Before Princess Diana’s death in 1997, she and Elton John had been good friends. At some point, however, the pair fell out – as Elton himself hasn’t been shy in admitting. And in 2019 the pop icon made yet more revelations about his relationship with the princess in his autobiography Me. In the book, the musician not only chose to speak out about what had happened to cause the rift between himself and Diana, but also what his thoughts and fears for the royal were at the time.
That wasn’t all, either. You see, Me also contains explosive revelations about what Diana and the rest of the royal family were like behind closed doors. And as someone who ended up more or less making his way into the royal inner circle, Elton had been privy to some surprising scenes.
Naturally, then, the autobiography caused quite a stir when it was released – not least because Elton also chose to divulge some eyebrow-raising secrets about fellow musician Rod Stewart. But when it came to Diana, he was gentle with her. In fact, even when the star spilled the beans on that feud, it became clear that he misses his old friend.
Elton and the princess had initially encountered each other in 1981 – so, before Diana married Prince Charles and became an official member of the royal family. Specifically, the two had a run-in at a 21st birthday bash for Prince Andrew, after which they had went on to become very close. And eventually it seemed that Diana and Elton had something big in common: AIDS awareness and research – a cause dear to both their hearts.
Elton got to know Diana’s sons, Harry and William, too. And in 2018 he wrote a piece for Time magazine honoring Harry as one of the Time 100 that year. In the article, the star revealed, “I first met an extremely shy and sweet Prince Harry at a private lunch at Kensington Palace, given by his mother Princess Diana for Gianni Versace and me many years ago.”
Elton went on, “What a joy it has been to see that young boy grow to inherit his mother’s warmth, sense of humor and courage to stand up and champion the causes he truly believes in.” Diana was indeed seemingly unafraid to get involved in crusades that others may have wished she’d avoided. Perhaps in a bid to fight misapprehensions about HIV, for example, she allowed herself to be photographed holding the hands of AIDS patients – proving as a result that the disease wasn’t transferable by touch.
So, what actually led Diana and Elton to fall out? The singer spoke about the feud not long after Diana had died, incidentally. It was 1997, and great swathes of Britain seemed to be in mourning for the princess. And, famously, Elton performed the song “Candle in the Wind” at her funeral before releasing the track in order to raise money for Diana’s favorite charities.
At that time, Elton spoke to the BBC’s David Frost about his relationship with Diana. Back then, he revealed, “[Diana and I] did have a little falling out earlier in the year over a charity event. We did write each other letters, which neither of us responded to. It was only after the tragic death of Gianni Versace that we actually spoke.”
Versace was a mutual friend of Elton and Diana, and he had actually been involved in the incident that had led the pair to become estranged. Tragically, though, the fashion designer was slaughtered outside his mansion by serial killer Andrew Cunanan on July 15, 1997. And Diana subsequently attended Versace’s funeral alongside Elton in what would prove to be one of her final public appearances.
Meanwhile, in Me, Elton gave his thoughts about Diana’s own funeral – and some of his words were rather damning. “William and Harry looked completely shell-shocked,” he wrote of his late friend’s children. “They were 15 and 12, and I thought the way they were treated that day was absolutely inhuman. They were forced to walk through the streets of London behind their mother’s coffin, told to show no emotion and look straight ahead.”
Then, Elton wrote, once the funeral had finished, he had gone to a studio to record “Candle in the Wind” for release. After that, he had finally gone home, where grief had overcome him. “I hadn’t felt able to show emotion all day,” he explained in Me. “I’d had a job to do, and how I felt about Diana’s death might have interfered with my ability to do it.”
Unfortunately, “Candle in the Wind” would also haunt Elton for some time. “In the end, I started feeling really uncomfortable with the single’s longevity,” he wrote. “Its success meant there was footage of Diana’s funeral week after week on Top of the Pops. It almost felt like wallowing in her death, as if the mourning for her had got out of hand.”
Elton went on, “And I didn’t want to do anything to prolong [the wallowing] any further. So when Oprah Winfrey asked me on her talk show to discuss the funeral, I said no.” He also decided to never release “Candle in the Wind” again. “I’ve always tried to avoid the topic with journalists,” the star added. “It wasn’t that I wanted to forget it – or [Diana]. I just wanted life to get back to some semblance of normality.”
