Daily Mirror © 2000 London 4/30/00

SIR Elton John has stolen a march on the rest of the nation - by building a chapel to honour the late Princess Diana.

While Buckingham Palace and the Government have dithered, the superstar has erected a his own private place of remembrance in the garden of his magnificent Windsor mansion, Woodside.

I'm told the Rocket Man has spent tens of thousands of pounds converting Woodside's orangery, a giant conservatory at the start of his estate's sweeping driveway.

The 18th Century orangery had already undergone several improvements, most recently to turn it into a home for Elton's beloved gran Ivy Sewell.

But her death at the age of 93, four years ago, left Elton free to convert it into something more personal, his own private retreat.

News of the project came after Elizabeth Lambert, from the upmarket Architectural Digest, was invited to write an extensive feature on Elton's homes in London; Atlanta; Georgia and Nice, in France.

One of the first to be shown round the orangery, she says: "It is a retreat. No telephones, no television and only classical music. There's a library for writing letters and a gilded salon for champagne before dinner."

But it's the chapel that will most strike a chord with the singer's legions of fans.

Lambert says: "It was built to honour people close to him who have died - Versace, Princess Diana and John's much-loved grandmother, who had a cozy apartment in the orangery in the last few years of her life."

Elton's life was rocked by tragedy three years ago when he lost two of his closest and most inspirational friends. Flamboyant designer Gianni Versace was gunned down outside his Miami home, then Princess Diana died in a Paris motor accident.

Elton, 54, dealt with the second of those traumas publicly in a remarkable fashion. He gave the most memorable performance of his life singing a special version of his Candle In The Wind, dedicated to Diana's memory.

But the chapel is more private affair. No pictures of it are published and I don't expect we'll ever see any. Last night Earl Spencer told me: "I am delighted that Sir Elton wants to remember my sister in this way."