the floral displays before switching to the SATWYLT video. I thought this was wrong at the time – whatever its merits or lack of CITW captured the moment and was a snapshot of its time and yet the media shunned it for a record that would probably have struggled to go top ten on its own merits. In a way this was a foreshadowing – when was the last time anybody heard CITW97? Partly it’s out of deference to the two lads who had to trudge behind their mother’s coffin in front of billions but mainly those few weeks in 1997 are an embarrassing emotional outburst everybody would rather forget.

    A couple of endnotes. CITW97 also foreshadows Elton Jon’s subsequent career. We’ll meet him three more times; once as a featured artist on a cover of one of his own songs, once as a remix and once as a sample. You’d be forgiven for not realising that in 2001 – without fanfare – he stunned not only critics but even his own fans with an extraordinary artistic rebirth and yet the public only wants to see him to do Your Song for the 10,000th time.

    And finally; had Diana not left the Ritz Hotel that fateful night the number ones for those five weeks in 1997 would have looked like this;

    GEORGE MICHAEL – You Have Been Loved (to be fair this had the Diana affect going for it as well)
    DARIO G – Sunchyme (for two weeks split by …)
    OASIS – Stand By Me (which would have given them a string of five straight no 1s)
    SASH – Stay (Mr Unlucky again)

  78. 78
    Mark M on 27 Mar 2014 #

    ‘Internal BBC polling in the months following Diana’s death found 44 percent complained about too much coverage. An internal briefing conceded that: ‘We were not always precise enough in our use of language, especially when we started to use phrases such as “the mood of the nation”, “the grief of the public”.’ ‘There was no single public mood, rather there was ‘a variety of moods’ (Chancellor, 2006: 5).
    This was also demonstrated by a detailed examination of British attitudes to television coverage by the British Film Institute, in which 50 percent of its 275 respondents were personally unaffected by the tragedy.’
    From here.

    Which is to say that, if around half the population found the death of Diana Spencer an extraordinarily important and emotional event, that’s incredibly newsworthy and those people’s reactions should have been noted and respected. However, that’s an awful long from 100 per cent of the population feeling the same way, which was how it was treated.

  79. 79
    nixon on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I was threatened with physical violence in the Hanley, Staffs branch of HMV (strictly one copy per customer) because I didn’t want a copy and made the error of offering my Diana “ration” to a distraught and heavy set fellow who wanted armfuls.

    Arriving at uni in Cardiff a few weeks later, armed with saved-up birthday money, I waited in line at Spillers while a guy in front of me requested a copy of “the Diana single on tape” and then baulked at the £4 asking price.

    Im both cases, I remember thinking the same thing, that I was simply missing out on whatever was happening in the heads of the these people, that it simply wasn’t something that had anything to do with me. Other than being annoyed the Radio 1 chart rundown on the weekend of her death was cancelled, or certainly the album chart bit (I was delighted the Super Furry Animals had got into the top ten and felt cheated they didn’t get their shout out). Though I did get to hear the instrumental version of the Aloof’s One Night Stand on prime time radio 60 or 70 times.

    Tom’s point about the condensed glut of sales, and the comments about people buying it as a memento rather than a single, are borne out by the fact that despite the eye-boggling numbers of copies sold, this actually overstayed its welcome; by week 3 both TOTP and the chart rundown had switched to Something About The Way You Look Tonight, and both rigorously avoided mentioning Diana at all, as though we and they were participants in the fiction that it was about a hugely popular pop single after all.

  80. 80
    James Masterton on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Oh my word where to start. I must have written about Diana week from so many perspectives on countless times over the years. Many people have put it in the perspective of their own lives at the time but believe me, nothing but nothing can compare to the living hell of actually working in the broadcast media at the time and having to spoonfeed the grieving masses what was (to me) a tidal wave of utter bullshit. The lowest, most hellish point of my broadcasting career was having to go on air in pain of the sack and mouth rubbish about how sad everyone was when in actual fact I literally could not give a fuck about a clothes horse sloane who spent more on makeup in a week than I earned in a year and whose usefulness in life expired the moment she was no longer needed as a sperm receptacle for the royal line.

    So being able to shit all over it all in the guise of a music critic by pouring cold water on the record released to mark the occasion was a cathartic joy, even if it was still a bold writer who told the truth about it. Fact of the matter is CITW97 is a dirge, a horrid retread of what was originally a rather sweet and touching ode to a childhood idol. Sawing cellos, Elton’s growling and those famously nonsensical lyrics all made for a hideous package that had no business being anywhere near the top end of the singles chart.

    Yet there is was, and indeed there it remains, its status as the biggest selling single of all time something I to this day find deeply offensive. Call me puritannical, but I’ve always seen music as something you connect with emotionally. You listen to it and appreciate it and ultimately buy the recording of it because of the way it makes you feel as a person and the way it speaks to you about your life. Nobody bought the Diana record for that reason. It was a totem, a trinket, bought because of the iconography behind it, not the way it sounded. Tales have been told above of people buying 5, 10, 50 copies at once. How many of those were actually used for the purpose for which they were made and actually played and listened to? Even more than once? No, this record is a pimple on the flesh of the artistry of much better records, its status as the biggest ever a scar on what should be a record of genuine popularity.

    Never mind, to drag at least one positive out of it, the new version of Candle was produced by George Martin, his final piece of work before semi-retirement. Since his work on Pipes Of Peace in 1984 he’d been locked head to head with Norrie Paramour as the most successful producer of all time with both men having helmed 27 Number One singles. Candle was George Martin’s 28th, a record which he holds to this day.

  81. 81
    swanstep on 27 Mar 2014 #

    @70, mapman1312. Incredible stats. I honestly don’t remember it being that big a musical (as opposed to a TV) event in the US, which perhaps just shows how little pop radio I listened to by 1997, and how little attention I paid to charts.

  82. 82
    Mark M on 27 Mar 2014 #

    Just saw two ads in succession targeted at Mother’s Day: the DVD/Blu-ray of the Diana movie, and the 40th anniversary package Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, now apparently including tribute album…

  83. 83
    Alfred on 27 Mar 2014 #

    In the States, it became massive at first because of Di, but once the label flipped the single “Something About the Way…” took off on its own. Which is to say: plenty of people loved the song who didn’t give a damn about the People’s Princess.

  84. 84
    enitharmon on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I never bought into the Diana myth. I think she was a charlatan; all that pretence of of being the shy and mistreated little girl when she loved the limelight. Not just that pass-the-sick-bag TV interview, artlessly looking at the camera from under her eyelashes, it was the whole manipulative grabbing of attention at every opportunity. The supposed fairy-tale marriage was always a sham. She, and her brother, believed that she married beneath her – she was real old English aristocracy, not like those upstart Schleswig-Holstein-Glucksburgs, but she wanted to be queen to put that right. Grrr!

    Anyway, I wasn’t interested in the funeral and managed to get myself invited up to Aberfeldy as guest at a conference (how I was raced to Edinburgh Airport on Sunday morning and caught my flight only because I breathlessly persuaded checkout to get the flight held is another story altogether). I know that a number of shops on the Gloucester Road in Bristol had been leaned on to close for the funeral. I managed to avoid watching it but it was a close shave as many of the conference delegates were more interested in that than in the conference.

    As for the song: I haven’t words for how I feel about somebody who appropriates a song he wrote about somebody who really was fragile and a victim of her own fame and transfers it to a coke-snorting socialite. A 1 from me.

  85. 85
    hardtogethits on 27 Mar 2014 #

    #38. It seems entirely appropriate that I should get to recite here what I’d already written, simply because I’d been invited to do so. I toyed with the idea of changing a few words, but cba. Everybody now, “Goodbye England’s rose…la la la la la la”

    … the Airplay charts for that week were indeed uniquely turbulent. It may be helpful to note that the Airplay chart, taking into account BBC and commercial radio, is intended to reflect the songs which are ‘most heard’, rather than ‘most played’. It by and large has the feel of a late 70s/early 80s singles chart. Records rise up the chart in stages, week by week, and then fall back down. That said, it’s slightly more common for records to hang around and make small climbs back up the charts than it was in those sales charts.

    In the week beginning 31 August, everyone stopped playing Tubthumping. Having built ‘support’ ‘at’ ‘radio’, climbing 23-14-5-2, the record held at 2 in the airplay chart to 30 August. It then fell to 84 the next week.

    Major stations started playing ‘You Have Been Loved’ by George Michael. It entered the airplay chart at no.2 – the highest entry since the means of calculating the chart had been established.

    After 3 months on the chart, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ leapt back up the chart, from 7 to 1, completing a run 41-15-12-7-2-3-3-3-3-3-7-5-7-1.