Nevertheless, Elton ultimately returned to that period of his life when writing Me. And in the book, he also revealed the details of the “surreal” Palace party at which he had first met Diana. “Because the Queen was there, and no one wanted to cause any offence to the royal sensibilities, the disco was turned down about as low as you could get without switching it off altogether. You could literally hear your feet moving around on the floor over the music,” he wrote.
And at the event, Elton mingled with other royal family members – including the Queen herself. He wrote, “Princess Anne asked me to dance with her to ‘Hound Dog’ by Elvis Presley. Well, I say ‘dance’: I ended up just awkwardly shuffling from foot to foot, trying to make as little noise as I could so that I didn’t drown out the music… Then the Queen appeared, carrying her handbag. She walked over and asked if she could join us.”
Elton went on, “So, now I was trying to dance as inaudibly as possible with Princess Anne and the Queen – still holding her handbag – while what appeared to be the world’s quietest disco played Bill Haley. I tried my best to come up with a facial expression that suggested this was a perfectly normal state of affairs.”
Help was at hand, however, with Diana providing a breath of fresh air in that awkward situation. Elton explained in Me, “Anyway, that night in 1981, [Diana] arrived in the ballroom, and we immediately clicked. We ended up pretending to dance the Charleston while hooting at the disco’s feebleness.” And with that, the two began a long and largely fond relationship.
In his autobiography, though, Elton also shared a rather remarkable story about the Queen herself. Once, in fact, he had allegedly witnessed her slap another royal family member. “In private, [the Queen] could be hilarious,” the singer recalled. “At another party, I saw her approach Viscount Linley and ask him to look in on his sister, who’d been taken ill and had retired to her room.”
Yet, according to Elton, the monarch wasn’t best pleased with the viscount’s response. “When he repeatedly tried to fob her off, the Queen lightly slapped him across the face, saying ‘Don’t’ – SLAP – ‘argue’ – SLAP – ‘with’ – SLAP – ‘me’ – SLAP – ‘I’ – SLAP – ‘am’ – SLAP – ‘THE QUEEN!’” And, naturally, Elton was rather taken aback. “As [Viscount Linley] left, [the Queen] saw me staring at her, gave me a wink and walked off,” he added.
And Elton revealed that he was similarly amazed at how he had ended up mingling in such lofty circles. He said in Me, “No matter how funny or normal the royal family seemed – whether they were asking me if I’d done any coke before I went on stage as Princess Alexandra once did, or winking at me after slapping a nephew across the face – there’d inevitably come a moment where I’d find myself thinking, ‘This is just bizarre. I’m a musician from a council house on Pinner Road. What am I doing here?’”
But Diana, Elton added, was different to other members of the family. “With Diana, it wasn’t like that. She was blessed with an incredible social ease – an ability to make people feel totally comfortable in her company,” he explained. “Her kids have inherited it, Prince Harry in particular; he’s exactly the same as his mum: [he has] no interest in formality or grandeur.”
Elton continued, “That famous photo of her holding an AIDS patient’s hand at the London Middlesex Hospital – that was Diana. I don’t think she was necessarily trying to make a big point, although obviously she did. In that moment, she changed public attitudes to AIDS forever. She’d just met someone suffering, dying in agony – why wouldn’t you reach out and touch them? It’s the natural human impulse, to try to comfort someone.”
Elton went even further in his praise for Diana, too, describing her in the book as “fabulous company – the best dinner party guest.” Furthermore, he added, “If I was bowled over by Diana, it was nothing compared with the impact she could have on straight men. They seemed completely to lose their minds in her presence: they were just utterly bewitched.” And to prove his point, the pop star told a tale that involved many famous names.
According to Elton, he and his partner, David Furnish, had thrown their own dinner party at the time of the production of the first Lion King movie. And to make up the numbers, the couple had invited Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife, George Michael, Richard Curtis, Emma Freud, Sylvester Stallone and Richard Gere as well as Diana herself. However, Elton revealed that, during the get-together, “the most peculiar scene developed.”
Apparently, Gere began talking with Diana at the party, while she seemed equally as interested in him. Elton divulged, “[Diana] was separated from Charles by this point, and Richard had broken up with Cindy Crawford. They ended up sitting in front of the fireplace together, locked in rapt conversation.”
But another party guest was not seemingly approving. Elton continued, “As the rest of us chatted, I couldn’t help notice a strange atmosphere in the room. Judging by the kind of looks he kept shooting them, Diana and Richard Gere’s newly blossoming friendship was not going down well with Sylvester Stallone at all.”
