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If Prince William has his way, the first song the band will strike up as he leads his bride on to the dance floor for the evening wedding party at Buckingham Palace will be Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
It was a hit more than ten years before he was born, but has always been close to William?s heart.
His mother was a huge Neil Diamond fan. She went to his shows, and even danced cheek-to-cheek with him at a White House reception after he sang to her.
Shall we dance: Like his mother Prince William is a fan of Neil Diamond (right) and if he has his way, the song Sweet Caroline will be played for the first dance at his Buckingham Palace wedding party Diamond’s records were prominent in Princess Diana’s collection at Kensington Palace, and visitors used to report that his music constantly filtered through her huge apartment.
So with William and Harry almost certainly drip-fed Neil Diamond as they were growing up, it is no surprise that they associate him with memories of their beloved mother. The princes’ enthusiasm for Diamond’s music was apparent to onlookers who saw them recently at fashionable Barts bar in London’s Chelsea.
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They called for the rousing Sweet Caroline to be played on the jukebox no fewer than eight times, singing along to it with a group of friends. Diamond, soon to tour here, was thrilled when I told him this week that he is still a royal favourite and that Sweet Caroline will almost certainly be on William and Kate’s request list after the wedding.
‘Perhaps I should re-write the lyrics, to Sweet Catherine, just for the occasion,’ he jokes. ‘And if they come to one of my shows this summer, I’ll sing that very personal version for them from the stage. ‘I’m flattered Prince William likes the song, especially since his mother told me Forever In Blue Jeans was her favourite the last time she came to one of my shows, in 1989 I believe.
I guess him being a fan is in the genes. I hope so, anyway. It would be fantastic and high praise if they did dance to it at the wedding, especially as the first song. It’s a song people like to move about to. But, more importantly, I want them to have a great day and wish them all the joy and love in the world.
‘There’s something about the song that makes anybody who wants to sing able to sing it. I think that’s what’s kept it alive. It’s got a little magical element in it, I’m not sure why. It’s a romantic story of pure unadulterated love. There?s nothing subtle about it. It wears its heart on its sleeve.’
Inspiration: Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, inspired the song Sweet Caroline
The song was inspired by a photograph Diamond saw of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, in the 1960s. ‘She was about nine, wearing riding breeches, and looked so innocent and sweet. The song isn?t really about her, but I liked the name. I never knew anybody named Caroline, so it just felt right putting it in there.
‘I wrote the song in Memphis, Tennessee the day before I recorded it, in less than an hour. It all just fell together in place.’
The song reached number eight in the UK chart in 1971. It’s likely a ten-year-old Lady Diana Spencer heard it on the radio and became a fan. Fourteen years later, in November 1985, Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited the United States, and President Reagan held a dinner in their honour.
Diamond was a guest and was not expecting to perform. ‘I was a little surprised when Nancy Reagan asked me if I would sing for the princess, but I was happy to do it. ‘I sang three songs ? September Morn, You Don?t Bring Me Flowers and Sweet Caroline. I sang Sweet Caroline to Diana herself.
She was very shy and I think she blushed a little bit for some reason. It was a wonderful evening. I’ll never forget it. There you go. I sang for a princess.’
But the surprises didn’t end there; Princess Diana approached him later in the evening. ‘She said, ”Is it not proper for a lady to ask a gentleman to dance in this country?” My response was, ”It is absolutely proper and it would be my pleasure.”’
The two had met for the first time the year before when Diamond performed a concert for the Prince’s Trust in Birmingham. ‘I think that was the first concert of mine she came to; she came to two others. I think she was kind of a fan,’ he says.
‘She told me she had wanted to go see me at Woburn Abbey when I played there in 1977 [when Diana was 16]. But her father would not allow it. I think he thought it was too rock’n’roll for her. ‘We spoke to each other before each of my performances. She was a wonderful person, and very sensitive to others? feelings. She wanted to make sure she met the wives of all my band members, and we did that. She was a delightful person – it was an honour to have met her and to perform for her.’
For his forthcoming UK shows he’s promising ‘wall-to-wall hits. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Prince William and his wife-to-be have a moment to see the show. That would make me very happy. I will definitely do Sweet Caroline for them at least once, and more if they request it.’
Sustained career: Diamond is 70 now but having the time of his life: ‘I feel so fortunate to have been able to make my dream a lifetime’s work’
Diamond’s career was rejuvenated in 2005 with the success of his album 12 Songs, followed by Home Before Dark in 2008. A younger audience rediscovered him, culminating in a wildly enthusiastic reception at Glastonbury in 2008.
‘I wasn?t sure whether anybody would know me or my music when I played Glastonbury, but it was an amazing event, with maybe 100,000 or 200,000 people there. It seemed everybody was singing along to me, so it was a big thrill.’ Diamond is 70 now but having the time of his life.
‘I feel so fortunate to have been able to make my dream a lifetime’s work. I still love performing. It’s an exciting time for me, and I go into the future with a lot of enthusiasm ? I’m feeling more energetic than ever and I’m having even more fun on stage. It seems I’ve been rejuvenated. I’m looking forward to another 20 years writing and recording.
‘I remember my first time playing England in the Sixties. It was my first time abroad and I was so warmly received it opened my eyes. I’ve been coming back and loving it ever since.’
Neil Diamond?s UK tour starts on 28 June; www.neildiamond.com.