It’s the late 1980s, and you’re in a London gay bar on what appears to be just a normal night out. Then, suddenly, you spot two of the world’s most famous people having a boogie in the corner. Weirdly enough, an iconic rock star seems to be dancing the night away with someone who appears to be Princess Diana in drag. And while this may sound completely beyond the realms of possibility, it really did happen – according to actress Cleo Rocos, at least.
Rocos made that surprising claim in her wittily titled memoir The Power of Positive Drinking. And as it turns out, the Brazilian-born star has had quite the colorful career herself. Originally, she started out in the world of professional skateboarding before going on to serve as a producer for a West End staging of The Seven Year Itch. She’s arguably best known, however, as being the regular sidekick of the late British comedian Kenny Everett.
In fact, Everett was supposedly also in attendance on the night that Princess Diana allegedly rocked up to London’s most historic gay pub. As the story goes, the flamboyant funnyman had spent the entire day with Diana enjoying reruns of The Golden Girls and sipping champagne alongside Rocos and one of the rock world’s most memorable frontmen. Then, at one point, the foursome decided to hit the town in style.
And this wasn’t the first time that Diana had mixed in showbiz circles. Indeed, the late royal was renowned for her unlikely friendships with all kinds of famous figures – including, it seems, Michael Jackson. According to Jackson’s one-time bodyguard Matt Fiddes, the King of Pop and the Princess of Wales regularly used to call each other up for chats.
Yet while Diana only met Jackson in person once, she enjoyed far more face-to-face time with another star who had similarly been thrust into the spotlight at a young age. According to Hello! magazine, Liza Minnelli reportedly once said of Diana, “I was first introduced to her when she came backstage after a concert I did in London. Then we’d bump into each other at premieres or events where she’d be the guest of honor. We’d fall into conversation, then we’d meet for tea… My instinct was to protect her.”
George Michael also got the chance to meet Diana several times throughout his career, although he once admitted that his behavior may have prevented them from becoming even closer friends. In 2006 the pop icon told the Irish Independent, “I kind of feel guilty because [Diana] did really like me as a person, and I tended to shy away from calling her because I thought she must have so many people calling her for all the wrong reasons.”
And on occasion, the Princess of Wales rubbed shoulders with Hollywood stars. In 1992 she apparently even forged a friendship with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman at the premiere of their Irish-set movie drama Far and Away. The power couple would go on to attend the royal’s funeral in 1997 and reveal their devastation at her death in an interview with CNN.
In 1995, meanwhile, Diana and her sons, William and Harry, visited Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s ranch. The A-list couple had invited the princess four years previously during their introduction at a screening of firefighting film drama Backdraft. And in 2016 Russell said on talk show The Project that he and Hawn had made the offer to help Diana escape from the constant press intrusion.
Plus, of course, the ever-stylish Diana was friends with Gianni Versace – one of the fashion world’s biggest names. And following the designer’s shocking murder in the summer of 1997, she revealed in an official statement that she had been “devastated by the loss of a great and talented man.” Just a few months later, Diana herself would famously meet a similarly untimely end.
Another of Versace’s buddies, Elton John, would famously perform a tribute to Diana at her televised funeral, with his reworking of “Candle in the Wind” ultimately becoming the best-selling single of all time. The royal and the Rocket Man had been close ever since they had been first introduced to each other in the early 1980s.
And Diana had also once used her celebrity connections to play a prank on her eldest son. In 2017 William recalled returning home from school only to find supermodels Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington at the top of the staircase waiting for him. Naturally, the future king was left more than a little flustered by this surprise.
William told viewers of TV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy, “I was probably a 12 or 13-year-old boy who had posters of [Campbell and Turlington] on my wall. And I went bright red and didn’t quite know what to say and sort of fumbled. I think I pretty much fell down the stairs on the way up.”
What’s more, Diana was apparently just as mischievous when it came to picking greeting cards for her son. William added, “I would be at school, and I’d get a card from my mother. Usually, she found something you know, [a] very embarrassing, very funny card, and [she’d] then sort of written very nice stuff inside. But I didn’t open it in case teachers or anyone else in the class had seen it.”