    ‘Men In Black’ fell from 1 to 19.

    ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ by Notorious BIG fell from no.10 to out of the Top 100.

    Upbeat records such as ‘All I Wanna Do’ (Dannii), ‘Free’ (Ultra Nate), ‘I Wanna Be The Only One’, ‘Freed From Desire’ and even ‘Bitch’ by Meredith Brooks all took sudden dives.

    On the other hand, Shola Ama, Mary J Blige, M People, Mariah Carey and Conner Reeves and, yes, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ became very widely heard.

    The Airplay Top 100 showed sudden renewed support for (and just reading the first few may convince you that your call is important to us and we will be with you as soon as possible): You Might Need Somebody; Lifted; Kiss From A Rose; Seven Seconds; Search For The Hero; If You Ever; I Believe I Can Fly; You Do Something To Me; The Universal; Isn’t It A Wonder; Nobody Knows; Don’t Look Back In Anger; Don’t Dream It’s Over; I’ll Stand By You.

    An old Elton John track appeared at no.34 in the chart.
    The week after that, there was the first instance of a new entry at no.1 on the Airplay Charts under the then-current compilation methods.

    The Drugs Don’t Work rose to no.2.

    George Michael’s ‘You Have Been Loved’ fell from 2 to 25.

    Hope this helps, assuming people really wanted to know.

  86. 86
    Chelovek na lune on 27 Mar 2014 #

    I think the kindest thing I can say about this is that it stands in a centuries-long tradition of British Establishment Bad Taste – or not even actively bad taste, just embracing of mediocrity, harking back to the days when England (or Britain? I’m not sure, actually) was described on the continent as “a land without music” – and in fact with little visual art of note, either. One could certainly posit some notions about the roots of that…while still observing that a certain suspicion of “the artistic temperament”, of unfiltered creativity, even anti-intellectualism (allied with a healthy conservatism that remained in the House of Lords and the evolving of the monarchy) , did, at least save Britain from the furors of 18th Century France, or, well, most of continental Europe in the 20th century. So the royal connection is quite apt, in fact. Of course it all ended (to abridge, and be over-terminal rather) with: Oscar Wilde in prison; and Elton John at number one.

    Of course one feels – and one feels for Elton, too, as Lady D’s dear friend – the tension between the public and the private in this version of the song : the verse about loneliness is as close to the bone as this gets, surprisingly so, in fact – is that masked criticism of the House of Windsor? and also the tension between the original, immeasurably superior lyrics and this, of necessity, quick rewrite. I’d like to think in private there may be a secret set of lyrics, to be unearthed only far into the future, which retains and develops, with crass specifics – which would indeed have been utterly out of place in Westminster Abbey, even if one accepts, as I do not, that eulogies are appropriate at funerals – on the “and even when you died, the press still hounded you” line of the original (this was, if nothing else: when the Daily Express lost any chance of ever again being regarded as a home of even half-serious journalism) – and that gets rid of the dreary, facile, theologically questionable, platitudinous lyrics that the English Public at Large are all too happy to go along with here.

    I have never been more glad to be out of the UK as I was for most of the week following these events. On the day I was my family in England: my dad informed me (in full seriousness) that “the Serbs have killed Princess Diana”; the final day of a summer job in a uni vacation in Romford, where most of my colleagues were as unmoved as I was by the whole situation; not that we were callous, just indifferent. And then I spent the rest of the week at an international gathering in rural Norway – inbetween dancing to the Macarena on the beach at sunset, and even with my very limited command of Norwegian, it was abundantly clear that the press of even sane, restrained, elegant, Norway, was head-over-heels with what even they described as “Englands Rose” (lack of apostrophe intentional), and I had to assure people from various other countries that, no, as a Brit, I was not in a deep state of trauma because of les evenements a Paris. And then, one day before the funeral, back in London (seeing pictures of the toys and flowers, and still feeling completely detached from this outpouring of emotion. Irish Glaswegian in exile side of me clearly to the fore), crossing from Gatwick to City Airport to change flights, and then to Finland, where the adulation of Diana, while more restrained than in London, was still evident. So I heard this version of this song for the first (and would it have been the last time) on Finnish TV in the flat of a friend – a historian specialising in the Queens of mediaeval Scotland – in Helsinki. And then on returning to Britain a week later, more precisely to Edinburgh, just after Scotland had voted in favour of devolution, and, from the perspective of someone both Scottish and English I felt that was the harbinger pf a far more significant change to our country than the strange shenanigans of Blair trying to out-monarch the monarch. The subsequent re-engagement of the House of Windsor with the media was surely their Clause Four moment, if we are looking for 1990s references….I suppose this can be discussed and brought up to date at a future Royalty-endorsed Not So Much Bad Taste as Mediocrity Gary Barlow-linked Bunny Moment, thankfully not quite so near in the future.

    Also: That Week. RIP Jeffrey Bernard.

    (1988 minor hit, and rather brilliant with it: “So In Love With You” by Spear of Destiny: was that not inspired by the death of Monroe too. In an alternate reality we could have had Kirk Brandon extemporizing in Westminster Abbey on Lady D, maybe. That would have been strange: and civilisationally challenging, and, not I think, in a healthy way)

    3 or 4. Pretty unbearable, in short, but the strength of the original song gives some semblance of backbone.

  87. 87
    Erithian on 28 Mar 2014 #

    First of all I have to say, that’s a magnificent essay Tom. Secondly, having spoken at the funerals of my father-in-law and my mother, I have to say, massive respect to Elton for holding it together given that he was genuinely close to Diana, it’s one of the hardest things in the world to do.

    Where I was – doing some weeding in the front garden when my wife came to the door and said “something’s happened with Diana and Dodi’s dead. It was 11.30 and for some reason we hadn’t had telly or radio on that morning, so I must have been among the last people in the country to find out. I’m no great royalist and the battle between the two “camps” bored me witless, but I did respect Diana for the Faustian pact she’d come to make with the press – OK, if you’re going to follow me anyway, I’m going to use that attention to focus your cameras on the things I care about, HIV, the landmine issue, etc. Credit to her for that at least.

    Working around the corner from Westminster Abbey, it was difficult to avoid the strange atmosphere of that week, especially when you went home on the Friday tripping over people already staking their places for the funeral. Very little apparent scope for dissent: remember that classic Private Eye cover with the crowds outside Buckingham Palace and the speech bubble “We are sick and tired of media intrusion – and we want to see the Royal Family crying NOW!” Many outlets refused to display that one. Apart from Elton’s performance, the funeral was one of our first chances to see the new PM as a total ham – a friend of ours had done that “faith, hope and love” reading at our wedding, with ten times as much feeling. For future generations Helen Mirren’s performance in “The Queen” will sum up the oddity of the week – Blair may have caught the mood, but who’s to say what right he had to cajole the Queen into joining in, or that her reserved reaction was wrong in retrospect?

    As for the song, it captured a mood all right, even if the revised lyrics struggled with the scale of what Taupin was trying to convey. The original, which I admired greatly, was a touching portrait of an individual’s reaction to an icon and the insight only he feels he has (I made the connection with Don McLean in the “Vincent” thread , my god, seven years ago this weekend!) – the revision, as others have said, tries to speak for the country, no doubt succeeds for some, but ends up sounding like a Hallmark card.

    But the most lasting impression any event made on me that week was on the Monday morning. Having launched my 75th anniversary club history of Erith & Belvedere FC a fortnight previously, I was passing the club’s ground on my way to the station as I did every morning, and just before passing a pillar in the underpass I registered out of the corner of my eye that the roof looked a different colour. In the next fraction of a second I thought “ohhh shit, I know what’s happened”. There had been an arson attack overnight, and the stand was wrecked, burnt metal was lying on the pitch, and the club’s future was to be in the balance for several months. I stayed off work for the day to see what I could do, and at one stage took some photographs of the ruined stand for the record – and straight away some local kids called me a paparazzo.

  88. 88
    wichitalineman on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Re 86: Kirk Brandon… or English psych outfit Kaleidoscope who recorded their swansong White Faced Lady, a tribute to MM, a couple of years before CITW.

    Re 87: I remember the Erith & Belvedere arson attack – didn’t you end up losing the ground as a result? This, and similar grim tales at century-old clubs like South Liverpool, are community deaths, and have tended to affect me a lot more over the years than celebrity deaths.

  89. 89
    mapman132 on 28 Mar 2014 #

    So considering it’s the biggest selling single in British history, and either the first or second biggest seller in world history, surely someone here must’ve bought it. Will anyone admit to it?* Or better yet, admit to still owning it?

