Elton John's Candle in the Wind 1997 20 years on - the tribute to Princess Diana that is the UK's biggest selling single of all time

How the shock death of Princess Diana changed Official Chart history.

When you look at the list of the biggest selling songs of all time, most have a story behind them – iconic and massively popular songs are usually part of an even bigger moment in history or culture. Perhaps the hugest of them all was the news story that shocked the world and made headlines for weeks – the death of Princess Diana in August 1997.

Following the princess's passing, in a car accident in Paris, public emotion was high, and there was demand for a fitting tribute for one of the most famous women in the world. And sometimes only a legend will do. Parallels were drawn between the life of Diana and movie actress Marilyn Monroe – both died aged 36, both were among the most photographed women in the world and struggled with celebrity, and both of them had a certain mythology around them. And they also had Elton John in common.

One of Diana's closest friends, Elton had previously sung a touching tribute to Marilyn, Candle in the Wind, taking it to Number 11 in 1974 and going Top 5 with a live version in 1988. With his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin came up with an updated version to be played at Diana's funeral.

Elton gave an emotional performance of the new song at the ceremony on the piano, before dashing off to the studio to record it so it could be released as a single, with all proceeds to be distributed between charities close to the princess's heart.


A Tower Records staff member stacking shelves with Candle In The Wind 97. Many record shops opened at midnight especially due to demand for the single (Rex)

Demand was higher than could possibly have been anticipated. In its first week, the song sold 658,000 copies, and in its second, a whopping 1.54 million! By its fourth week on sale it was already the biggest selling single of all time, lapping another charity song, Do They Know It's Christmas – which at that point stood at 3.52 million – in the process.

Candle in the Wind 1997, which was backed with another Elton song Something About The Way You Look Tonight, spent five weeks at Number 1 and has sold an incredible 4.9 million copies to date.  

MORE: View Elton John's full Official UK Chart history

Fittingly for such a unique occasion, Candle In The Wind 1997 belongs very much to that moment – Elton has never performed the song again in public, preferring to stick with the original – and since becoming available for download in 2007, it's been bought 27,000 times. Streams are fairly quiet too: 68,000 since it was made available in 2015.

Whether it's because of huge news events, major movies or, more often that not, Christmas, each million-selling song brings back memories. Here's the Top 20 best sellers of all time:

  TITLE ARTIST YEAR
1 SOMETHING ABOUT THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT/CANDLE IN THE WIND 97 ELTON JOHN 1997
2 DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS? BAND AID 1984
3 BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY QUEEN 1975
4 MULL OF KINTYRE/GIRLS' SCHOOL WINGS 1977
5 YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT JOHN TRAVOLTA & OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN 1978
6 RELAX FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD 1983
7 RIVERS OF BABYLON/BROWN GIRL IN THE RING BONEY M 1978
8 SHE LOVES YOU THE BEATLES 1963
9 HAPPY PHARRELL WILLIAMS 2013
10 LOVE IS ALL AROUND WET WET WET 1994
11 MARY'S BOY CHILD/OH MY LORD BONEY M 1978
12 I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU STEVIE WONDER 1984
13 UNCHAINED MELODY/(THERE'LL BE BLUEBIRDS OVER) THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER ROBSON GREEN & JEROME FLYNN 1995
14 (EVERYTHING I DO) I DO IT FOR YOU BRYAN ADAMS 1991
15 BARBIE GIRL AQUA 1997
16 LAST CHRISTMAS/EVERYTHING SHE WANTS WHAM! 1984
17 BELIEVE CHER 1998
18 I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND THE BEATLES 1963
19 ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE/EVERGREEN WILL YOUNG 2002
20 IMAGINE JOHN LENNON 1975

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MORE: Journey back through every Official UK Number 1 single ever

Look through the UK's biggest selling single of each year, from 1952 - 2016, below: 

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