In the same documentary, Harry also discussed his late mother’s distinct sense of humor, saying, “Behind closed doors, she was a loving mother and an incredibly funny person. One of her mottos to me was ‘You can be as naughty as you want; just don’t get caught.’”
But William and Harry seemingly weren’t the only ones to have witnessed Diana’s naughty streak firsthand. Indeed, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy revealed that at one time, the princess’ personal chef Darren McGrady was left decidedly red-faced. Why? Well, his boss had asked for a cake deliberately designed to embarrass him – one shaped like “the biggest pair of boobs.”
And in 2019 Diana’s personal trainer Carolan Brown told the Daily Mail that her most famous client also enjoyed messing with Princess Michael. She explained to the newspaper, “Once, [Diana] waited for [Princess Michael] to come out and get into her car, and then she ran down in her skimpy gym outfit and waved her off. Diana had a huge sense of humor. There was no edge or snobbery about her, and she really loved a dirty joke and to play pranks on people.”
Michael Cole, formerly a royal correspondent for the BBC, revealed to the same newspaper, “Princess Diana and the Duchess of York were friends from way back. And Fergie was always up for any devilment that occurred to Diana, like livening up an afternoon at Royal Ascot by poking the royal equerry Major Hugh Lindsay in the back with their parasols when they spotted him walking along to the paddock.”
But it seems that those who tried to play Diana at her own game may have been left rueing their decision. In 2020 a former confidant of the princess, Dr. James Colhurst, told the Daily Express how he had once adorned the royal’s car with a string of tin cans that would clang when she drove. Later that same evening, however, he received a phone call from Diana asking him how his own vehicle was.
Colhurst recalled, “I moved to the window and saw my car under the streetlight covered in flour with eggs on top. I had to wash it off quickly because it goes quite hard. That was fairly much Diana’s line of fun.” The doctor also revealed that the princess was a master of the one-liner.
In fact, Diana appeared to have quite the comic range, as it’s said that she was similarly a dab hand when it came to impressions. In 1997 Vanity Fair’s Cathy Horyn wrote, “Apparently, Diana is a terrific mimic, not unlike the late Jacqueline [Kennedy] Onassis.” Friend Marguerite Littman was said to be the inspiration for the princess’ funniest impersonation.
Unfortunately, though, one-time royal photographer Ken Lennox believes that Diana’s rebellious attitude caused friction in her marriage. He revealed to the Daily Mail, “Whereas Camilla was totally acquiescent to everything Charles wanted or said or did, Diana was a young girl with different ideas. If I turned up at something I wasn’t supposed to turn up to, she would point her finger at me and wag it, but it was always with a smile on her face.”
That said, Diana certainly wasn’t ashamed of the fact that she liked to break from the royal norm. In the revealing 1995 BBC interview with Martin Bashir that captivated audiences across the world, the Princess of Wales proudly stated in front of the camera, “I don’t play by a rule book. I do things different[ly].”
That’s something to which Rocos may be able to attest, as she claims to have seen Diana letting her hair down on one particular evening in the late 1980s. In The Power of Positive Drinking, the comedienne wrote that she had once enjoyed a night out on the town with the princess, Kenny Everett and another very famous friend, Freddie Mercury. And, supposedly, the Queen frontman was responsible for instigating it all.
According to Rocos, she and Everett had initially had concerns about allowing the princess to join them for a spot of partying in the capital. After all, Diana was unarguably the most famous woman in the world at that point, and so the pair believed that she may have been opening herself up to further press scrutiny if word of the ploy somehow got out.
Mercury, on the other hand, reportedly had a much more cavalier attitude about the whole thing. In her autobiography, Rocos claimed that the rock star, in “full mischief” mode, believed that Diana should throw caution to the wind. And, apparently, Mercury therefore told both Rocos and Everett, “Go on, let the girl have some fun.”
Of course, even the more carefree rock star realized that a world-famous royal couldn’t go to a gay bar without some form of disguise. So, how exactly did the singer and his pals manage to sneak Diana into a packed London pub? Well, if Rocos is to be believed, they decided that the best course of action would be to dress the princess as a man.