    FWIW, my mother actually considered buying it although she never did. Considering the last single she bought was probably by Pat Boone, that’s saying something.

    *apologies if someone already did and I missed it

  90. 90
    ace inhibitor on 28 Mar 2014 #

    many different public moods… I remember vividly knowing that all my friends were startled by / disconnected from / hostile to the ‘mood of the nation’ as it was being presented to us, but never being quite sure how far that extended, and being more than usually careful around work colleagues, for example. later in the year I was at the wedding of people I didn’t know, someone my partner had been at school with, definitely not safe ‘friend’ territory, and we both froze when the DJ played this record half a dozen songs in; how weird was this and how were people going to respond? And then exhaled with relief when the DJ was forced to remove it after about 10 seconds by almost total derision, led by the bride and groom (more to do with it being a terrible song to play at a wedding, maybe, than anything else, but still. phew.)

  91. 91
    Erithian on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Hi Wichita, it’s gratifying that you’re one of the people to whom this kind of story means something!! We played “home” games at six different grounds in the next few months, returned home at Christmas and played out of portakabins for 18 months in what were the bleakest surroundings in the Southern League, then began the groundshare with Welling in 1999, with our own stand opening in 2003. The old ground next to Belvedere station is now a B&Q.

  92. 92
    Phil Sandifer on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Around 3pm I started a quick comment about the Blake bit of the entry, and five hours later I had nearly 3000 words and realized it was probably best posted elsewhere.

    So, erm, here: http://philsandifer.tumblr.com/post/80925659600/elton-john-candle-in-the-wind-97-something

  93. 93
    Billy Hicks on 28 Mar 2014 #

    I had been aware of death from an early age thanks to a couple of distant relatives passing, but it was the loss of my Grandad in March 1994 that was the first to hit me hard. I was five years old and it seemed confusing and unfair, particularly as I’d made him a present which I was going to give him next time I see him. By the end of that same year my Great-Grandma and Grandma had also passed, meaning even to this day simply seeing that year written down gives me an odd, morbid feeling. The first celebrity death I remember, oddly, is Peter Cook’s, getting confused and thinking he was the one who hosted The Cook Report. Later that year my hamster died, and the following, just as I was getting into an old show called Doctor Who, I remember watching the 9 O’Clock News and finding out one of the Doctors, Jon Pertwee, had joined the list.

    When Mum woke me up on August 31st, 1997, and told me the news, I cared far less than any of those mentioned above. Death was a common occurence to eight year old me and I had no interest in any of the Royal Family. I have particular memories of the funeral as we still only had five channels (one of which very recently added) and I seem to remember only Channel 4 were showing something else, they decided to air cartoons instead for the kids like me too young to understand the significance. So I happily watched those for a while, until, as I remember vividly, they wimped out, faded a cartoon out mid-scene and announced that in a change to the schedule they would be showing the funeral after all. Extremely annoyed I had no other choice than to miserably watch it, with at least that man who sung the songs from ‘The Lion King’ doing a number in the middle. What it at least gave me is the earliest memory of truly a major news event, and by a year later (I remember seeing Diana-related newspaper headlines on and off for at least the next 12 months) I finally realised the historical nature of the events of that late summer.

    The song itself? A 1, for the same reasons as James Masterton. A few years back a now closed CD shop near Clapham Junction had dozens, if not hundreds of unsold copies of this song, sold off for 10p each in the dusty ground floor basement. It depresses me to think that there’s barely any situation I can think of this record ever being beaten as the biggest seller, unless something like ‘Chasing Cars’ or some major early-2010s bunnies trickle sell on downloads for the next several decades. Even if a major teen star were to pop his clogs tonight, the tribute song wouldn’t even be released on CD single, so the CITW situation of people buying dozens of copies each (I’ve seen the news footage of women in their 30s and 40s grabbing literally shelf fulls in HMV Oxford Street) wouldn’t happen.

    One final memory from a few months later. My brother is eighteen months younger than me so he would have been seven when Diana died. We were going home from school one afternoon and taking the Jubilee Line home, and god knows what my brother had read/heard that day, but out of nowhere he asks my mum, extremely loudly, “DID MI-5 KILL PRINCESS DIANA?”

    I have never known an entire tube carriage to dissipate into complete horrified silence so quickly.

  94. 94
    Garry on 28 Mar 2014 #

    It was Sunday in Australia, before lunch. I left college, went up to security to get the radio station keys. The TV was on – that TV was never on – with a sad looking old man talking and a BBC logo on the bottom corner . I ignored it – it was a Sunday in the AM and I had had a late night and I had a radio program to do.

    I did two hours of radio and went back to security to drop off the keys. The same old man was still on the TV, but again I ignored it. I wandered back to college, dropped off my CDs and went down stairs to the big common room. A lot of people were watching the TV and the pool table was unused. I spent 20 minutes sinking balls until I realised the same old man was on the TV as several hours earlier. It was then I tuned in and sure enough Diana was dead.

    My overriding memory was feeling sorry for the poor old BBC presenter. He had to continually repeat himself – with little or no new information. When he finally had something new to say – what Diana was wearing – my sympathy only increased. The vacuousness of the information was merely stalling for time until more concrete information was delivered, and all the time he had to say the same things over and over again as new viewers joined the broadcast.

    I never felt particularly attached to Diana but rather William. As a kid I was aware when he was born on my birthday. The only other famous person I knew born on that day was Alexander the Great, which I thought was cool. To share a birthday with a Prince was also cool. (At the time I didn’t know the names Lionel Rose, Platini, Ian McEwan or Nils Lofgren)

    So Diana’s death and it’s legacy for me was more about William and Harry and how they had lost a parent. I’d lost a parent young as well. Cut through the money and privileged, I had a lot of sympathy for them. This may explain why I watched William’s wedding when watching such events is not my usual fare.

    As for Elton, I had always found his music agreeable since the Nikita single and film-clip and inevitably seeing his appearance on the Muppet Show. Between the mid-80s and 1997 my greatest awareness of his work was the Lion King soundtrack.

    I remember the station getting the CITW single but not playing it, but the film clip was everywhere. I wasn’t aware enough of the original to know of any changes – I just thought it was a re-recording.

    I do remember it was not only a public memorial but a charity record. I’m not sure how much that got into the public’s thinking on release but 38 million to charity would help continue to the legend.

  95. 95
    nixon on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Random memory which five seconds of Google hasn’t verified: the People (which my parents still subscribed to for some reason) went to press as the news broke, running with “Dodi dead and Diana hurt in accident” or something. Clearly a last minute front page change (maybe even last second), as the story only took up the left hand side of the front page – the right hand side was a picture of Noel Gallagher’s hairy arse (“Noel’s B side!”), mooning the paparazzi who were about to be vilified.

    I would have paid actual money to be in the newsroom as the story developed and the editor realised the sheer scale of their misjudgement.

  96. 96
    Ed on 28 Mar 2014 #

    @24, @27 I first realised there was something a little unusual about the Canadian charts when I saw that those two hands-in-the-air crowd-pleasers ‘Knives Out’ and ‘There There’ had made number one, ‘Knives Out’ for four weeks. That fact, plus the astonishing three-year Top 20 run of CITW’97, certainly suggests Canadians have a taste for the melancholic.

    That Wikipedia article is hilarious, though: it says that in 2006 most number one singles sold less than 200 copies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Singles_Chart

    That might be understandable in, say, Andorra or Vatican City. But in a country with – as Rory says – more than 30m inhabitants, it’s just bizarre.

    It seems digital download charts have enabled them to fix it now. It is a shame, though, because the idiosyncrasies and distinctive character of the chart have completely disappeared: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Hot_100

  97. 97
    swanstep on 28 Mar 2014 #

    It’s hard to square the claim that CITW97 spent 40+ weeks at the top of the Canadian charts with these two other links:
    Top 100 year end 1997 Canadian singles

  98. 98
    wichitalineman on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Re 95: Use of the term ‘b-side’ is pretty unusual, apart from anything else.

    Re 97: That’s very odd. It was reported pretty heavily, so it can’t be an urban myth surely. Also seems odd that the single doesn’t feature anywhere on those lists!

  99. 99
    swanstep on 28 Mar 2014 #

    @wichita, 98. I know! It’s a conundrum, wrapped in an enigma at this point. Suspension of Canada from the G-7 may be called for…

  100. 100
    23 Daves on 28 Mar 2014 #

    My in-laws are Canadian, and I’m over there periodically. I picked up a newspaper in January 2005 and looked at the singles chart, and I swear that “Candle In The Wind” was still riding high, because I commented on the fact to my wife. “Oh yeah,” she replied, “you have to remember nobody really buys singles in this country”.

