Fast sales for Elton John song; flowers cleared at family home

Demand for Elton John’s musical tribute to Princess Diana was so overwhelming Saturday -- the first day of sales in Britain -- that manufacturers rushed to press a million extra copies. At Mercury Records, staff were working overtime after stores sold most of the first shipment of 250,000 discs within hours of opening their doors. About 300 people lined up outside Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus for a special midnight opening.

By the time the line was gone at 1:20 a.m., about 1,000 copies of the single had been sold. John and Bernie Taupin originally wrote “Candle in the Wind” as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Following Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, Elton John rewrote the lyrics as a testimonial to the princess, a longtime friend.

The compact disc is selling for $6.40, with all proceeds going to the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund. Buyers also flocked to stores in Germany and Ireland. One outlet in Munich sold all of its 280 copies in less than 15 minutes. “Customers did not just want one copy, they were looking for five or 10, because they saw it as their way of contributing to Diana’s charities,” said Eamonn Keogh of Ireland’s Golden Discs chain. The record went on sale in France on Friday. The Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Elysees reported that it was selling 500 copies an hour in the initial rush.

Also Saturday, the tabloid newspaper News of the World, chastened by criticism that the media had hounded Diana, said it would abide by a voluntary code of conduct that forbids zealous and intrusive coverage of celebrities.

The code forbids the “merciless stalking and pursuing” of celebrities and the publication of photos taken of them on their private property. The tabloid last month published pictures of the princess and her companion, Dodi Fayed, on vacation on a private yacht in the south of France.

The newspaper said the fact that Diana and Fayed were being chased by paparazzi when they died in the car crash, “highlighted the conduct of roving bands of thugs with cameras who operate on the underbelly of the newspaper world.”

In an editorial in its early Sunday editions, the tabloid said it, “and every single newspaper in Britain,” bears some responsibility for supporting such photographers. The paper joined The Sunday Mirror, the tabloid that recently paid a reported $400,000 for pictures of Diana kissing Fayed, in promising to respect the privacy of Diana’s sons, Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 12.

Meanwhile, at Althorp House, the family estate where Diana was buried, staff began removing thousands of flowers, toys, candles, balloons and cards left at the gates to honor her. Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, appeared briefly at the front gates to watch the flowers being removed but made no comment. The task took three hours. Some of the flowers were taken away earlier in the week and strewn over the grave, which is on an island on a small lake. A spokesman for the estate said the rest will be turned into compost. Diana’s death, and the royal family’s tardiness in joining the public outpouring of grief, has raised doubts about the monarchy’s role in modern Britain.

A new poll showed that 72 percent of Britons believe Queen Elizabeth II is out of touch; 55 percent said that in light of Diana’s death, the monarchy needs reform. The NOP poll of 1,073 people for The Sunday Times, taken on Friday, shows 58 percent believe the monarchy will have to modernize or fade away. Sixty percent believe the queen should be succeeded by William, rather than his father, heir to the throne, Prince Charles. An ICM poll for The Observer shows 74 percent want the monarchy to modernize; only 12 percent want it to carry on in its present form. ICM inter-viewed 511 people on Wednesday and Thursday. The margin of error on both polls was three percentage points.

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