'The Crown' Left Out A Lot About Princess Diana's Real Dance to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl"

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When Princess Diana (played by Emma Corrin) steps out in a silky slip and starts dancing her heart out to "Uptown Girl" in Season 4 of The Crown, viewers may quickly assume Peter Morgan's Netflix series has jumped the shark. But despite the apparent implausibility of a future queen publicly performing to Billy Joel, the moment very much happened in real life. 

British dancer Wayne Sleep has spoken extensively about planning a secret duet with the Princess of Wales to surprise her husband Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) for his birthday in 1985. 

Diana had first approached Sleep in the early '80s about receiving dance lessons, but her busy schedule of engagements curtailed that possibility. Later, she asked for his help in creating this particular number for a private show benefiting the Royal Ballet at London's Royal Opera House. 

Photo credit: Princess Diana Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Princess Diana Archive - Getty Images

"My first thought was, she’s too tall to dance with me," Sleep said in The Guardian. (At 5 feet and 11 inches, Diana towered over the 5-foot, 2-inch ballet dancer.) "But I soon realised she had a good sense of humour, and that we could have some fun with our height difference."

Sleep came up with the moves — including bits of jazz, ballet and even a kickline — but the music choice came from the princess. "Uptown Girl" had reached number one in the United Kingdom in 1983 and staying atop the charts for five whole weeks, making it second biggest-selling single of the year. The lyrics present an especially interesting parallel to Diana's royal troubles and affairs. (She was certainly living in an "uptown world," no?)

While sadly no video exists of this undoubtedly memorable performance, several photos do. See the snaps and some of some of the moves recreated by Sleep in the CBS clip below. 

At one point, Sleep even carried Diana across the stage. "I remember thinking, 'Don’t drop the future Queen of England,'" he recalled. 

After the music faded, he reportedly told her, "You have to bow to the royal box," meaning toward Charles. Her response, apparently: "I’m not bowing to him. He’s my hubby."

The reaction to their duet mirrors almost exactly what happened in The Crown, with Diana receiving thundering applause from the audience and glowering disappointment from Charles.

"Afterward, when she and Sleep joined the Prince for a small reception, he behaved coolly, even distantly," biographer Tina Brown wrote in The Diana Chronicles. "It was embarrassingly clear that he had not been ravished by the spectacle of his wife en pointe. His disappointing response, when it leaked, was interpreted as frigid disapproval of Diana’s lapse in royal etiquette."

Photo credit: Anwar Hussein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anwar Hussein - Getty Images

Despite the prince's negative response, Diana loved performing, even from a young age. Like this season of The Crown shows, dance served a source of joy throughout her life. While attending West Heath Girls' School in the '70s, she studied ballet and tap dancing. She also worked as a children's dance instructor before taking on a role as a kindergarten assistant. 

After becoming a member of the royal family, she became the patron of the London City Ballet and took several other notable turns on the dance floor. In fact, "Uptown Girl" wasn't even her only famous performance in 1985. She memorably waltzed with President Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, and John Travolta at the White House that year. 

"She loved the freedom dancing gave her," Sleep says. "A few days [after our performance], I got a letter. She wrote, 'Now I understand the buzz you get from performing.'"

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