Indeed, Rocos recalled that the foursome only stepped foot outside the door once they were convinced that Diana could “pass for a rather eccentrically dressed gay male model.” And the comedienne admitted that she was impressed with the results of their makeover, adding of the princess, “She did look like a beautiful young man.”
But were the patrons of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern just as convinced? It appears so, as Rocos recalled that the party of four were initially able to inch to the bar “through the leather throngs and thongs.” Then, once there, a heavily disguised Diana was apparently free to order a round of drinks without anyone batting an eyelid.
“We were nudging each other like naughty schoolchildren,” Rocos continued. “Diana and Freddie were giggling… Once the transaction was completed, we looked at one another, united in our triumphant quest. We did it!” Even so, the group reportedly decided not to push their luck too much and left after just 20 minutes.
And Rocos later admitted that she was just as surprised as anyone at allegedly managing to pull the stunt off. She wrote, “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.”
Rocos has spoken about this memorable evening since then, too. In 2017 she revealed to radio DJ James Whale that one person had needed convincing more than anyone to hit the town with a royal in tow. And perhaps surprisingly, that member of the group was her flamboyant partner in crime.
Yes, Everett was apparently worried that the Royal Vauxhall Tavern wasn’t a place for the Princess of Wales to be. Rocos explained, “He said, ‘Oh darling, you can’t come. It’s a hairy gay man’s pub. Sometimes there are fights outside, and I can see the headlines tomorrow: future Queen of England dies in gay bar brawl.’”
The tale of the big night out was even adapted for the small screen in British anthology series Urban Myths. Sophie Rundle portrayed the Princess of Wales in the episode, while David Avery and Mathew Baynton took on Mercury and Everett, respectively. In this fictionalized account, however, Rocos was nowhere to be seen.
Still, the comedienne may have been pleased to hear that the story had caught the attention of a Hollywood actor. During a red carpet chat at the 2019 SAG Awards, Bohemian Rhapsody star Rami Malek revealed the most surprising thing he had learned while preparing to portray Mercury in the movie.
Malek told People magazine, “There was one moment that I hear [Mercury] took Princess Diana and disguised her as a man and took her into a bar – just so they could have their own fun moment without anybody else being aware. Now, I don’t know if that’s true. This might be an urban legend.”
But the reputed Royal Vauxhall Tavern trip wasn’t the only occasion on which Diana and her famous pals are said to have mingled. In 2013 Rocos admitted to The Independent, “I have fantastic memories of drinking with Princess Diana. She would regularly sneak out on her own, in disguise, to go to places round the corner from the Palace.”
Rocos continued, “I remember drinking peach Bellinis with her, Kenny and Freddie Mercury at the Bombay Brasserie nearby before we all went up to Kenny’s penthouse to continue drinking. I’ll never forget watching Diana, Kenny and Freddie dancing around the lounge to the Gypsy Kings – each waving one of Kenny’s feather dusters in the air.”
Sadly for lovers of the legend, though, there is one man who has claimed that the Royal Vauxhall Tavern trip didn’t actually happen at all. In 2019 Peter Freestone, a former assistant to Mercury, explained to the Daily Express that the Queen frontman had never even met Diana, let alone lured her to a gay bar in drag. And, apparently, Mercury had turned down the chance to get acquainted with the famous royal at one of the most historic music events of the 1980s.
Freestone said, “Even at Live Aid, you see Brian May and Roger Taylor in the royal box. Freddie didn’t go. He was more interested in being with friends backstage, talking with Elton John [and] hanging out with his people. His friends were always the most important to him.” But could at least half the story be true?
Well, in an interview with Sky News, Freestone admitted that it was a possibility. He said, “Maybe she [Diana] went with Kenny and Cleo, but Freddie was certainly not involved. There’s a lot of rumors that we could destroy, but… no. That never really happened.” And, sadly, the two other parties involved aren’t around to either confirm or deny the story. Everett died of AIDS in 1995, just four years after Mercury had succumbed to the same disease.
