Before Princess Diana entered into her “grotesque misalliance” with Prince Charles, she was just a 19-year-old who liked to party. In the new series of The Crown, we see the soon-to-be princess (played by Emma Corrin) out clubbing with her girlfriends and dancing on tables to Stevie Nicks. She may not have been following strict protocol from the palace, but it’s obvious she loved a royally good night out.
There have been many well-documented scenes of Diana on the dancefloor – especially in the Netflix series; ballroom dancing with Charles in Sydney, then throwing some shapes to Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl at the Royal Opera House – but all these pale in comparison to the story of a wild night out that Diana had with Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett and Cleo Rocos in the 80s.
It’s a story that’s now become embedded in urban legend. It first came to light in 2013, when in Rocos’ memoirs, ‘The Power of Positive Drinking’, she described a casual day in the lives of the biggest rock star on the planet, the Princess of Wales, a much-loved comedian and the actor, Rocos.
The group apparently spent the afternoon drinking Champagne and watching The Golden Girls – very Lockdown Two – dubbing their own “naughty dialogue” over the muted TV show.
By evening, the high jinks escalated, and the gang decided to go clubbing to the iconic gay cabaret bar, the Royal Vaxhaull Tavern in South London. Diana said that she was in “full mischief mode”, and Mercury agreed: “Go on, let the girl have some fun.”
But there was just the question of how Diana, one of the most well-known faces on the planet, could pass off unnoticed to the other clubbers. The answer: by making her a “rather eccentrically dressed gay male model.”
The trio made her look more masc by styling her in a baseball cap, sunglasses and an army bomber jacket. Rocos said: “She did look like a beautiful young man.”
The friends made their way through the Vauxhall club – “inched through the leather throngs and thongs” – and it was only fair that it was Diana’s round at the bar, after her drag king makeover. Her order? White wines and beer.
Rocos added in her book: “When we walked in…we felt she was obviously Princess Diana and would be discovered at any minute. But people just seemed to blank her. She sort of disappeared. But she loved it.
“We were nudging each other like naughty schoolchildren. Diana and Freddie were giggling… Once the transaction was completed, we looked at one another, united in our triumphant quest. We did it!”
The gang then left after just 20 minutes – presumably for an after party that was too spicy for even Rocos to put down in print.
While The Crown sadly doesn’t focus on this particular rock ‘n’ roll-meets-royalty episode, it’s something that has been worthy of a small-screen adaptation before. In 2019, Sky Arts’ Urban Myths series broadcast the programme Princess Diana, Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett, which imagines the epic night out even further.
In it, the fictionalised Diana (played by Sophie Rundle) befriends a drag queen in the Tavern and it inspires her to start her campaigning for gay rights and her work with those who have HIV/AIDS. She ends with the realisation: “The next time people turn around expecting me to talk, I should actually say something”. She’s then pushed home by Mercury and Everett in a supermarket trolley.
While this particular reworking of Rocos’ story is obviously a flight of fancy, it’s still a joy to see the experience come to life on screen. And fans are now desperate for it to be recreated for the next series of The Crown. One viewer on Twitter said: “I’m basically only watching The Crown in case they do the “Diana & Freddie Mercury go to the Vauxhall Tavern” bit, which we all know is the only royal family related story worth putting on screen”. Another commented: “If there isn’t a scene in The Crown series five where Diana is taken to The RVT in drag by Freddie Mercury, we sue Netflix,” while another fan added: “Let’s start a petition!”
Whether the writer Peter Morgan chooses to grant their wishes for series five, it still remains one of the greatest pop culture stories of the 80s. Has its veracity been confirmed? No, not exactly. Do we want it to be true? Absolutely.
With the invention of social media and camera phones a good 30 years off, no one ever managed to get a photo of it. But it’s pleasing to think that for one night, Diana and her friends got to experience a wild night of anonymity, joining the masses moving together on the dancefloor – something that’s equally poignant now, as we’ve all had this taken away from us in 2020.
In a world where it’s “pictures or it didn’t happen” this is one event where it’s best remembered as an excellent – if still unconfirmed – anecdote.
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