Posts Tagged ‘Billy Joel’

May 6 1985: Princess Diana, Prince Charles and their sons Harry and William on board royal yacht Britannia in Venice.

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.

Princess Diana arrives at the Royal Opera House, London. Dec. 1985

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.” 

Princess Diana and Wayne Sleep dance to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" at Covent Garden, December 1985.

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.

John Travolta and Princess Diana dance in the East Room of the White House, November 1986. Standing up to welcome Prince Charles and Princess Diana, President Reagan, in after-dinner remarks, flubbed the princess's name. Standing up in welcome, the president offered a toast to Prince Charles and "his lovely lady, Princess David."

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.

Readers: For more on Princess Diana and the British Royal Family, click here.

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One of the millions of starving Ethiopians during the Famine of 1984-85

One of the millions of starving Ethiopians during the Famine of 1984-85

In 1985, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote a song that ended up making music history. The single, “We are the World,” was recorded to raise money to fight famine in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, where a 20 year-old civil war raged. As a result of drought and poor harvests, millions of Ethiopians were starving and suffering from disease while their Marxist government spent money on weapons, money that had been intended for food and medicine.

Following Bob Geldof‘s example of Live Aid in Great Britain, Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen decided to organize an American fundraiser to help out the Ethiopian citizens. Originally, a charity concert was planned, but it was decided that a single recording would bring in more money. Quincy Jones agreed to produce. Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie collaborated on the  song.

Jones contacted 45 musicians for the marathon overnight recording session. The supergroup was billed as “U.S.A.” for Africa and was assembled the night of the American Music Awards. Michael Jackson skipped the awards ceremony to record the chorus as a guide for the other musicians.

Getting two artists together in a sound studio would have been a small feat, but 45? Quincy Jones sent a memo to each artist to check their egos at the door.

We_Are_the_World_alternative_coverJones worked out which singers would perform which lyrics, studying recordings of each of the selected singers to decide which would work well with each other. He paired Billy Joel with Tina Turner, Willie Nelson with Dionne Warwick, and Michael Jackson with Prince, who was a no-show. (Prince called in the middle of the session to volunteer a guitar solo but the offer was declined. Prince did, however, contribute a solo recording for the album.) (1)

When released as a single, “We Are The World, ” rose rapidly to the top of the charts, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 17, 1985, and remaining there for four weeks. It immediately sold out its initial shipment of 800,000 copies, and sales reached 1.5 million shortly afterwards. It proved the power of pop culture to make a positive change in the world and set off a wave of charity projects by other noted celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Sharon Stone, Bruce Springsteen, and Willie Nelson.

Here are the lyrics for the chorus of “We Are the World”:

We Are The World –

We are the world, We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day
Just you and me

Words and Music by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

Click here for the list of all artists who made up U.S.A. for Africa.

Now view the clip. It’s a moving experience:

(1) “We Are The World,” wikipedia. 


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