Someone else who knows a lot about Diana is Paul Burrell, as for ten years he was the princess’ butler. And Burrell has hardly been backward about coming forwards with juicy details about his life in the royal household. His time rubbing shoulders with Britain’s most famous family has made him well-placed to give his verdict on Harry and Meghan, too.
As a former butler, Burrell knows what goes on behind closed doors in royal quarters. And since the death of his beloved boss, he has spilled more than a few secrets about Diana and her private life – perhaps to the regret of her relatives. Then, in 2020, Burrell turned his attention to the late princess’ son Harry. And as it turned out, he had quite the confession to make about the Duke of Sussex’s marriage to Meghan.
Burrell’s affiliation with the royal family goes back decades, too. Following a trip to the historic Buckingham Palace as a youngster, the Englishman developed a real and abiding interest in the British monarchy. In time, this would lead to a highly prestigious job: footman to Queen Elizabeth II.
It was Burrell’s second position within the royal family that made him a household name, though. Up until Diana’s untimely death in 1997, he was employed for a decade as the princess’ butler – a role that he has claimed made him close to his boss. In fact, Burrell has reportedly referred to himself as “the only man [that Diana] ever trusted.”
But since being relieved of his duties, Burrell has become a controversial figure in his own right – and has often made tabloid headlines. For example, in 2001 his home in the English county of Cheshire was scoured by police following allegations of theft. Specifically, it was claimed that Burrell had stolen various items that had belonged to either Diana or her two sons. Rather incredibly, though, the Queen came to the former butler’s rescue.
Yes, while Burrell was initially up against charges of theft, his subsequent trial sensationally collapsed when none other than the Queen spoke up in his defense. Apparently, she’d given her former employee permission to store the 310 items in question. And as a result of this intervention, all legal proceedings against Burrell were dropped.
But the aforementioned court case wasn’t the last time that Burrell’s conduct would be called into question. During a 2008 investigation into the death of Diana, you see, the erstwhile member of the royal household was found to have clandestinely duplicated correspondence between the princess and others. Burrell argued, however, that he had done so because of the papers’ “historical importance.”
Then there’s Burrell’s private life, which has also come under some scrutiny. For instance, in 2016 it was revealed that he and his wife Maria had gone their separate ways after 32 years of marriage. Then, a year later, the ex-butler walked down the aisle for a second time with partner Graham Cooper. According to an insider, Burrell had once confided in Diana that he was gay.
However, in January 2020 Burrell denied this assertion during a chat with OK! magazine. “Diana and I never discussed my sexuality at length, but it was a known thing between us,” he said, adding, “Let’s face it: I did great flower arrangements, chose her outfits and gave her advice. All the clues were there, and she was a clever lady.”
And it’s fair to say that Burrell has courted the limelight – not least by penning several books about his experiences with the royal family and Diana in particular. He has also become a reality TV regular, appearing on shows such as Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! as well as serving as a judge on Australian Princess.
Then, in 2018, Burrell was able to capitalize on his royal experiences once more when, in the days leading up to Harry and Meghan’s nuptials, he was appointed as a royal correspondent on British breakfast TV show Lorraine. Apparently, his previous link to the groom’s mother was instrumental in him landing the job.
And Burrell pretty much hasn’t stopped giving his opinion on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex since. In an interview for 2019 British documentary Kate v Meghan: Princesses at War?, the former royal aide described the Suits star as a “strong and independent woman.” Yet he still had doubts as to whether someone from such a humble background would be able to adapt to her new lavish surroundings.
“Meghan has married into the most traditional family in the country: the royal family,” Burrell explained. He then began drawing comparisons with the woman he served for a full decade, adding, “How is she going to cope? Princess Diana was brought up in a house that was as big as Buckingham Palace, and even she was lost.”
Burrell additionally suggested that Meghan would find herself in trouble if she didn’t conform to royal protocol, saying, “Buckingham Palace is a minefield for any person going in there for the first time. People set traps, [and] they weren’t very kind to this young girl coming into this world. Who would want to be part of that family?”
