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Elton John World News: Artist Discusses His ''Diana'' Gift to Elton

Artist Discusses His ''Diana'' Gift to Elton-- Posted by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thursday 30 August 2007 @ 16:41 - GMT

The portrait of Diana that helped to heal Elton John's grief

Eltonjohnworld.com has been reporting on Mem Mehmet's Diana in Art, which includes the portrait here.

Although called Diana in the book, Louis Briel told EJW that the actual title is:

I Love You, Wills - I Love You, Harry.

The painting is a present from the L.A.-based artist to Elton.

Below he explains why he did so, as well as Elton's response. . . .

After the death of the Princess of Wales on August 31, 1997, I began visualising a portrait that would allow me to deal with some of the very intense, and frankly, unexpected feelings I was experiencing.

The abrupt, senseless and swift manner of Dianas death struck me as a cruel stroke of fate, just as she was on the edge of a new life.   My grief was about how capricious life can be, the recent losses of many close friends, and simply for Diana. She would not be there to watch her boys grow up.

I knew what I wanted the painting to look like.  The image was in my minds eye, firm and clear.  Much photographed as Diana was, there were few published pictures that were usable for my purposes.  Most had a definite paparazzi character, or were so very posed, all teeth and tiara!  The best, like Mario Testinos shoot for Vanity Fair, were an intensely personal artistic statement.  So I used various photographs taken over the years, updating them to match my minds image of the painting, and watched video footage from interviews and other appearances.

Deep, deep blue for the background, no jewelry, simple, unadorned, smiling, tender, generous, wounded, healing, filled with love for her boys - those were the images I wanted. The painting took shape quickly, and, when completed, it was cradled in a simple gold leaf frame.  Friends were moved by it as an extraordinary and unexpected image of Diana.  

Days from finishing, I happened to watch Elton John on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  I was touched by Elton's candour about his alcoholism and recovery, and his love for Diana, so I immediately decided to give him my painting.  He needed it.

But how? 

I thought of Bill Reid, a music promoter whom I knew.  Bill was handling arrangements for Eltons Virginia Beach concert on October 11, 1997, so I called and told him what Id like to do.  I can get your painting into Eltons dressing room, with a letter from you, he said. 


My young friend Mark Wooddy and I delivered the painting and the letter on Saturday afternoon to Bill on the Amphitheater back lot.  Business done, we enjoyed the concert from a vantage point high above the stage on what was an especially beautiful and starry warm early fall evening.  It was magnificent.

Three days after the concert, I got a note in the mail.  The postmark was Atlanta.  Inside was a note card, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Matisses  Le Destin on the cover. 

Handwritten in blue felt tip:


11 October 97

Dear Louis,

Thank you so much for the beautiful portrait of Princess Diana - it really is extremely good.  I am going to take the canvas on tour with me, so that I can look at it every night before I go on stage.  Then, the portrait will be sent to my home in England.  You are a very kind man and the gift is much appreciated.

Much love, Elton J.

He must have written me the night of the concert, when he got home to Atlanta.  I was thrilled.

Backstage at a concert a year later, Elton told me he had taken the painting on his entire Big Picture Tour.  It was with him, in his dressing room, before every concert, everywhere he went.  Ted Oliver, writing in The Mirror (London, England 5/29/1998), put it this way, At every show of Elton Johns hectic worldwide schedule, he carries his own personal shrine dedicated to Princess Diana.  This year the rock superstar has 200 performances lined up during his world tour and before and after each, he gazes at the portrait of the Princess that accompanies him everywhere. . . There on the wall of his living tent hung the portrait that rarely leaves his side when he is on the road.  In the gold-framed painting, Diana is looking straight out, wearing a deep V-necked black dress and looking at her most beautiful and relaxed.

Eltons taking the painting with him on his concert tour is an enormous compliment, which I cherish.  My point was simply to help Elton grieve his friend, and Im happy I found a way to do that.
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