It’s 1985. Prince Charles and Princess Diana have been married close to five years. He’s 37; she’s 24. They have two young and healthy sons. Charles and Di have everything. They are rich and famous and, by all rights, should be happy. They seem happy in most photos. But they are not. Their marriage is in trouble but it will be another 11 years before it crashes for good.
It’s December – Christmastime – and the two of them are out on the town together in London. It’s a special night. They are seated at the Royal Box at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. It’s a VIP evening for “Friends of Covent Garden,” composed of skits and entertainment for special patrons. Silly things happen at this event – dancers sing, singers dance, and, occasionally, a celebrity might turn up on stage unexpectedly and wow the audience. Just the previous year, matter of fact, Charles and Di had done that very thing. They had performed a skit together – as Romeo and Juliet – and the Prince had sung an ad jingle, “Just One Cornetto.”
Back to December 1985. The show is drawing to a close. Imagine Charles’s surprise when, just two numbers before the end of the show, Diana slips from the Royal Box and, minutes later, emerges on stage. She is going to perform! She wears a slinky white dress and begins dancing seductively to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”
She’s been living in her uptown world
I bet she’s never had a backstreet guy
I bet her mama never told her why
Diana – at 5’10” – towers over her dance partner, Wayne Sleep. At 5’2″, Sleep is the shortest dancer ever admitted into the Royal Ballet School. He recalled his pas de deux with the princess that night:
The Prince nearly fell out of his chair, especially when [Diana] did the kicks over my head….I was worried she’d fall apart under the spotlight, but she totally carried it off. Not many people could handle being under such scrutiny in front of an insiderly audience on that huge Covent Garden stage. She showed natural star quality.” (1)
Everyone – except Charles – is thrilled by Diana’s performance. She receives a standing ovation and eight curtain calls. At a reception afterwards, Sleep recalled that Charles was aloof, making it embarrassingly clear that he disapproved of Diana’s performance (or was he just plain jealous because he wasn’t asked to participate?). Diana had rehearsed for weeks in secret and was performing just to please Charles. Again, her efforts fall short. Of course, we know now why she couldn’t please him. He didn’t need her. He had Camilla.
Where did Diana get the personal courage to perform a seductive dance in front of 2,600 people? Well, thank Nancy Reagan for giving Di the opportunity to shine at something she was good at. Just a month before, Diana had danced with John Travolta (at Nancy’s request) at a gala White House dinner given by the Reagans, dazzling Washington and the world with her youthful beauty, dancing grace, and sex appeal.
By the time she returned to London, everyone was abuzz with Diana’s splashy American visit:
The Princess of Wales had become a walking monument – British opinion polls said she was the country’s greatest tourist attraction….One national survey calculated that from 1983-1985, she had generated $66.6 million in revenue from magazines, books, and tourists.” (2)
“Shy Di looking up through the eyelashes” had gone off to America but Confident Di had returned in her place. She made Buckingham Palace nervous – and with good reason. It could no longer control her.
(1) Brown, Tina. The Diana Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, 2007.
(2) Kelley, Kitty. The Royals. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1997.
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