In a scene reminiscent of a fairy tale ball, an English princess and a heartthrob American actor danced the night away in front of a celebrity audience which included the President and First Lady of the United States.
The date was 9th November 1985, when Lady Diana met John Travolta on the dance floor at a gala dinner and ball at the White House, hosted by the then-President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Although it seemed like an impromptu invitation, there was a lot going on behind the scenes that only a handful of royal and presidential insiders knew of. In fact, when Princess Di danced with John Travolta, the spectacle had reportedly been orchestrated as a publicity stunt.
Princess Diana and Travolta moved in different circles and weren’t friends before their twirl around the dance floor at the White House. She was visiting the US with her husband, Prince Charles, when they were invited to the state dinner by President Reagan. Travolta was at the height of his Hollywood fame and was also invited to the same event.
Rather than the dashing actor voluntarily approaching the princess and sweeping her off her feet with the words, “Would you care to dance?” he had been told to do so by Nancy Reagan. Travolta was told it was the princess’s wish that he danced with her.
It was revealed later that he wasn’t Diana’s first choice as a dance partner and instead, she had hoped to trip the light fantastic with ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, described as her “hero”!
Royal butler Paul Burrell, in a documentary released after her death, The Last 100 Days of Diana, revealed the Reagans had orchestrated the whole dance as a publicity stunt, but set the scene by telling Travolta that the princess really wanted to dance with him.
Travolta remained a gentleman, even on hearing the news that his presence hadn’t really given the princess Saturday night fever. He said of the experience, “I’ll never forget it.”
It was well-documented that Princess Diana loved to dance and she had taken lessons with the famous ballet dancer, Wayne Sleep, in the early 1980s. She had even appeared on-stage with him at the Royal Opera House in December 1985, in a famous duet at a private show for friends and supporters of the Royal Ballet. Her appearance on this occasion caused a massive gasp of surprise to ripple around the audience.
The princess was a graceful dancer and was more than able to hold her own when partnering Travolta, with the eyes of the world upon them. The glamorous Victor Edelstein dress that Diana wore for the occasion later became the most expensive gown ever sold at auction, when it fetched an amazing £240,000. The buyer was an anonymous British gent, who bought it for his wife – that was one lucky lady!
The dance routine caused a media sensation around the world, with the iconic pictures of the dancing couple appearing in newspapers all over the globe and the many fans of Princess Di saying that she had upstaged Travolta, who was a professional dancer as well as an actor.
The couple weren’t thought to have met again after their show-stopping dance routine. Travolta has spoken of it many times since and has called it “one of the highlights” of his long career.
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