How Princess Diana saved John Travolta with a dance

Diana, John Travolta, the White House, and the dance that changed everything
August 31, 1997: a shocking accident
It happened at the White House
From Olympus to outcast in Hollywood
John Travolta was at an all-time low...
...and then there was that White House reception
Like a frog turned into a prince
Diana's big surprise
Dancing with Lady Di: appropriate?
From the President to Travolta
And the magic sound began
And there they were, dancing in the White House
It was his moment and he took advantage of it
Diana of Wales and Prince Charming
Never seen in the White House
She went back to London, he to California
Most-wanted actor
'Look Who's Talking'
Diana, John Travolta, the White House, and the dance that changed everything

As we remember the late Princess Diana, this iconic picture of her dance with John Travolta in the White House represents a wonderful episode in both of their lives. Read more to know the story behind it.

August 31, 1997: a shocking accident

On August 31, 1997, Lady Diana, the People's Princess, died in a tragic car accident in Paris. Her death shocked the world. What you may not know, is that one Hollywood actor was particularly fond of the princess: John Travolta.

It happened at the White House

Not everyone remembers that Diana of Wales played an important part in the resurgence of John Travolta as an actor and a person. This sounds dramatic but John Travolta himself has said it that way.

From Olympus to outcast in Hollywood

Travolta had been the true icon of the late 70s. The movies 'Grease' and 'Saturday Night Fever' had lifted him to unprecedented heights in Hollywood. However, his next projects were not as successful as expected, and John Travolta's career drew to a near halt after the failure of  'Two of a Kind' (1983) and 'Perfect' (1985).

John Travolta was at an all-time low...

In 1985 the actor was going through a series of existential crises that resulted in depression and very dark ideas crossing his head.

...and then there was that White House reception

On November 9, 1985, President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy held a reception at the White House to welcome Prince Charles of Wales and his wife of that time, Lady Diana. As it so happened, it was the People's Princess who requested that John Travolta be a guest at the reception as well.

Like a frog turned into a prince

"I had no idea that something was planned for me that night," Travolta told The Daily Telegraph. "I just felt honored to have been invited to that event, because it was the lowest point of my career, and yet I was in that room. I felt like the frog that turned into a prince."

Diana's big surprise

Even though it did not seem like it at first, the night centered on John Travolta. And it had been Lady Di who had pulled the strings to give him a magical evening.

"Would you dance with her?"

"At 9:30 p.m., Nancy Reagan came up to me and told me she had a special request from Princess Diana," Travolta recalls. "She always had a great dream of dancing with you. Would you dance with her?" Obviously, the actor was flabbergasted. Who would have guessed that Lady Di was such a big fan?

Dancing with Lady Di: appropriate?

"I asked if that was appropriate," the actor told People. "Mrs. Reagan smiled and said, 'Oh yes. It's one of her wishes. When the music from your movie comes up, if you wouldn't mind just asking her if she'd care to dance.'"

From the President to Travolta

When the orchestra started playing 'Shall we dance', Lady Diana opened the dance with Ronald Reagan while the First Lady accompanied Prince Charles. John Travolta, in the meantime, was waiting for a signal. He was very nervous.

And the magic sound began

When the song ended, the orchestra - already prepared - switched to a medley of slow songs from 'Saturday Night Fever' and 'Grease'. That was the signal. Of course, John Travolta thought it would be impolite to interrupt the president's dance with Diana, but what he didn't know was that Ronald Reagan was also in the loop.

And there they were, dancing in the White House

Trembling and timidly, John Travolta approached Diana and said, "Excuse me, Princess, would you like to dance?" She bowed her head, blushed, and answered: "I'd love to". The good thing for John Travolta, at least he thought so, was that there were many other people dancing, so they wouldn't notice if he made a mess of it. But as his songs were playing, people stepped aside, and pretty soon they were the only ones on the dance floor. A magical moment.

It was his moment and he took advantage of it

"My God, we are dancing alone in the middle of the room and everyone is looking at us," John Travolta thought. And so it was. It was a risky situation, but the actor wanted to make the most of it. He was there, it was his moment, and he knew it would only happen once. Besides, on the dance floor, no one could beat John Travolta.

"Princess, let me lead you."

"As she had danced very tightly with Charles (in fact, she was leading him), she did the same with me," John Travolta recalls. "So I took her hand gently and put my other hand on her back." By doing that, he signaled to her that he was in charge now. She got the message and everything went great. "We had all the time in the world ahead of us."

Diana of Wales and Prince Charming

"When we were dancing, I felt that Diana was traveling to her younger years, remembering Grease," Travolta says. "At that moment, I was like her Prince Charming. The night was magical, fantastic, and all thanks to her. She didn't behave like someone superior. In fact, it was the opposite."

Never seen in the White House

And the best was yet to come. As soon as the dance was over, the people in the room not only applauded... they cheered and yelled at the couple! What a moment. Linda Faulkner, the President's Secretary of Protocol, said that she had never seen anything like this in the White House.

She went back to London, he to California

Once the evening was over, the guests said goodbye, and Diana returned to London with the illusion of a princess finding her prince. John Travolta also made his way home with a recovered spirit for life and fairy tales. There he was, at 2 a.m. at the Washington DC airport, realizing what had happened that night.

"I know. Everybody knows it."

John Travolta euphorically commented to one of the airport employees: "You know what? I danced with Princess Diana tonight". To his surprise, the employee replied: "I know. Everybody knows it". The dance by Lady Diana and John Travolta had gone viral within hours, and no social media had been around to do that.

Most-wanted actor

And indeed, everyone knew it. In fact, the next day, John Travolta's phone was ringing off the hook. All the directors, producers, and film companies wanted him. Travolta was back. His fairy tale had come true and the princess had saved him with a magical dance that will be remembered for generations in the White House.

'Look Who's Talking'

By the way, for those who are wondering, the first movie John Travolta shot after the dance was 'Look Who's Talking' (1989). It took him two years to decide whether or not to go for that film. While it's not a great masterpiece, the comedy filled cinemas across the world and brought Travolta back to Hollywood's Olympus.

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