    I might collect my thoughts on Diana/ Candle In The Wind and post something here later. Sure you can’t wait.

  101. 101
    Steve Williams on 28 Mar 2014 #

    Later on, one of the people who claimed to be partly responsible for this being released was Kate Thornton, the former Smash Hits editor turned TV presenter. In the summer of 1997, she was presenting a rather dull ITV series called Straight Up which was a Sunday afternoon current affairs show for young people. Perhaps surprisingly, it still went out that day, they interrupted the rolling news for it, though inevitably it was 100% Diana, and I remember Kate’s colleague Nick Knowles reporting from The Mall in a morning suit. Like about 99.9% of the audience, it was the only time I ever saw any of this series.

    On a documentary a couple of years later, Thornton says they were trying to find an appropriate piece of music to close the show and she remembered she had an Elton tape in her car so they got it out and thought Candle In The Wind was appropriate. Thornton suggests Elton was watching and that set the ball rolling. If you believe that.

    As with everyone I found it out when I woke up, I switched on the telly to check the headlines on Ceefax and had to read it about half a dozen times until I finally realised what it was saying. Then I switched on Radio 1 who were, as mentioned, playing The Last Stand by The Aloof, which I still think is an incredible piece of music. I remember Mark Goodier playing it again exactly a year later but after that I didn’t hear it again, certainly in instrumental form, until someone put it up on YouTube a few years ago, and it really took me back.

    I watched loads of the coverage that week, partly because I was about to go to university and I assumed I’d be too busy to watch any telly when I was there so I was devouring as much as I could. Course, when I got there I watched more telly than I’ve done before or since.

  102. 102
    Iain Mew on 28 Mar 2014 #

    The Canadian charts issue looks like a case of multiple charts and methodologies. The ones mentioned in 97 (post 97, not 1997) were compiled by RPM magazine and presumably based on some kind of airplay-including calculation. The ones previously mentioned were by compiled by Nielsen based on (almost nonexistent) sales, and it makes sense that this single could dominate the latter but not the former.

  103. 103
    James BC on 28 Mar 2014 #

    I remember the Mirror suggesting that Elton might do a re-recording of Your Song for the occasion, and printing the lyrics. Can’t remember whether they were the standard lyrics or suggested Diana-specific ones.

    Anyway, a few people seemed to have the idea for a tribute song. Personally I feel like a statue might have been more appropriate, or perhaps a commemorative potion?

  104. 104
    swanstep on 28 Mar 2014 #

    @Ian, 102. I think you’re right. The strange thing is that I can’t find any record on the web of Nielsen Soundscan charts before about 2007, i.e., when the RPM charts officially pack it in.

  105. 105
    AMZ1981 on 28 Mar 2014 #

    I’ve just revisited The Big Picture, the album Elton John released in the Autumn on 1997 and for which SATWYLT was the lead off single (it was pretty much ready to go when Diana died). Bernie Taupin has described it as his least favourite Elton album and its ironic that such a listless record (only two tracks exhibit anything resembling inspiration) should have given him what is nominally his biggest ever hit.

  106. 106
    Steve Williams on 28 Mar 2014 #

    It was indeed all ready to go because his original booking for Saturday 6th September was the lottery show. Turned out he did get to perform his new single on BBC1 that day, but in rather different circumstances. That LP did get rather heavy promotion because a few weeks later he also did An Audience With Elton John, which was recorded just after the funeral and they made reference to it, but obviously he didn’t perform Candle In The Wind on there.

  107. 107
    Kat but logged out innit on 28 Mar 2014 #

    I definitely bought the Dario G, as it was my LAST EVER CASSINGLE (as it was 79p in Woolies compared to £1.29 for the CD). CDs all the way from then on! I think that was a last hurrah for a certain subgenre of chart Europop – everything went a bit trancier after that (I blame Sash) (and an increase in computer processing power).

  108. 108
    MichaelH on 29 Mar 2014 #

    I was on holiday when the news broke. My wife and I were equally baffled by each others’ reactions: me by her upset, her by my lack of interest.

    But the moment I thought the world had gone definitively mad was at Wembley on 10 September. I was in the press box at the England v Moldova game, and an annoucement was made that we would hear the first play of Candle in the Wind 97. I carried on reading the programme, then realised the stadium had fallen silent, and every single person was standing. For an Elton John record.

  109. 109
    Semi Regular commenter posting anonymously on 29 Mar 2014 #

    I’ll always remember 1st Sept 97 as the day my dad had a stand up fight with my grandad. In truth it was a pushy little playground scrap but the fallout from it started some very dark times for my parents’ marriage from which they’ve never really recovered. At the time I was probably more excited about the start of sixth form (wear your jeans to school, imagine!) but I can’t imagine anyone was thinking much about Lady Di in our house.

  110. 110
    Tom on 29 Mar 2014 #

    I’m reading David Kynaston’s Family Britain at the moment, and last night was at the death of George VI – lots of quotes from diaries of the time, most of which were amusingly familiar: for gods sake, it’s been a week, can’t we have the funny stuff back on the radio, etc etc.

  111. 111
    Patrick Mexico on 29 Mar 2014 #

    I remember Sunday, August 31, 1997 vividly. It was a miserable, wet day, IIRC it was the aftermath of a colossal thunderstorm bringing down the curtain on the end of four successive wonderful, unusually red-hot British summers – and symbolically the Britpop era – and even the Nineties themselves; just as acutely as ’87 when (ahem) something changed – be it Black Wednesday, Pump Up the Volume, or Burnley somehow not being relegated to the Vauxhall Conference. (Apparently Torquay United also escaped on the same day with the help of a bloodthirsty police dog.)

    My family was packing up from our regular caravan holiday in Grassington, North Yorkshire. Our house was being decorated – i.e. completely rebuilt because the previous owners had godawful taste in everything. My Grandma Minnie rang my mum sometime in the morning and I’ve never heard someone so horrified, not least when they were speaking on one end of a phone line when I could only hear half the conversation. I.e. “Oh God, :deep breath:, that’s terrible” repeated at least ten times. I genuinely thought our house had collapsed, burying the builders in a dusty grave. When my Mum put the phone down and said “Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed have been killed in a car crash”, I had to do a double take. Apparently the conversation began with my gran asking “Have you heard about Diana?” which my mum believed was hinting that she was pregnant by Dodi.. this is opening up an old, oleaginous can of worms here, so let’s move on a bit..

    .. I can’t remember anything else about that day other than I was watching a Football Italia match on the TV and almost forcing myself to cry. It was a sense of absolute confusion more than anything else. I don’t like it when pretty much anyone dies in a car crash, regardless of personality or privileges, but soon I just got angry – as much as a hopelessly naïve boy of 12 could – that this death was forcing everybody to drop absolutely everything in a sense of total submission to the monarchy (who in the days before the funeral looked like they couldn’t be arsed anyway.) It was the first time I genuinely doubted the common sense of adults, and the British public. When the new school term started, and I started it like a house on fire, it was almost welcome black playground humour to hear the Diana/Mother Theresa hybrid of “And it seems to me you lived your life / Throw your sandals in the bin.” I can’t remember much about the funeral, either, apart from Elton, more rain and Earl Spencer trying to suppress anger that the press killed his sister. (I was kind of with him on this one.)

    Mark E Smith said we never recovered from that day as a country. It’s much more complicated than that. However, I did notice a shift in attitudes towards public grief and emotional openness, even among my own family – back in 1994 the reality TV “sob stories” would have been laughed out of town, at least by sarcastic, ironic, dry-humoured good old Lancashire folk we thought of ourselves as, in the sarcastic, ironic, dry-humoured Britpop era. Laughed out of town as fake, wet-lettuce, melodrama from some American shoulderpad soap that Matilda Wormwood’s parents would have watched. Nowadays I swear we’ve had a minute’s silence at the Turf every two weeks with often tenuous links to the locality; not saying there’s anything wrong at all with mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, a 13-year-old fan, or Eddie Howe’s mother, but I don’t think this would have been marked publically twenty years ago. What does annoy me are such empty platitudes as all football matches on this year’s 25th anniversary of Hillsborough kicking off at 3:07. That’s not going to help the families who’ve waited a quarter of a century for justice, is it?!

    And as for the record? The original’s fine – it’s the quintessential tribute record and Elton does elegiac pop as well as anyone – but this was rushed out in three minutes and brings nothing to the table. The “destroy everything in its path” approach of any record is great when it’s something upbeat, contemporary and short-lived; poisonous when it’s dealing with grief, throwing old pop favourites out of context, and never off the bloody radio. It’s the Love is All Around of 1997. Good key change, though. TWO.

