The Christmas Gift from Princess Diana That Prince Charles Hated

She worked hard on his surprise, but her husband wasn't thrilled.

The royal family sure knows how to give a memorable Christmas gift. These days, their preferred presents are gag gifts—past presents have included a leather toilet seat cover for Prince Charles, an “ain’t life a b*tch” shower cap for Queen Elizabeth II, and a grow-your-own-girlfriend kit for Prince Harry. But in 1985, Princess Diana surprised her then-husband Prince Charles with an extra little surprise.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go over well.

Diana had taken ballet lessons as a child and always had a soft spot for the dance, continuing to take lessons and join in on English National Ballet rehearsals even after she was married, according to the documentary Diana: The Woman Inside. “I actually wanted to be a dancer, but I overshot the height by a long way,” Diana, who was 5’10,” said in an interview. “I couldn’t imagine some man trying to lift me up over his arms, but I do [dance] once a week if I can.” Here are 10 more facts you never knew about Princess Diana.

The People’s Princess decided to take her love of dance and turn it into a huge surprise, both for her husband and the world. So she called the English dancer Wayne Sleep and asked if they could dance to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” for an upcoming Christmas gala at Covent Garden. He came up with a three-minute routine, and the two started their top-secret rehearsals. Diana didn’t tell her husband what was going on, because she wanted the dance to be a tribute to him.

When the big night came, Diana slipped quietly out of her seat next to Charles, who was watching the stage and likely thought she was just running to the bathroom, Sleep told 48 Hours in 2017. Sleep danced solo for the intro, then Diana strutted on stage. When she turned to face the house, the audience gave a collective gasp. No one—not even Charles—saw that coming!

The duo’s tongue-in-cheek routine was a hit, with Diana playfully pushing Sleep down, the choreographer carrying the princess from one side of the stage to the other, and both showing off big kicks for the grand finale. Even then, the audience still couldn’t get enough—the dancers had eight curtain calls before giving their final bows. Don’t miss these 20 rarely seen photos of Princess Diana.

It might have been a surprise for Charles, but Diana almost refused to do one thing for him during their bows. “I said, ‘By the way, you’ve got to bow to the royal box,’” said Sleep on Celebrity Big Brother. “And she said, ‘I’m not bowing to him—he’s my hubby!’ And so I made her turn and bow, and as we ran off she went, ‘You won’t get your OBE [Order of the British Empire] that way.’” If you get a Christmas gift you don’t like, this is the proper etiquette for your reaction. 

The applause was endless from most of the audience, but the surprise “slightly backfired,” as Charles didn’t take too well to the fact that his wife performed in front of 2,000 people without telling him, says Daily Mail editor-at-large Richard Kay, who was friends with Diana. “Charles wasn’t terribly impressed, because he thought she was showing off,” Kay said in the documentary. “But in fact, it was incredibly courageous of her to go onstage.” Don’t miss these other 9 secrets no one knew about Princess Diana until after her death.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.