Princess Diana’s former dance partner has revealed the surprising way the royal would take a break from everyday life.
On 26 February, choreographer Wayne Sleep appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions where he spoke about his friendship with Diana, and how the two struck up a bond during their secret rehearsals.
The 74-year-old British dancer famously performed a routine to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” alongside the Princess of Wales at the Royal Opera House to celebrate her husband King Charles III’ 37th birthday in 1985. It all began when the princess approached Sleep to perform a dance routine with her as part of a charity gala for the Friends of Covent Garden and the Royal Ballet.
Sleep, who was senior principal dancer at the Royal Ballet at the time, was initially weary about the performance considering their significant height difference. He’s only 5ft 2in and Diana was nearly eight inches taller. Height aside, the two quickly got along due to their similar sense of humour. Wayne even recalled how Diana called him a “naughty boy” after he admitted to having a “very late night” during their first meeting.
The professional dancer then described the lengths they went to keep their performance a secret.
“We kept it a secret by going to different venues all the time and a lot of it was done over the phone, because I’d be away and she’d be away,” Sleep told host Michael Berkeley. “I don’t think Charles even knew about it.”
Although Diana’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Beckwith-Smith, and Sleep’s dance coach, Alan, were in on the surprise, nobody was allowed in the studio except for himself and Diana. Those who knew about the performance expressed their concerns, but Sleep explained that Diana had a natural talent for dancing since she had studied ballet as a child.
The two even kept in touch after their performance at the Royal Opera House.
“Whenever we saw each other again, the shoes came off at my flat, she’d do the dishes. It would be fun and we’d giggle,” Sleep gushed. “I think she didn’t come to me so much for the serious part that was going on in her life at the time, and things were moving so fast there; I think she just came to me for a break.”
The infamous “Uptown Girl” dance was depicted in season four of the Netflix drama series, The Crown. In the series, King Charles III and Princess Diana are played by Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin, respectively, with actor Jay Webb portraying Wayne Sleep during the surprise performance at the Royal Opera House.
Episode nine of season four – which focuses on the dissolution of Charles and Diana’s marriage – opens with the former couple attending the ballet gala on Charles’ birthday. Towards the end of the ballet, Diana sneaks away only to appear on stage during the encore, much to Charles’s shock. The episode shows Charles expressing his disgust at the surprise.
While The Crown has drawn criticism for its fictional depiction of the royal family, royal expert Richard Kay claimed the “Uptown Girl” routine was a “present that backfired” in the documentary, Princess Diana: The Woman Inside.