  112. 112
    Andrew Farrell on 29 Mar 2014 #

    Naturally this all seemed very odd from Ireland. We never entirely took to Diana, I think partly for bad reasons (Divorce was still a very odd/shameful thing) and partly for good (General “Oh do you still have a monarchy?”) but mostly of course because she was from across the way.

    #17: “Just what exactly would a President do that the Queen doesn’t do at the moment?” Be less of a drain (as per Johann Hari’s article) and at least nominally responsible – there would be no case of “Oh yes their spouse says appalling things but we can’t really make a fuss because ultimately there’s no recourse short of the tumbrel”

    #84 – Being killed in a motorcrash while fleeing paparazzi seems a fairly straightforward vision of being a victim of your own fame – a writer might well reject it as a little too on-the-nose.

    My one quibble with the article is that it’s probably pushing it to claim that a billion Facebook accounts are “forever observed, forever performing, always improvising to use that to her advantage”- apart from the suspicion that it’s the people with the loudest voices who naturally use social media that way, most people are pretty far from forever on Facebook.

  113. 113
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Mar 2014 #

    A fabulous essay, Tom. Bravo!

    The Lineman’s link about Brenda’s mam up-thread confirmed what most of us already knew about the old soak. After the infamous 1956 Grand National when Dick Francis riding Devon Loch in her colours faltered and collapsed at the Elbow yards from the finishing line, the official line is that her comment to the jockey was a shrugging “That’s racing!” Privately, she was furious, thought Dick was a “bungling c**t”, and wanted to get him “bumped orf”. On reflection, that would have saved us from a lot of crap books.

    Indeed Diana’s sudden return to the pavilion was really more about The Firm than it was about the uncomlicated little sloane who married a man who never loved her. Never the brightest of sparks, Diana certainly got more savvy as she went along with plenty of wise shit-stirrers pitching up in her corner as her marriage fell apart. The claim that the press hounded her to her death was of course disingenuous to the extreme, as she was constantly in cohorts with them, particularly towards the end. When Brenda gave lip-service to a hysterical nation, Blair pitched in and pretty much dragged her out of hiding to speak to the nation. She reluctantly obeyed but the future war criminal then punished her further by nicking her wee yacht off her, thus causing she and Phil the Greek such distress that they sobbed openly on their seats the day Brittania was grabbed in the name of the workers.

    My own view on Diana is non-existent. I was pretty sure I met her once before she was officially linked with Charles. She was driving around in her little red Metro (I think it was) in Landor Road in Clapham and stopped to ask directions. In those days she was a nanny. My cousin and I gave her the directions and then both said “God, you don’t ‘alf look like Lady Diana!” She smiled, shyly said “Thank you” from under her fringe and drove off. Russell and I looked at each other for a second or two and then both said “Yeah, it was!” A nice moment but I can’t remember being too interested in her wedding in 1981 and whilst the news of her terrible, pointless death was upsetting, I simply could not understand the reaction of a large number of citizens, their outbursts of grief unseen outside North Korea.

    I have no opinion at all about the record.

  114. 114
    Alfred on 29 Mar 2014 #

    So this was one of the last times the general public bought a cassette or CD single en masse, right?

  115. 115
    Tom on 29 Mar 2014 #

    #114 – depends what you mean. There are enormous sellers after this, still during the physical-media era. If by the general public you mean “the people who don’t usually buy music” then there are still a few to go, but they are almost all either charity records or engineered by a bloke called Simon.

    (You can imagine Pop Idol as a response to this, in fact: what if you could manufacture a mass-audience news story that culminates in the release of a single?)

  116. 116
    Tom on 29 Mar 2014 #

    #112 – yes, I should have been clearer – the “part of their lives” bit is doing too much work. More on this whole line of argument about celebrity performance and everyday performance once we get to the 00s I dare say. “Forever observed” is surely just a statement of political fact these days though!

  117. 117
    Jimmy the Swede on 29 Mar 2014 #

    # 115 – “You can imagine Pop Idol as a response to this, in fact: what if you could manufacture a mass-audience news story that culminates in the release of a single?)”

    I am pretty certain that when Brenda finally gloves one, all sections of the record industry will be in serious overdrive. Most of us have no difficulty in distinguishing between Brenda herself and the principle of monarchy and there is little doubt that when the old gal throws a seven, there will be widespread mourning for a woman who as Head of State has generally not put a foot wrong. I’m equally sure that the inevitable record will feature Macca, Reg, Cliff and all the rest of them, providing of course that they’re still with us when the vertical finger is at last waved in Queenie’s direction.

  118. 118
    Ed on 29 Mar 2014 #

    Macca’s tribute single: ‘Her Majesty’?

    Looking forward to Ian Brown and John Squire getting back together for ‘Elizabeth My Dear ’27′.

    And of course, the inevitable: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YS3UMjNUqFM

  119. 119
    Ed on 29 Mar 2014 #

    @112 etc: In John Jeremiah Sullivan’s brilliant Pulphead, he suggests the roughly contemporaneous MTV’s The Real World had a similar effect on American ideas about “everyday performance”. It bears out the idea that celebrity is what America has instead of royalty. As you say, much more of this to come.

    (Pulphead is highly recommended, BTW, with wonderful pop writing on Michael Jackson and Axl Rose, among other things.)

  120. 120
    Chelovek na lune on 29 Mar 2014 #

    #115 or (in at least one more case) from blockbuster film soundtracks [fantasises about drowning that particular bunny]

  121. 121
    thefatgit on 29 Mar 2014 #

    September 1997 sees the release of Kylie’s comeback single, “Some Kind Of Bliss”. The parent album was famously renamed “Kylie Minogue” in the UK. Elsewhere, the title was “Impossible Princess”. The Diana effect in action already.

  122. 122

    “Queen Queen Caroline washed her hair in turpentine”

    I don’t at all buy that strong emotional response to the death of someone you didn’t personally know is *necessarily* fake or silly. To jump sideways into it, here’s something I wrote on another website when the mass social-media lament for the death of Steve Jobs was being discussed, similarly scornfully:

    “My mum wept when Willie Rushton died. She never remotely knew him, except as a face on telly or a voice on radio she enjoyed; he was a few years younger than her, a celebrity of a fairly niche type — and his death hit home.

    “I was puzzled at the time, as I found him vaguely annoying, but afterwards it seemed pretty obvious she was weeping — as much as anything — for her own youth; for the bright cast of a particular hoped-for world she’d envisioned when young, and this was as much as anything a lament for the way things hadn’t turned out the way she imagined, for her and for the world. Rushton — in some small, almost private way — was bound up in this (memories of she and my dad when first married, bright semi-innocent young things reading Private Eye in its very early day and caught up in the early 60s notion that things were moving on away from the dreary stifling past, opening up, changing… something like this).

    “Seems to me the Apple story can easily be fitted into a similar narrative, on a larger scale: a widely shared naive utopianism that felt like the air you were breathing at a particular time — and now, with the death of someone apparently central to it, you suddenly face not only your own mortality (that happens with any death), but also the sense of the foolishness of the optimism with which you set out on your current journey long ago; the degree to which, yes, you’ve wised up since (you’ve had to) and you recognise how much more flawed and perhaps even empty were the things you once invested so much in than you saw at the time; and above all you see the contrast with where you’ve ended up; where — if you have this kind of empathy — we’ve all ended up, given how abrupt the recent economic pull-up will have been, for many. Obviously there’s a lot more actually being mourned than simply this guy; it’s a public outlet for endless private griefs — hence its inchoate, oversimplified intensity — but also I think for a kind of vague youthful solidarity of outlook and temperament and hope; a recognition that it’s gone, and that it was maybe never worth as much as you hoped, and that nevertheless you preferred yourself when caught up in its fevers and deliriums than yourself today.”

    I was awake and watching the story of Diana’s death unfold in real time on TV in the early hours of that sunday: a friend had called to let me know, and we stayed on the phone as we watched, wrapped in blankets and talking it through. She had been awakened by an acquaintance who slept with the telly blaring (an acquaintance who had something of an annoying and obsessive crush on my friend; rather than stay talking to her, or sitting through it alone, she’d thought “Mark is a journalist, he needs to know…”). This meant I knew very early, and then missed most of the daylight sunday you’ve all described (I went back to bed and slept in). It also meant that the news was marked with dreamstate oddity and even unreality for me — and nothing about it afterwards surprised me. I was in Amsterdam on holidaythe rest of the week, away from even Dutch TV; Dutch newspaper billboards were the closest I came to enduring blanket coverage, and actually it was far from blanket, just a few screamer posts on kiosks, and headlines on magazine covers on shop counters.

