John Travolta recalls ‘magical moment’ he asked Princess Diana to dance

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Ree Hines
·4 min read
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It’s an iconic moment in pop culture history that couldn’t have been scripted any better for the big screen — a handsome, A-list actor, well known for his dance moves, took a real-life princess for a spin in the White House.

The fact that we’re still discussing the dance John Travolta shared with the late Princess Diana in 1985 speaks to just how special it was, and not just for fans and royal watchers.

Even the “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease” star knew it was a “magical moment" to remember as it happened.

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 Related: Travolta, 67, explained that he had struggled to cope with other people's grief after losing his wife.

"There must be a reason to do this, and I better give it my all ..." According to the 67-year-old, who spoke to Esquire Spain about the event, that’s what was going through his head before he invited the woman known as the People’s Princess to dance with him. He said it was a “great privilege and honor,” but it wasn’t simple.

“This meant guiding the dance well and trying to have fun,” he recalled. “That was the easy part, but introducing myself to Diana in the proper way, conveying confidence, and asking her to be my dance partner was a complicated mission.”

After all, in 1985, Diana was at the height of her fame. She’d been married to Britain’s heir apparent, Prince Charles, for four years and had just given birth to their second son, Prince Harry, one year earlier. And the appearance at the White House that November marked the Prince and Princess of Wales’ first joint visit to the United States.

“Think of the moment,” Travolta said. “We are in the White House. It's midnight. The whole scene is like a dream. I go up to her, touch her on the shoulder, ask her to dance. She turns around and when she sees me, she displays that captivating smile, somewhat sad, and accepts my invitation.”

And what followed exceeded his already-high expectations.

Princess Diana dances with John Travolta in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, D.C at a Dinner for Prince Charles and Princess Diana of the United Kingdom on November 9, 1985 Mandatory (Alamy)
Princess Diana dances with John Travolta in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, D.C at a Dinner for Prince Charles and Princess Diana of the United Kingdom on November 9, 1985 Mandatory (Alamy)

“There we were, dancing together like in a fairy tale,” he continued. “Who could imagine that something like this is going to happen to you one day? I was smart enough to register it in my memory as a very special, magical moment.”

And an enduring one.

The dance brought out a beaming smile in Diana, who often wore the “somewhat sad” expression Travolta noted, and for the celebrity-loving public, it provided a picture-perfect memory of the then-24-year-old royal happily twirling around the White House’s Entrance Hall in a stunning, midnight-blue gown.

Image: FILES-BRITAIN-ROYALS-FASHION-AUCTION (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: FILES-BRITAIN-ROYALS-FASHION-AUCTION (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images)

In fact, the gown itself, a floor-length velvet design by Victor Edelstein, is so associated with that dance that it’s gone on to become a valuable treasure that’s been auctioned off more than once since then. The most recent sale, in 2019, saw the dress reportedly fetch more than $340,000.

 Related: The gown was last sold in 1997 for $222,500.

Travolta's walk down memory lane with Esquire Spain prompted another man to comment on the D.C. dance — former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza, who took the photos on that unforgettable night so long ago.

"I made this photograph more than 35 years ago, but remember the moment as if it were yesterday," the photojournalist wrote alongside one shot. "Apparently, John Travolta does too."

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After quoting the actor's interview, Souza noted, "The occasion was a black-tie dinner at the White House on November 9, 1985 in honor of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It is often referred to as a 'state dinner' but since Prince Charles was not a head of state, it was not in fact a state dinner (though it certainly had all the trappings of one).⁣"

Souza went on to mention that Travolta and Diana danced to a military band which played a medley of music from Travolta's film, "Saturday Night Fever." He also explained that Travolta wasn't the only famous face to join the princess on the dance floor.

 Related: Photographer Arthur Edwards recalled taking the famous photo where the sun, backlighting Diana, revealed her bare legs through her skirt.

"Diana also danced that night with President Reagan, Tom Selleck, Clint Eastwood and Neil Diamond," he explained.

The one man she didn't dance with, according to Souza, was Charles.⁣