The True Story Behind Princess Diana’s Famous Dance with John Travolta

Although it made for some iconic images, it turns out John Travolta wasn't the dance partner Princess Diana had her eyes on that night.

Photos from the evening of Nov. 9, 1985, couldn’t look any more like a Cinderella fairytale. Except in this real-life fairytale, the White House was the castle and the ball was hosted by President Ronald Reagan, starring actor John Travolta and Princess Diana.

As the clock struck midnight, the 24-year-old princess felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around and standing before her was heartthrob movie star John Travolta, 31, famously known for his roles as greaser Danny Zuko in Grease and Tony Manero in the 1977 disco film, Saturday Night Fever. But it was Travolta who was starstruck. He even needed a little nudge from First Lady Nancy Reagan for the courage to ask Diana for a dance.

“I didn’t know or expect to dance with Princess Diana,” Travolta told the Dutch TV station Één. “It was the president’s wife, Nancy Reagan, that said, ‘It is her wish.’” He recalled the princess dipping her head in a “Lady Diana way” and she gave him her hand in acquiescence. The pair twirled on the dance floor for 15 blissful minutes to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It was a night he would “never forget.”

Little did Travolta know that the entire dance was orchestrated by the Reagans for a press photo op, according to Diana’s butler and close friend Paul Burrell in the documentary The Last 100 Days of Diana. In fact, Diana had her sights set on a different dance partner—ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. “She said, ‘I didn’t really want to dance with him though. I wanted to dance with Mikhail Baryshnikov because he is my hero,’” Burrell recalled to filmmakers.

And yet, their dance wasn’t the only star of the night. Once again, a dress of Diana’s went down in fashion history as iconic. Her off-the-shoulder, midnight blue, mermaid-style gown was even dubbed the “Travolta dress.” It sold at an auction for more than $309,000.

Next, check out 13 times Princess Diana’s body language told the whole story.

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