Who is Wayne Sleep? Princess Diana's secret dance partner who performed at the Royal Opera House

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5-min read
BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Wayne Sleep is evicted during the 2018 Celebrity Big Brother Final at Elstree Studios on February 2, 2018 in Borehamwood, England.  (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
Wayne Sleep during the 2018 Celebrity Big Brother Final. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

Season four of The Crown will bring a story too good to be true to the small screen.

In the penultimate episode of the season, Diana will surprise her husband Prince Charles on his birthday by dancing to Uptown Girl with Wayne Sleep, at the time one of Britain’s most famous dancers.

While it’s not something we can imagine Kate or Meghan doing now, the performance really did happen, but it wasn’t a birthday present for Charles – it was a surprise at Christmas.

The exact nature of Charles’ reaction isn’t completely clear.

Who is Wayne Sleep?

Sleep was born in 1948 in Devon, and studied tap and jazz as a child.

His mother was musical, and Sleep says her own talent went “by the wayside” because she raised him alone, after learning Sleep’s father was married to someone else.

Speaking about his early dance life in 2014, Sleep said: “I didn’t want to be a ballet dancer: a boy, being a dancer, in 1952? I don’t think so! But the only thing you could go to in those days was dance. I waited two months for tap shoes from London and when they did arrive they were girl’s!”

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2019/04/29: Wayne Sleep on the red carpet at the Tolkien UK Premiere at the Curzon Mayfair. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Wayne Sleep on the red carpet in London in 2019. (Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images)

Sleep is 5ft 2in, and was the smallest dancer admitted into the Royal Ballet School. He struggled to get roles at first, but managed to forge a career with directors creating roles for him.

He starred in Cats, creating the character of Mr Mistoffelees with Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

Sleep has also appeared on television, and entered the Big Brother house in 2018. He’s also appeared on Come Dine With Me and I’m A Celebrity.

Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, attends Carnival of the Birds for the RSPB Charity, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Britain. Diana is introduced to the cast by dancer Wayne Sleep, who is dressed in the red leotard stage costume Picture taken 3rd November 1991. (Photo by Ken Lennnox/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Princess Diana, at the Carnival of the Birds for the RSPB Charity, Royal Opera House, with Wayne Sleep, who is dressed in a red leotard stage costume in 1991. (Ken Lennnox/Mirrorpix)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 15:  Diana, Princes Of Wales, Meeting Ballet Dancer Wayne Sleep At Sadler's Wells Theatre (exact Day Date Not Certain)  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Diana, meeting Wayne Sleep at Sadler's Wells Theatre. (Tim Graham Photo Library)

What has Wayne Sleep said about the dance?

Diana and Sleep’s dance to Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl happened on 23 December, 1985, at the Royal Opera House, during the annual charity gala for the Friends of Covent Garden.

It was common for members of the Royal Family to attend, and that year was no different, with Charles and Diana sitting in the audience.

That is, until Diana took her turn on the stage. The audience gasped in shock when she appeared with Sleep.

Recalling the moment in 2017, Sleep told the Guardian Diana had approached him to help with the dance, which she wanted to be a surprise.

He said: “My first thought was, she’s too tall to dance with me, I’ll be a laughing stock: I’m 5ft 2in and she’s 5ft 11in [Diana was actually 5ft 8in]. But I soon realised she had a good sense of humour, and that we could have some fun with our height difference.”

Sleep said one of his main thoughts throughout the dance was “don’t drop the future Queen of England”.

He said unlike the crowd reaction in The Crown, there was no wild cheering.

He told The Telegraph: “They wouldn’t have cheered because it wasn’t protocol. There was definitely an intake of breath, though, and we did have eight curtain calls.”

Diana sent the dancer a letter a few days after the performance, which said: “Now I understand the buzz you get from performing.”

The pair formed a friendship over the years, though Sleep admits they grew apart before her death.

Prince Charles’s reaction to the dance

In The Crown, Charles (Josh O’Connor) is furious with Diana for her turn on stage.

There are a few accounts of how the real life prince reacted to what happened.

In 2014, Sleep was asked what the Prince of Wales thought and replied “No comment” with his eyebrows arched, according to Devon Life.

PA NEWS PHOTO 29/4/98 Princess Margaret greets Wayne Sleep at a reception for the Arts at Windsor Castle tonight (Wednesday). Looking on are actor Michael Caine and actress Joan Collins   (Photo by Fiona Hanson - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Princess Margaret greets Wayne Sleep at a reception for the Arts at Windsor Castle in 1998. (Fiona Hanson/PA Images)

According to The Sun, royal expert Richard Kay said: “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 fact, it was incredibly courageous of her to go on stage at the home of English ballet at Covent Garden and to do a routine with the great Wayne Sleep."

Royal connections to the stage

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 12:  The Earl And  Countess Of Wessex [  Prince Edward And Sophie ] At A Celebration Gala At Sadler's Wells Theatre In London. The Countess And Ballet Dancer Wayne Sleep Are Laughing Together.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
The Earl and Countess of Wessex laughing with Wayne Sleep at a gala in London. (Tim Graham Photo Library)

As has already been explored in The Crown, Prince Charles was a keen actor in his university days, so he was no stranger to the stage.

According to biographer Tina Brown in The Diana Chronicles, Charles had performed with Diana at the same show in 1984.

She records that Charles had sung ‘just one cornetto’ to the tune of O Sole Mio which was in a popular advert at the time.

The Royal Family maintains tight links with the arts. The Queen is the patron of the Royal Ballet, and Prince Charles is patron of The Royal Opera and the Royal Opera House.

Watch: Will Meghan Markle be in The Crown?