The Craziest Princess Diana Scenes in ‘The Crown’ Season 4 Actually Happened
Inside what really happened when Princess Diana danced to Billy Joel and sang a song from “Phantom of the Opera” for her husband Prince Charles, who very much wanted none of it.
The Crown is so good that it seduces audiences into thinking that it is documentary. That power has recently irked the actual crown, with The Daily Beast reporting on the royal family’s apparent dismay with creative liberties the Netflix series has taken in the name of great television in the newly-released Season 4, which, much to fans’ delight, finally introduces Princess Diana to the equation.
But while Buckingham Palace is up in arms about scenes that were, according to The Crown creator Peter Morgan himself, “made up,” the most cringe-inducing sequences from the season, scenes so bonkers you’d only assume they were invented for TV, really did happen. Yep, Princess Diana did that Billy Joel dance. The Phantom of the Opera song? Apparently, that happened, too.
The penultimate episode of The Crown’s new season features a surreal surprise: Emma Corrin, who plays Diana in the series, performs a dance set to “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel at a very public ballet performance as a gift for her toxic, gaslighting husband. (That would be Prince Charles, played by Josh O’Connor.)
The season has no shortage of sequences causing second-hand embarrassment so intense your soul itches to escape your skin—the parlor game with Margaret Thatcher or Diana meeting Charles while in a nymph costume, for starters—but this is the one that takes the cake. As the series portrays it, it did a number on Charles’ distaste for his wife, too.
In the episode, at a time when Charles’ ego was sore that his wife was soaking up the public’s goodwill and attention, the couple attended an event at the Royal Opera House in 1985. Near the end of the performance, Diana excused herself from their box, only to appear on stage dancing a choreographed routine set to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl,” a narcissistic gift for her husband.
He was livid, as is played out in the show’s subsequent limo scene, in which Charles reams her out for embarrassing him. It’s one of the most uncomfortable scenes from the season to watch.
Fun fact: it was real!
According to the British tabloid The Sun, Diana took daily dance lessons to pull off the Christmas surprise. The dancer she performed with, Wayne Sleep, has also talked at length about the experience over the years.
The stunt was Diana’s own idea, down to the choice of music.
The routine was gimmicky on purpose. Sleep was 5-f00t-2 and Diana was just shy of 6 foot, without heels. He would pirouette, she would kick her leg over him and push him down. It ended in a kick line. “The audience gasped when Diana appeared, as if they’d all taken one huge breath,” he said.
Within hours of the performance, photos of her on stage were splashed on the front page of every British paper. The night was supposed to be in honor of her husband, and her siphoning off of attention didn’t sit well, both according to The Crown and reports at the time.
Says royal expert Richard Kay, “It was a present which slightly backfired. She did it as a tribute to Charles. Charles wasn’t terribly impressed. He thought she was showing off.” In the episode of The Crown, Charles berates her in the car on the way home for humiliating him, and chooses to spend the night apart from her in their country house (near Camilla Parker-Bowles, eyes emoji) instead of their London home.
After it was over, and despite Charles’ distaste for the whole thing, Sleep says Diana wrote him a letter, saying, “Now I understand the buzz you get from performing.”
You can even watch Sleep relive second-by-second and step-by-step the moment in the CBS 48 Hours special, Princess Diana: Her Life, Her Death, Her Truth. “They wouldn’t stop, eight curtain calls later, and I said, ‘You have to bow to the royal box,’” Sleep remembers. “And she said, ‘I’m not bowing to him. He’s my hubby!’”
Sleep would go on to appear on Celebrity Big Brother, during which he, naturally, spoke about the experience. In 2017, he told The Guardian, “I remember thinking, ‘Don’t drop the future Queen of England.’” Apparently, the fact that all of it was a secret from Charles is what thrilled her the most.
But if you’ve seen the new season of The Crown, you know that the Billy Joel performance is but an appetizer. It’s the subsequent videotape gift of Diana singing a song from The Phantom of the Opera in costume on the show’s West End stage that really makes you scream. Especially since it was a gift to Charles that was supposed to make up for the trauma of the Royal Ballet dance gift, an epic misreading of circumstances.
There’s less publicly available about the video—log it alongside the pee tape in the annals of legendary video history—but, according to several reports, this actually happened, too.
As it plays out on The Crown, while you scream to yourself because you can’t believe what a misread of the situation it is, Diana attempts to make up for the Royal Ballet embarrassment that so pissed off Charles by gifting him an anniversary present of herself singing “All I Ask of You”—in full Christine Daae costume—from the actual West End stage with the actual Phantom orchestra backing her up.
His reaction, later relayed to his sister Anne on the show: “It was monstrous! A video of Diana singing some dreadful song in some dreadful musical. Phantom of the Opera, imagine!”
A Washington Post column from 1988, which was surfaced by Vulture, reports that Diana rented out the theater to record the performance, enlisting the show’s choreographer and its composer in the endeavor. “Diana didn't settle for second best. The show’s composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was there to oversee her performance.”
Because there is no public record of this, like there is the “Uptown Girl” performance, what really went down is hearsay.
The Crown’s head of research, Annie Sulzberger, told Vogue, “Diana went to the West End, had the set [to herself] and we know Andrew Lloyd Webber was there, but no one knew exactly what she did because no one’s seen [the video]. We don’t know if she danced, mimed or sang the song. We thought, ‘What would have the most impact for us?’ Emma [Corrin, who plays Diana] has a lovely singing voice so we couldn’t pass up that opportunity. We had wriggle room to be creative with it.”
In a bit of art imitating life, however, The Crown’s producers confirmed that to film the scene, Emma Corrin did go to the West End theater where Phantom of the Opera was playing, did wear the actual Christine costume, and really sang “All I Ask of You,” backed by the show’s full orchestra.