Princess Diana's Question Made Neil Diamond The Most Nervous He'd Ever Been

November 9, 1985 was a banner evening, but also a nerve-racking one, for the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Neil Diamond. The man who penned hits like "Sweet Caroline" and "Song Sung Blue" was at the White House with other celebrities, including actors John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, and Tom Selleck. They were there for a black-tie affair honoring Prince Charles and Princess Diana hosted by President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.

That evening, Princess Diana, wearing a midnight blue velvet gown, approached Diamond. "I don't know if it's proper to ask a gentleman to dance in this country," she said (via Knight-Ridder Newspapers). "It's always proper to ask whoever you want to dance," the singer responded. While Diamond appeared cool, inside he was freaking out as the pair began to dance. He was a "nervous wreck" and his "knees were shaking," he recalled afterwards. Diamond claimed in a 2017 interview with The Sunday Post it was "probably the most nervous" he'd ever been. "She was a lovely lady," he said.

Neil Diamond gave an impromptu performance

Even before Princess Diana asked Neil Diamond to dance, the singer's nerves were already jangly. First Lady Nancy Reagan asked him to sing for the distinguished crowd. Diamond got on the stage and sang "September Morn." As he sang, Diamond was blown away and thought to himself "I'm still a kid from Brooklyn, and here I am at the White House with the prince and the princess, the president of the United States and other great people" (via Knight-Ridder).

When the crowd asked for an encore, Diamond complied and belted out "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." "Looking around the room as I sang, it all seemed so unreal seeing President Reagan and his wife, the Prince and Princess," he recalled in 2017. " Some of the most-famous faces in the world were watching me." Then, as he exited the stage, Princess Diana came up and asked him to dance, upping Diamond's nervousness.

Neil Diamond was too nervous to ask Princess Diana to dance

As Neil Diamond and Princess Diana moved around the dance floor they kept the conversation light discussing her travels. She and Prince Charles had just made a royal visit to Australia before coming to the U.S. Diamond kept a modest distance from his partner as they danced. It was a good thing for Diamond that the princess asked him to dance because he hadn't had "the nerve" to ask her. He wasn't alone. The Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill was also there that night and told The Morning News that she'd overheard a conversation between Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, and Diamond on what the protocol was about asking the princess to dance. They were all too nervous to ask.

For actor John Travolta it was Nancy Reagan who pushed him to ask the princess. Nancy Reagan had secretly planned this and as Travolta and Princess Diana hit the dance floor the Bee Gees song "Saturday Night Fever" from the film of the same name — that had made Travolta a star — began to play. While that dance had been planned by the First Lady, the one between Diana and Diamond had come unbidden, making it all the more exhilarating for the singer and the princess, who was a big fan and was visibly blushing as they danced. "We had met before at a charity concert in Birmingham and my heart was beating fast then," Diamond recalled in 2017. "It certainly beat fast again when I danced with her at the White House."

Princess Diana and Neil Diamond had met before

Princess had been a fan of Neil Diamond since she was a teen, but it wasn't until July 1984 that she finally got her chance to see him perform. Diana was already married to Prince Charles and seven months pregnant with her second son, Prince Harry, when Diamond performed a charity concert for the Prince's Trust in part as a birthday gift for Diana who'd just turned 23. Diamond broke his own rule of having backstage guests before a performance to meet the Royal couple.

While the meeting didn't spark a life-long friendship like the one between Princess Diana and Elton John, Diamond believed Princess Diana had wrangled him the invitation to the White House event in November 1985. While the singer was nervous the first time he met the princess, it was nothing like having her ask him to dance a little over a year later at the White House. Afterwards, he made a beeline for his then-wife Marcia Murphey — the woman who inspired the hit song "Sweet Caroline" — and danced with her. "I danced with my own wife, or I would have been in major trouble," he remarked in 1985.