There’s no shortage of painful moments in The Crown season 4, courtesy of the show’s extensive and fascinating retelling of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s troubled marriage. From the engagement interview to the stormy Australian tour, the awkward moments come thick and fast—but arguably the most horrifying of all comes in the season’s penultimate episode, “Avalanche.”
On the couple’s seventh wedding anniversary, Diana announces she has a surprise for Charles. This is immediately alarming both to the viewer and to Charles, since Diana’s last surprise for him—that unforgettable “Uptown Girl” dance—didn’t go over so great. But Diana is nothing if not optimistic, and seems genuinely excited as she unveils this year’s gift, which is… a videotape of herself singing a song from the musical The Phantom of the Opera. Charles grimaces through the performance and pretends to enjoy it, then immediately runs off to complain about it to his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles.
You might think this moment is simply way too out-there to be true. But as is almost always the case with the royals, you would be incorrect. Here’s the truth about Diana’s Phantom moment.
Diana really did record herself performing a song from Phantom of the Opera for Charles.
Yup. And a faintly devastating 1988 Washington Post column by Chuck Conconi recounted the whole thing, noting that Diana, a Phantom of the Opera superfan, chose this “unique” gift to celebrate the couple’s “seven-year itch anniversary.” According to the Post, the video played very much like it does in The Crown: Diana rented out the show’s real set in London’s West End, hired the show’s real choreographer Gillian Lynne to direct her, and performed the song “All I Ask Of You.” “Diana didn’t settle for second best,” Conconi noted, suggesting that Andrew Lloyd Webber himself was even present for the recording—although the man himself denied this in a later interview with The Telegraph.
“Phantom is fact,” Annie Sulzberger, head researcher for The Crown, confirmed in an interview with The Telegraph. “We did not make this up. There were a number of [press] reports on this, enough to make us feel comfortable including it in the show. It’s a story that pre-existed the writing of the script.”
In real life, Diana may not have actually sung.
Regrettably (or maybe thankfully?), the tape of this performance has never been made available to the public, so details around it are scarce. According to Sulzberger, Diana singing the actual song might have been stretching the truth.” She could have mimed to the song,” Sulzberger explained. “The reports suggest performance and dancing. To minimize the number of witnesses, there is a chance they played a recording.” But the Washington Post column does specifically note that Diana sung, so draw your own conclusions.
Diana really was a Phantom of the Opera superfan.
Just when you thought the People’s Princess couldn’t get any more relatable, it turns out Diana went to see Phantom multiple times, and particularly loved “All I Ask Of You,” which is a duet between the heroine, Christine, and her non-Phantom love interest Raoul. Lloyd Webber was apparently aware of her fandom, and gifted her a ton of memorabilia including a signed manuscript of the score to “All I Ask Of You”.
There are some obvious reasons why the themes of this song might resonate with Diana, who was at the time trapped in a loveless marriage she still hoped to salvage. Here’s an excerpt:
Say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime
Let me lead you from your solitude
Say you need me with you here, beside you
Anywhere you go, let me go too
Love me, that’s all I ask of you
Ouch. And Diana biographer Penny Junor told The Telegraph that the show probably resonated with Diana on another level too. “I’m sure she would have identified with Phantom—being trapped, being signed up to something she wasn’t altogether happy with,” Junor said. “She loved romantic novels and was always yearning for something she could never achieve—to be loved.”
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