Season four of The Crown features an extraordinary sequence in which Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) dances with ballet star Wayne Sleep (Jay Webb) on stage, wowing the crowd with a performance set to Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl.
As we dive into the history behind the Netflix show, here’s the story of what really happened:
Did Diana really dance to Uptown Girl?
Yes! Princess Diana did surprise Prince Charles by performing a special routine to the song Uptown Girl alongside ballet dancer Wayne Sleep – although it doesn’t seem to have been intended as a birthday present to her husband, being around a month after his actual birthday.
The occasion was a private event at the Royal Opera House in December 1985 for a select group of VIPs, the Friends of Covent Garden. It was an annual event, featuring skits and entertainment; there was also often a surprise performance from a celebrity guest. But who could have expected Princess Diana to step out onto the stage?
Certainly not Prince Charles. For weeks, Diana had been rehearsing in secret with Wayne Sleep, a physically short and immensely talented member of the Royal Ballet. She had approached Sleep herself to arrange the stunt.
Years later, Sleep wrote in The Guardian: “Charles was going to be in the audience and she wanted to surprise him; it was all top secret. We met in a rehearsal studio in west London. She was in leg-warmers and a leotard. My first thought was, she’s too tall to dance with me, I’ll be a laughing stock: I’m 5ft 2in and she’s 5ft 11in. But I soon realised she had a good sense of humour, and that we could have some fun with our height difference. She’d already decided on the music: Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl.”
On the night, Diana made her excuses and slipped out of the royal box. Two numbers later, she emerged in costume.
Sleep recalled: “The audience gasped when Diana appeared, as if they’d all taken one huge breath. The routine had a bit of everything: jazz, ballet, even a kickline. At one point, I pirouetted and she pushed me down; then I carried her across the stage. I remember thinking, ‘Don’t drop the future Queen of England.’ She loved it, but was most thrilled we’d kept it secret from Charles, and our rehearsals away from the paparazzi.
“She loved the freedom dancing gave her. A few days later, I got a letter. She wrote: ‘Now I understand the buzz you get from performing.'”
Was Charles angry?
Apparently so! In her biography The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown writes: “Diana received a standing ovation and eight curtain calls – except from her husband. She had played all her moves to Charles up in the royal box. But afterwards, when she and Sleep joined the Prince for a small reception, he behaved coolly, even distantly. It was embarrassingly clear that he had not been ravished by the spectacle of his wife en pointe.”
While his response was interpreted as “frigid disapproval of Diana’s lapse in royal etiquette,” Brown writes, it may have actually been more complicated. Sleep told her that he believed Charles was offended at having been left out; the previous year, husband and wife had actually performed a skit together.
Did Diana film herself singing for Charles for their anniversary?
This question is a little tricker to answer. But Tina Brown claims that Diana tried to win him over several times by dancing, including an unsuccessful striptease – so it’s not out of the question that this happened.
What was the public reaction to the dance?
The public didn’t actually see pictures at the time, and there is no footage of the dance. But a decade later, in 1995, pictures of the dance – taken by the Royal Opera House’s own photographer – appeared in the newspapers for the first time.
Sleep believes that this actually ended his friendship with Diana, which had consisted of meeting up for dinners and exchanging silly postcards. He wrote: “No one knows for sure how they got hold of them [the pictures]. Diana got suspicious – by then, she didn’t know who to trust any more – and we drifted apart.”
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