    Two people I knew well were really upset — I was already in the process of terminally falling out with one (for unrelated reasons) and never got to quiz her on it. The other is someone who’s unusually self-aware and self-critical: when I interrogated her, she was straightforward: “It’s not really about Diana, Mark, really I think I’m mourning myself.” (Actually this is probably where the insight for the Rushton quote comes from, if insight it is.) I’m hesitant to generalise about the two of them — quite apart from anything else, they disliked each other intensely — but I suspect a complicated and fraught sense of who they were in relationship to their own families and backgrounds is part of the story; there was a lot of anger there. If Di’s luck in the early 80s had been the very opposite of meritocracy, this too might have its attractions: after all, happiness of all things shouldn’t actually be something you have to EARN, via superior mind or talent. Everyone deserves it; this I take to be a root for some of the vague shared idealism apparently torrented onto her, however contorted the connection seems. It surely can’t be very surprising that a family relentlessly presented to us as a social and political symbol of cohesion and continuity gets a fvckton of private symbol projected onto it — and that apparent rifts in that unity and continuity take on intensely personal meaning.

    Nor are such vast events at all a new thing. I’m old enough to remember my dad travelling to London in 1965 to be part of the (vast) crowd for Winston Churchill’s funeral. I watched it on (black and white) TV and painted a picture of it — all dark brown smeary colours as I recall (I was five). Typically — this very much fit in with family lore — Dad had arrived in London only to realise he had flu; so he spent the day itself feeling sorry for himself in bed at my grandparents’ house. Thirty-odd years before that they had taken him out to view the parades for the coronation of Edward VIII — oddly enough, since I’m pretty sure they were both still in the communist party at that point — and he had spent the entire time squatted on the ground putting gravel into his cap, and missed the horse and the carriages and everything (he was five).

    But more to the point, two centuries ago, another Prince of Wales set aside a wife, Caroline of Brunswick — and relentlessly smeared and scorned her in order to force a divorce. At his coronation, in 1820 (he became George IV), she arrived on the steps to claim her crown. Security barred her from entering the ceremony; she died three weeks later (of grief or exhaustion or disappointment or possibly just ordinary pre-modernity illness). During all this time enormous public sympathy, among the middle and artisanal classes, swelled and swelled — to the point that she was functioning as a symbolic rallying point for radical anti-establishment voices like Cobbett. Absurdly enough, no doubt — I doubt she much admired the Jacobins, though the prince’s pet press often laid this charge. Her woeful tale — or lurid versions thereof — was excitedly taken up the nascent yellow press based round Seven Dials…

    A little while after Diana’s funeral, the writer Christopher Hitchens made a TV polemic mocking Dianamania. It wasn’t a good programme: for a start, TV never really suited him, he always seemed stiff and anxious and sweaty, and his undeniable gift for a sentence on the page rarely translated — said out loud it could come across orotund and pompous. He didn’t really trust or respect the medium, and inevitably it turned this contempt back on him. I’d always liked him as a writer because he seemed strong on ambiguous subjects, in particular the subtle complexities of the reliably middlebrow — on Larkin’s private politics for example, or on the former leftist and intellectual turncoat Conor Cruise O’Brien. He was never great on popular culture (my personal theory here was that Hitchens always relied on his pal Martin Amis for insight into UK popular culture; Amis being a man whose entire body is made of tin ear). But this — to me, as someone who had admired him — was worse; scornfully simplistic and hectoring and smug in its mockery of the phenomenon of public emotion: a shock and a foreshadowing. Of course, the “stiff upper lip” is a semi-modern invention itself, a device fashioned in dozens of efficiently ghastly schools up and down the land, to firm up the maintenance and management of a vast empire — to demonstrate “our” fitness to govern the world’s chaotic masses. Seriously, there was no stiff upper lip in 17th or 18th century Britain; quite the opposite. And sure enough, four years later, Hitch would accelerate his transition across the political spectrum and gleefully throw himself into the cheerleading for all-out war; a lurch back into empire-think, the self-regard of the idea of a heroically civilised “we” put here in the world to punish the barbarians; to violently force on them the gift of civilisation. This too was an atavism, whatever its more-rational-than-thou demeanour and complacent mansplainy privilege.

    All of which is perhaps a way of saying we live in a strange and ancient land — with several peoples and languages and all kinds of subterranean currents and blockages surging through its history and across its terrains. I’m prepared to accept that mass delusions and folk panics are a social fact, and sometimes a scary one, which we should try and sidestep — but I also believe that sat goblinish among them is the idea that we educated moderns at least have made our way out onto the calm cool uplands of reason and sensible ordered life. Of course we haven’t: quite apart from anything else we are all of us still battling family demons; and of course we respond to subterrean historical forces as we would to a book or film: we’re genuinely moved by things that aren’t at all present in our physical lives, which nevertheless have enormous force in our inner landscapes. In the 1930s, when the civilised European space as he saw it was threatened by the rise of fascism, T.H.White wrote The Sword in the Stone, a book about the soon-to-be King Arthur being trained in anachronistic democratic theory by Merlin, a wizard who lived backwards through time; White based much of his story on a romance written by one Thomas Malory, in the last ghastly decades of the Wars of the Roses. The fragile just and chivalrous space that Malory imagined Arthur creating was called Camelot; it would be shattered in later books by Arthur’s vengeful bastard son Mordred forcing a legalistic war with Arthur’s best friend, Lancelot. White doesn’t call this land England or Albion or Britain: he calls it Gramarye (as in “Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye”, from the last verse of Kipling’s poem “Puck’s Song”). Gramarye is a strange old english word which has given us the modern words grammar and grimoire (meaning a texbook of magic) and — of course, bringing it all back to Diana — GLAMOUR. White’s books would be gathered in 1958 into a single volume, called The Once and Future King; the fourth book, bleak and poetic and never published separately, in which Arthur dies and Camelot falls and Malory steps into view, is called The Candle in the Wind.

  123. 123
    Izzy on 30 Mar 2014 #

    That is terrific.

    It’s completely correct, aiui, that Britain’s stiff-upper-lip tradition is overlaid on a much older tradition of drunkenness, bawdiness and overwhelming emotion. There is supposed to be Spanish travel writing from the 16th century describing this strange northern island of lurching, manic crowds, terrifying to the civilised sophisticate. Shakespeare could hardly have written as he did were he not of that tradition himself.

    It provokes rather unattractive derision nowadays when the older tradition reëmerges, both from the stoical tradition but also from aloof, ironic types. It’s not just something that is done to us – Diana, Maddie, the Krays, Jade, Friday nights on the town, they all bear to some degree manifestations of the instinct. To my eyes even Hillsborough periodically gets this treatment, apparently as an unseemly loss of control, when on one view it’s an older, honest Britain rising above the surface.

  124. 124
    hashtag tashlan on 30 Mar 2014 #

    […] at Popular, Tom’s reached 1997 and Elton and Lady Di — his essay is of course excellent, and so are many of the (currently) 120+responses, especially Phil […]

  125. 125
    Ed on 30 Mar 2014 #

    @122 That’s a wonderful piece. This is turning into a vintage thread.

    Not your main point, but this struck a chord with me:

    “If Di’s luck in the early 80s had been the very opposite of meritocracy, this too might have its attractions: after all, happiness of all things shouldn’t actually be something you have to EARN, via superior mind or talent. Everyone deserves it;”

    That’s always seemed to be the best argument in favour of the monarchy. Yes as Andrew Farrell says @112 it’s daft and anachronistic etc, but the royals are valuable because they are living and breathing refutation of the argument that people in positions of power and privilege in some sense deserve to be there. It’s all about accidents of birth, and the royals make that reality inescapably explicit.

    Compare that to the American model, where the rich and famous are at some level seen as better than everyone else, and if you are poor and powerless, you deserve it.

  126. 126

    Ed, that’s quite a shrewd reading! I’m not any kind of monarchist, or hunting for excuses for the institution to be justified — though I do think you need more than merely shallow impatience to shift ancient things much; they have a way of creeping back into the replacements even more immoveably. But you’re right, I am very suspicious indeed of the notion of meritocracy as a way to organise matters: and not just because a pernicious clown like Toby Young has entered public life, seemingly on the back of his father’s sadly Cassandroid mockery of the idea.

    More on our confusions about the good and bad of tradition and mobility, and who exactly we’re fighting:

    Oscar Wilde:
    “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?”

    G. K. Chesterton:
    “‘What happened was this. The old Duke really had a slight malformation of the ear, which really was more or less hereditary. He really was morbid about it; and it is likely enough that he did invoke it as a kind of curse in the violent scene (which undoubtedly happened) in which he struck Green with the decanter. But the contest ended very differently. Green pressed his claim and got the estates; the dispossessed nobleman shot himself and died without issue. After a decent interval the beautiful English Government revived the “extinct” peerage of Exmoor, and bestowed it, as is usual, on the most important person, the person who had got the property.’”

