John Travolta recalls dancing the night away with Princess Diana: 'I was the Prince Charming of the evening'

You might think that ballroom dances between a charming prince and lovely princess are just the stuff of animated Disney movies. But John Travolta lived that experience off-screen almost 35 years ago, when he cut a rug with Princess Diana at a White House dinner in November 1985. At the time, Diana was still a new addition to the British royal family, having married Prince Charles four years prior. The two were on a tour of the U.S., and then-first lady Nancy Reagan organized an event in their honor. Travolta, meanwhile, had graduated from scene-stealer status on the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter and become a big-screen superstar thanks to hits like Saturday Night Fever and Grease, both of which established him as America’s leading dancing heartthrob.

It’s no wonder that the first lady decided to pair the two at the White House... although she didn’t prepare Travolta for his role. “I didn’t know until I got there that I was supposed to dance with her,” the actor reveals to Yahoo Entertainment. “[Princess Diana] kept that a secret when she met me. She didn’t know that Nancy Reagan hadn’t told me yet that this was the plan — that I was the Prince Charming of the evening.” (Watch our video interview above.)

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Princess Diana dances with John Travolta at the White House
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Princess Diana dances with John Travolta at the White House
American actor John Travolta twirls Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, on the dance floor while at a White House banquet. In the background, American President Ronald Reagan with wife Nancy. (Photo by jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 09: (FILE PHOTO) Diana, Princess Of Wales, watched by President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, dances with John Travolta at the White House, USA on November 9, 1985. Diana is wearing a midnight blue velvet dress by designer Victor Edelstein. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage) On July 1st Diana, Princess Of Wales would have celebrated her 50th Birthday Please refer to the following profile on Getty Images Archival for further imagery. http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Search/Search.aspx?EventId=107811125&EditorialProduct=Archival For further images see also: Princess Diana: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Account/MediaBin/LightboxDetail.aspx?Id=17267941&MediaBinUserId=5317233 Following Diana's Death: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Account/MediaBin/LightboxDetail.aspx?Id=18894787&MediaBinUserId=5317233 Princess Diana - A Style Icon: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Account/MediaBin/LightboxDetail.aspx?Id=18253159&MediaBinUserId=5317233
File Photo: Princess Diana on her visit to America and wearing an evening dress designed by Victor Edelstein, dances with movie star John Travolta in the White House on November 9, 1985. (Photo by © Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
John Travolta twirls Princess Diana on the dance floor while at a White House banquet. Ronald and Nancy Reagan can be seen in the background. (Photo by © Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
File photo: Princess Diana dances with actor John Travolta in a dress designed by Victor Edelstein, whilst attending a State Dinner at the White House. On the fifth anniversary of Princess Diana's death her loss is mourned by many people among them the fashion designers whose creations she wore with great style. (Photo by © Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 9: Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing an evening dress designed by Victor Edelstein, dances with movie star John Travolta at the White House during her visit to America on November 9, 1985 in Washington DC, U.S.A. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 09: Diana, Princess Of Wales, watched by President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, dances with John Travolta at the White House, USA on November 9, 1985. Diana is wearing a midnight blue velvet dress by designer Victor Edelstein. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana, Princess of Wales, visit Washington DC, Gala Dinner at the White House, John Travolta, 9th November 1985. (Photo by John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JUNE 22: Diana, Princess Of Wales's Dresses On Display At Christie's, New York, Prior To The Sale. The Blue Dress Was Designed By Fashion Designer Victor Edelstein. It Was The Dress In Which Diana Danced With John Travolta At The White House. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
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Of course, Travolta would never think of turning down a First Lady... or a princess for that matter. Taking the dance floor, his nerves initially got the better of him as images of Diana dancing with Charles at their wedding flooded his mind. “I was awestruck with her,” he admits now. “She led the way, and I thought: ‘Well, that’s not going to happen! I’ve got to go back to my school days of learning ballroom dancing and show that I can lead her.’”

Thinking back on that night some three decades later, Travolta’s memories have less to do with what he and Diana talked about — Clint Eastwood’s tardiness was one subject they discussed — and more about the charisma his dancing partner brought to every room. He also as a near-perfect recall of the black velvet dress she wore — a dress that, as it happens, is currently up for auction courtesy of the London-based Kerry Taylor Auctions. Diana’s dress is included amongst a “Passion for Fashion” collection of boutique ensembles, which are on display for viewing on Dec. 6 and 8, with bidding scheduled for Dec. 9. “It fit her beautifully,” Travolta recalls wistfully. “I could probably sketch it in my mind because it was so specific.”

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