Elton speculated, “I think [Stallone] may have turned up to the party with the express intention of picking Diana up – only to find his plans for the evening ruined.” Yet an even more awkward situation would soon rear its head, according to the musician. When dinner was served, Stallone and Gere were allegedly both absent, and so Furnish went to find them. Upon his return, though, Elton’s now-husband reported back that there was “a situation.”
Somewhat alarmingly, Gere and Stallone had supposedly been about to fist-fight over Diana when Furnish found them. And sitting down for a meal together apparently didn’t improve the tension. “After dinner, Diana and Richard Gere resumed their position together in front of the fire, and Sylvester stormed off home,” Elton wrote.
Elton also claimed that Stallone had announced, “I never would have come if I’d known Prince f**kin’ Charming was gonna be here. If I’d wanted her, I would’ve taken her!” This outburst reportedly caused the musician and Furnish to crack up in laughter after Stallone’s car had gone. Diana, meanwhile, “seemed completely unruffled” by the furor, Elton added.
The veteran star pondered, “Maybe [Diana] hadn’t realised what was happening. Or maybe stuff like that happened all the time, and she was used to it. After she died, people started talking about something called the Diana Effect, meaning the way she managed to change the public’s attitudes to the Royal Family or to AIDS or bulimia or mental health. But every time I heard the phrase, I thought about that night.”
And in the book, Elton eventually spoke about the incident that had driven him and Diana apart. “She was a very dear friend for years, and then, completely unexpectedly, we fell out,” he wrote. “The cause was a book Gianni Versace put together called Rock and Royalty – a collection of portraits by great photographers. The proceeds were going to the AIDS Foundation, and she agreed to write the foreword.”
The musician claimed, however, that Diana had ultimately “got cold feet” and changed her mind about supporting the project. He added, “I think Buckingham Palace didn’t like the idea of a member of the royal family having anything to do with a book that featured shots of naked guys with towels draped around them.”
Elton went on, “At the last moment, Diana withdrew her foreword. She said she had no idea of the book’s contents, which just wasn’t true. Gianni had shown her the whole thing, and she had said she loved it.” Diana’s friend was not impressed at this sudden change of heart, either, and decided to tell her so.
And Elton explained in his memoir what he had chosen to do next. “I wrote back to [Diana], calling her out, telling her how much money she had cost the AIDS Foundation, reminding her that she had seen the book,” he said. “The letter I got back was very formal and severe: ‘Dear Mr John…’” The friendship had reached its breaking point.
Elton wrote of his feelings, “I was angry with [Diana], but I was also worried. She seemed to be losing touch with all sorts of really close friends who would be honest with her and surrounding herself instead with people who told her what she wanted to hear. I knew from personal experience [that] that wasn’t a healthy situation.”
After the death of Versace, however, Diana reached out to her old friend. “I didn’t speak to [Diana] again until the day Gianni was murdered,” Elton revealed. “I don’t even know how she got hold of the number; we hadn’t had the house in Nice for long. She was just down the coast, in St. Tropez, on Dodi Fayed’s yacht.”
Elton continued, “She asked how I was, if I’d spoken to Donatella [Versace’s sister]. Then she said, ‘I’m so sorry. It was a silly falling-out. Let’s be friends.’ She came with us to the funeral, looking incredible. When she walked in, the paparazzi in the church went crazy. It was like the biggest star in the world had arrived, which I suppose she had.”
And, as many know, Diana and Elton sat next to each other during the funeral. The star mentioned in his book, “I feel I should point out that the famous shot they got of her supposedly consoling me – where she’s leaning forward towards me, speaking, while I’m red-eyed and glazed with grief – is one moment in the service where she wasn’t doing anything of the sort. They snapped her just as she was leaning past me, reaching for a mint that David [had] offered her.”
And, finally, Elton talked about the last time that he contacted Diana. “I wrote to her [after the funeral], thanking her, and she wrote back offering to be a patron of the AIDS Foundation and asking if I would get involved in her landmine charity,” he wrote. “We were going to meet up next time we were both in London to have lunch and discuss it. But there wasn’t a next time.”
So, while Elton and Diana’s relationship may have been marred by that brief parting of ways, the spat would have been so much worse had they not made up before Diana died. And it appears that the pop icon still holds the late royal in great esteem. Speaking on the TV show Lorraine in 2018, Elton said of the princess, “She was very much loved. She was a controversial figure in some respects – but not to me. I loved her because she did so much for AIDS, and she was a great friend to me. We had our fallings out, but we reconciled in the end.”