    (This passage is from a Father Brown story, The Purple Wig, and I suspect the idea for it actually has its roots in the Wilde quote, purple breeding purple, as it were; Chesterton and Wilde were very different politically, but not unrelated culturally).

  127. 127
    23 Daves on 30 Mar 2014 #

    #122 Absolutely fantastic, and it’s hard to know what to add to that.

    It’s wrong to say that over the years I’ve become very interested in Princess Diana, because if I were I would obviously have a full library of books about her and would never stop going on about her in conversation (I’ve met people who do this, and they’re worrying – slightly more troubling than extreme Michael Jackson fans, and that’s saying something). However, the woman was definitely an odd and conflicted character. I once met someone who managed to get a job archiving some of the correspondence she sent round the Palace, and she claimed that there was a period towards the end of her marriage when she began writing long, elaborate thank you letters to members of the staff. One letter she found appeared to be a three page epic rhapsodising about the quality of the chef’s main meal on a particular day. It appeared to be her attempt to bond with the staff and appear ‘normal’ and perhaps also reach out, but of course, the contradiction is that there’s nothing normal about writing long letters of praise for the people who work for you. Only a person in a position of huge power could do that and make it matter. The chef was probably delighted but also perplexed. There are other similar stories doing the rounds about Diana discussing her problems with recently bereaved parents who she met through charity work, the confused parents wondering what they were supposed to tell her or do about her issues, and probably too deep in trauma themselves to make even a shred of sense of it.

    But with Diana comes this absurd polarity. You’re supposed to either treat her as an angel and a victim of the Royal Family/ society/ the Paparazzi/ MI5 lizards, drawing her character with ridiculous rainbow coloured crayons, or you’re asked to disregard her and think about her privilege. Even now, this long after her death, it’s a hard topic to get a fair balance on. I once tried writing a piece of work from the perspective of someone obsessed with Diana, and nearly got laughed out of the writing workshop I was attending. True, it wasn’t a great piece of work, but the difficulties behind its creation also lay in the fact that it ran contrary to the ideas people who are inclined to want to become writers hold about her. It’s unfashionable. Despite the accusations that tend to fly forth about Diana’s wealth and lofty position, I get a sense that the mass mourning really was regarded as “pleb stuff”.

    So then, for my part, the day Diana died I was looking after a friend’s house for him while he was away on holiday. I clearly remember waking up to the news that Diana had died, and for some reason mishearing it and thinking “Hasn’t Diana Dors already died”? Then I realised.

    I wasn’t living in London at the time, and I did find the reaction from everyone else was unbelievable, and exactly as the media described. On my commute into work the next day (or was it even the day after?) women were openly weeping on the train platform. At work, when somebody asked what all the fuss was about anyway, he was shouted at by about four members of staff at once. I got shouted at because I was due to start Journalism College in a month’s time, so somehow I was complicit in her death. It was ridiculous. “Candle In The Wind” was no less ridiculous, with even Shaun Ryder pointing out the fact that the song had “donger lyrics”.

    I do know people who bought the CD – people in my family, mainly – and who also bought books about Diana, despite previously never seeming to show much interest. The last time I stayed over one family member’s house, I noted that the CD was no longer present in the racks and the book had disappeared, but I later caught a glimpse of it in another cupboard where Christmas booze was kept, not on public display on a shelf, but not discarded in a charity shop. Like I said, it would be nice to get some sort of balanced handle on everything that surrounds Diana, but what hope does anyone have?

  128. 128
    Will on 30 Mar 2014 #

    All I can say is that as someone who from the age of 11/12 has identified himself as being left wing and anti-royal family (the wall to wall media coverage of the Charles n’ Di wedding of 1981 played no small part in this) I was completely sickened by this record. But then I’m of the bit-too-late-for-punk generation that was brought up with the legend of the British establishment preventing God Save The Queen reaching Number One in ’77.

    And as a Watford fan Elton plummeted in my estimation after this.

  129. 129
    Mark M on 31 Mar 2014 #

    Re 122: Top stuff, Mark, just terrific. But just to be subby, it can’t have been Edward VIII’s coronation – he never got that far. George VI’s, presumably (I know there’s no way you’ll be able to check now).

  130. 130
    Nanaya on 31 Mar 2014 #

    @122 BRAVA! Superb, and thank you for drawing the White/Arthuriana connection.

    This all reminds me: has anyone read the David Baddiel novel ‘Whatever Love Means’? A sizeable sub-plot in the early part of the book is about feeling baffled by the extreme national response & confused by all the unexpected Diana mourners. An odd creation but I suppose it seemed controversial at the turn of the millennium.

  131. 131
    Mark M on 31 Mar 2014 #

    I think it’s worth separating out the two reactions experienced by the (non-monarchist or at least non-trad monarchist) people who weren’t plunged into deep mourning – a) pondering what the fuck was up with the people who were (something dealt with admirably by Sinker at 122) and b) why the fuck is the man on TV telling unequivocally that I’m feeling x when I’m feeling y. a) was confusing, although I have a better handle on it now, b) felt (in that moment) rather totalitarian, although again, I can see now how and why it happened (and, as I hinted above, the vast expansion of media outlets meant that even by the time of the death of the Queen Mother, it felt much easier to find a different conversation.

  132. 132
    Jimmy the Swede on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #122 – A wonderful piece, Mark. Lordy, this thread is really getting the writers out to play. Some fabulous stuff here.

    As Mark M points out, Edward VIII never had a coronation, although there was indeed a dry run on a mapped out route and Edward was suitably booted out for it. This is quite probably what your dad saw.

    Camilla Parker-Bowles (aka The Dutchess of Cornwall) came down to Eastbourne a few days ago to open a hospice. She was very pleasant. I thought I’d share that with you all.

  133. 133
    Rory on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #130: Yes! I was going to slip in a reference @48 after saying that Charles and Di in 1981 “were, presumably, in love”, but thought it would be a bit obscure. Should have gone with it… I remember thinking it was a reasonable novel, as was Baddiel’s debut, but I lost track of his novels after that. I think it suffered by being in with all the other 30-something semi-comic takes on relationships I was reading at the time – they all became a bit of a blur.

  134. 134
    lonepilgrim on 31 Mar 2014 #

    #130 another novel that touches upon the Diana funeral is Douglas Coupland’s ‘All families are psychotic’ – I have only vague memories of it but didn’t think it was his best

  135. 135
    Carsmilesteve on 1 Apr 2014 #

    Oh, just remembered as I read through the rest of the posts. The Sunday was also the day chosen, months in advance, to celebrate the re-unionisation of GCHQ (or rather the removal of the union ban), one of the first acts of the new government.

    There had been pro-union marches every year which, as a northern lad brought up on Durham Big Meeting, I’d loved, so I’d been looking forward to this day of celebration.

    There was still a march, but no bands playing, no slogans shouted and DEAR LORD, but it rained, to a Shakespearean level, all day…

  136. 136
    tm on 3 Apr 2014 #

    Re: Diana as pop fan, I think a lot of people were mourning her as One of Us: someone ‘normal’ and fun-loving compared to the mutant lizard people of the royal family. She was, after all doing what a lot of us would do in her situation: balancing the desire to do some good in the world with playing the game to her own advantage and kicking back at the people who’d wronged her.

  137. 137
    weej on 3 Apr 2014 #

    It was the end of a disappointingly uneventful summer before the start of my A-level resits. Radio 1 in the evenings had never found a satisfactory replacement for Mark & Lard, and I was going through a brief phase of listening to Talk Radio in bed. Just drifting off to sleep, I heard the first reports of the crash from Ian Collins, and stayed awake to listen for developments. The last I heard she was in hospital, and in critical condition, then I woke up at 8 or 9 to find that she had died, a little less shocked than people who’d been asleep at 3am.

    I remember a TV montage using the original Candle In The Wind in the day or two after she died – it already seemed to be in the air as a tribute, and (this is from unreliable memory only I’m afraid) the choice to re-record it and release it may not have been entirely Elton’s. By the time of the funeral I’d pretty much lost interest, and I slept through it, but watching the video of Elton’s performance of the song I’m surprised at how little I’m annoyed by it. Sure, it’s a hagiography, but it’s a personal one, the kind of thing you would understand anyone making when their friend dies, and there’s no real use criticising poor lyrical choices when they sound so sincere. It’s not something I’d buy, but I can at least see why people bought it – it’s the equivalent of a royal wedding mug, ‘I was there’, and any other sort of souvenir would be regarded as tacky under the circumstances.

