The True Story of Diana’s Uptown Girl Dance with Wayne Sleep


Princess Diana’s renegade performance of “Uptown Girl” for a shocked opera audience (and a very dismayed and mortified Prince Charles) was a killer plot point in the ninth episode of The Crown’s fourth season. But while it makes for intoxicating television, how did the 1985 event play out in reality?

As it happens, Diana’s pas de deux with professional dancer Wayne Sleep at the Royal Opera House was very much taken from real life, and it provoked same shocked reactions from the crowd and, in particular, Charles. Read on for details on the true story.

Who was Diana’s partner?

Long a dancer, Diana approached Wayne Sleep, a member of the Royal Ballet, years earlier to see if he could offer her lessons. His schedule didn’t allow him to say yes at the time, but after, she hatched the idea to dance during an annual performance for the Friends of Covent Garden held at the Royal Opera House.

When Sleep entered the Royal Ballet School, he was, at 5’2”, the shortest male dancer in its history. His untraditional form allowed him to play unorthodox parts, and many top choreographers create roles for him. After leaving the Royal Ballet, Sleep moved over to musical theater, where he originated the role of Mister Mistoffelees in Cats on the West End. In 1973, he set a world record for doing the fastest entrechat douze, a jump that requires twelve beats of the feet.

sleep in les patineurs

A young Wayne Sleep dancing in 1966.

David CairnsGetty Images

“She’d seen a lot of my work in Covent Garden. Well you could say she was a fan I suppose. She rang me and said, ‘I want to dance with you at Covent Garden this Christmas for the big Christmas gala party that they do as a thank you to all the supporters of the opera house,’” Sleep said on Celebrity Big Brother in 2018. “I met her and I think she was in the headband and the leg warmers, the leotard and the tights. She said, ‘I want to do a number with you to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.”‘ I choreographed a three-minute number for her and she kept it a surprise for her husband for Christmas.”

What was the performance like?

Sleep recalled the big night in a 2017 piece in The Guardian. “On the night, I was first on stage. There was a big round of applause and I thought, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet,’” he said. “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.”

emma corrin as princess diana and jay webb as wayne sleep in the crown season 4

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Jay Webb as Wayne Sleep in The Crown season 4.

Netflix

He believed her to be a true dancer at heart and said she was very pleased with the show. “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.’

Sleep described the full performance in the CBS documentary Princess Diana: Her Life, Her Death, Her Truth.

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What did Charles think?

charles and diana unhappy

Tim GrahamGetty Images

Much as we saw in the series, the surprise performance, which was meant as a present of sorts for the Prince, did not please him. “It was a present which slightly backfired,” said writer Richard Kay. “She did it as a tribute to Charles. Charles wasn’t terribly impressed. He thought she was showing off.”

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