    There was a lot of talk about a shift in British culture at the time, most of it focussing on a supposed end to national reserve and a new-found ability to express emotions – or “be hysterical” as some would put it. Some writers seemed to get so carried away by the argument as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing that they failed to notice that it wasn’t really true. Watching the funeral on youtube now, it’s merely sombre, there’s no great wailing and sobbing, and it all seems very standard, especially considering how big a deal it was. The real emotion in question here is sentimentality, a quality we seem to have had for quite a while, and which (for better or worse) doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

    As for Diana herself, it all seems to have been said upthread. With 17 years distance she seems clearly to have been just another flawed human being, who did some good and some bad. Not a particularly interesting view, but perhaps the reason “her legend” seems to be dissipating much more quickly than expected.

  138. 138
    hardtogethits on 4 Apr 2014 #

    Just to clarify what I said at #85, because others have asked if they remember correctly (and they do), the original Candle In The Wind was played a lot on the radio in the 7 days following Diana’s death.

    “An old Elton John track [Candle In The Wind] appeared at no.34 in the chart

    The week after that, there was the first instance of a new entry at no.1 on the Airplay Charts under the then-current compilation methods. [Candle In The Wind ’97]”

  139. 139
    mapman132 on 6 Apr 2014 #

    And now changing gears, my comments on the records that were held at #2 by CITW97. First, the UK: None of these were hits in the US, so they are pretty much new to me:

    “You Have Been Loved”: Sound to me like the sequel to “Jesus To A Child”. I can see why this got so much airplay at the time. Wonder how big a hit it would’ve been otherwise.

    “Sunchyme”: I love “Life In A Northern Town” so I really want to like this record, but for some reason I can’t get into it. I can’t remember if it was already mentioned, but this has the unfortunate distinction of the biggest losing margin of a #2 record – something like 83,000 vs. 1,500,000.

    “Stand By Me”: Much better than “D’You Know..” Actually sounds like a regular song rather than a ten minute egofest. Bypassed in the US in favor of “Don’t Go Away”.

    “Stay”: It figures Mr. Second would get one here. This is kind of ho-hum to me. “Ecuador” maintains its lead in my Sash! review.

    And in the US:

    [BUNNY]: #2 for seven weeks. Too bad for the 19 year old – who knows if he’ll ever get this close again….

    “How Do I Live”: Huge hit for LeAnn Rimes – on the Hot 100 for a then-record 69 weeks. And joined CITW97 as one of a very, very few records to be in the year-end top 10 two years in a row (#9 in 1997, #5 in 1998). Fortunately, the 15 year old will surely have lots of opportunities for #1 hits in the future, probably more so than the previous teenager (oh the irony, the irony…)

    And finally, “It’s All About The Benjamins”: Not sure if this record originated the slang Benjamin = $100 bill, but it certainly popularized it for a while. I actually don’t mind this as much as most other Puffy pieces, maybe because it was so memetastic. Among other things, inspired Weird Al’s “It’s All About The Pentiums.”

  140. 140
    Billy Hicks on 6 Apr 2014 #

    How Do I Live for years was the biggest seller in the UK to only peak as high as #7, selling over 700,000. As mentioned in my comment in the Perfect Day thread, sales over the next few post-CITW months are *huge*.

  141. 141
    Middlerabbit on 7 Apr 2014 #

    Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I think I remember the Martin Bashir interview and the overall media and public response to it.

    People didn’t seem very impressed by her at all. She was accused of cynically presenting herself with Bambi eyes, pre-prepared quotes designed to make her sound worthy of sympathy, etc.

    The press and people I knew who cared spoke about how conveniently things like her alleged pregnancy with Dodi was undignified, the carousing on yachts, all the rest of it.

    It went down really, really badly.

    Until she died, at which point I think people were a bit surprised at their own reaction to it.

    Personally, I didn’t really give a toss. I viewed her as a former parasite who was now keen on pointing out how bad these other parasites were because all she wanted was to live a life of a fairy tale princess, in great privilege and with nothing bad ever happening to her.

    Then, when it turned out Charlie had no intention of dumping his girlfriend, she didn’t like that.

    I can dig it, poor Diana. Two timed with a horse faced member of the landed gentry. With only millions of pounds, massive houses and servants to compensate her grief.

    Yeah. Poor baby.

    It’s not a very charitable viewpoint, but it was a fairly popular one in between Bashir and her death. After her death, it felt to me as the world decided to say, “If I don’t mention how incharitable you were about her and you do the same for me, maybe we won’t look mean and nobody’ll bring it up again.”

    And, they didn’t, did they?

    Since her death, the world’s pretended that they were always sympathetic.

    Hence, I think, the ridiculous outpouring of public grief at her death. It was compensating for previous meanness and lack of charitable feeling.

    Personally, I think taking sides is wrong on this one. Diana was no saint, she didn’t deserve to live in luxury at the expense of the general public, but neither does anyone else.

    She was quite happy to benefit from her position and only criticised it once she was no longer welcome in royalty.

    A bit selfish, yes, but however nice she might have been, nobody misses her for her intellectual capabilities, do they? Of course she was selfish and mainly interested in what she could get – which was what came out of the Bashir interview – but we knew that already, really. And Charlie’s worse, isn’t he?

    This record allowed people to atone for their harsh judgement following that interview. That’s what I reckon. The more you bought, the more you quantifiably demonstrated that you were a sympathetic person, not some kind of judgemental, superior sounding churl.

    Hindsight, eh?


  142. 142
    Lee Saunders on 3 Dec 2018 #

    (even tho my mum swears it was actually The Drugs Don’t Work. But nope!)

    What’s the deal with Something About the Way You Look Tonight? My impression for the longest time was that it was like Elton was almost trying to soften the impact of CITW by plugging his new album by giving equal billing to SATWYLT. Or even top billing, if you see the sleeve. Rather than delay its intended separate release. Why was it a double A-side? And what impression did Something have… I’ve seen it suggested (in places besides here) that it was completely ignored in the UK and remains obscure, and yet I’ve also seen that (as here) it eventually replaced CITW on TOTP. And yet no public memory of it?? I know in the US it was a bona fide hit in its own right, and indeed the official video has 15m views on YouTube. But yeah it intrigues me

  143. 143
    benson_79 on 6 Feb 2021 #

    Coincidentally I’ve reached this (excellent) thread while near the end of The Crown’s Charles’n’Di-heavy season 4. Leaving aside Peter Morgan’s penchant for “artistic licence” (eg juxtaposing two events for dramatic effect that actually took place months or even years apart), s 4 has been exceedingly controversial for its portrayal of the royals, even prompting government ministers to demand Netflix add a disclaimer before each episode, for goodness’ sake.

    Charles in particular is written as astonishingly aloof, peevish and self-pitying, and it’s left up to the viewer to decide whether the events of the previous season, where he’s presented as a genuine victim of a Kafkaesque system, justify his monstrous treatment of his wife.

    We also recently had the Daily Mail resurrecting allegations of dishonest methods used by Martin Bashir and the BBC to land *that* interview which, if true, certainly upend the narrative I bought into of Diana as machiavellian arch-manipulator of the media.

    I guess my point after all of this is that simple dismissals of Diana, or anyone born into privilege, as undeserving of sympathy are wide of the mark, and it’s possible to feel that way and still find the enforced hysteria and posthumous attempts at deification unsettling.

  144. 144
    Colin Munroe on 9 Apr 2021 #

    RIP Prince Philip

  145. 145
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    I think SATWYLT is solid enough, probably a 5 from me.

  146. 146
    Gareth Parker on 20 May 2021 #

    I don’t like the ’97 version as much as the original, so I think I would go for a generous 5/10 here.

  147. 147
    Mr Tinkertrain on 4 Apr 2022 #

    My abiding memory of Diana’s death (I was aged 12 at the time) was getting up early to watch football highlights on Sky and instead being confronted with nothing but chat about Diana. My main feeling for the rest of the day was mostly of irritation that the day’s football was postponed.

    Maybe it’s because I grew up in Scotland, but I don’t remember experiencing much grief directly. It was obviously all over the news, but the widespread outpouring of grief probably didn’t extend as far north as this. I certainly had no interest in watching the funeral.

    As for the song(s), I just listened to CITW ’97 for the first time in ages and it sounds weaker than I remember. Understandable maybe, but not to its benefit. I don’t hate the song as many in here do though. As for SITWYLT, it’s perfectly fine and would be entirely forgotten by now if it wasn’t for its association with this (indeed, it’s pretty much forgotten anyway). 5/10 seems reasonable.

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