But to help Meghan cope with the trials and tribulations of being a royal, Burrell offered some words of wisdom. He recommended that she become acquainted with the member of the family who apparently matters the most: Harry’s grandmother, the Queen. Diana’s alleged confidante also advised Meghan to keep as close as possible to her new husband.
And Burrell has continued to comment on the royal couple since. On a May 2019 edition of Good Morning Britain, for instance, he was asked to give his opinion about the birth of Harry and Meghan’s son Archie. Then, while responding to a question about how Diana would have received her fourth grandchild, he replied, “She’d be in her element, wouldn’t she? [Meghan’s mother] Doria would not get a look in. She’d have been thrilled to bits.”
Burrell was also invited onto the Good Morning Britain set in October 2019 following the British TV premiere of Harry and Meghan: An African Journey. In the documentary, the Duke of Sussex reveals why he feels the need to be so protective of his family, explaining, “My mom clearly taught me a certain set of values of which I will always try and uphold – despite the role and the job that sometimes that entails, if you know what I mean.”
Harry continued, “Everything that [Diana] went through and what happened to her is incredibly raw every single day. And that’s not me being paranoid; that’s just me not wanting a repeat of the past. And if anybody else knew what I knew – be it a father, be it a husband, be it anyone – you’d probably be doing exactly what I’m doing as well.”
Burrell responded to the documentary by telling the hosts of Good Morning Britain, “I knew [Harry], he was devastated, and to walk behind his mother’s coffin in front of the world was just dreadful. And that’s had an amazing impact on him. He does feel that the media hounded [Diana] to her death.”
Given Burrell’s willingness to make such provocative statements, then, it’s perhaps no surprise that he was invited onto Good Morning Britain again in January 2020. Famously, that month Harry and Meghan had revealed that they would be relinquishing their positions as senior royals. And after the former butler weighed in on the drama, he once again drew parallels between Meghan and Diana.
First, Burrell claimed that his late boss would have given her blessing to the couple’s controversial decision. He told viewers, “As I’ve seen this unfold in America, I’ve been thinking of [Diana]. She would have given the boys advice and said to them, ‘Marry for love,’ which they have, ‘Be respectful and kind to your wife,’ which they both have, but [also] ‘Be happy.’”
Speaking from his Florida home, Burrell then added, “Diana wasn’t [happy], and clearly Meghan and Harry aren’t [either] in the environment they’re in – being stifled by the royal household. Diana found that impossible, marrying the whole family.” He also claimed that both Diana and the Duchess of Sussex weren’t afraid to cut ties with others when necessary.
And Burrell went on to suggest that Diana had had ambitions to escape her homeland, too. The former royal aide said, “She had the plans for that on her sitting room floor to buy a home in Malibu when she went away to the Mediterranean. She was going to buy that property, so is it any surprise Harry is following his wife’s dreams and [in] his mom’s footsteps?”
Yet Burrell did reserve a measure of sympathy for another of his former employers. He said, “I feel very sorry for the Queen, of course… 93 years old. Our monarch has suffered greatly over the years and seen a lot happen to her family, and she’s moved with the times.”
Burrell also expressed concern about the prince’s relationship with his older sibling, adding, “I do feel sorry for William and Harry not having that bond which they once had. Obviously, when their mother died, they were cemented together and inseparable. I feel sorry for that, and their mother would be sad, too.”
But when Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan questioned Harry and Meghan’s work ethic, Burrell seemingly took the duchess’ side. He countered, “It’s very difficult for the outside world to understand what it’s like to live in a palace. You don’t just marry one person; you marry the whole family. [Meghan] had no idea what she was getting herself into; nobody can.”
Burrell then referred to a note that he claimed to have received from Diana, saying, “I saw recently a letter which [the princess] wrote to me. She wrote to me about her future, and she said, ‘I would look up and live and laugh and love.’ And I think they’re poignant words to send to Harry and Meghan.”
So, in Burrell’s opinion, would Diana have approved of her youngest son’s union with the Suits actress? Well, in an April 2020 conversation with CheshireLive, the former butler suggested as much, saying, “Princess Diana would have wanted her sons to be happy and would have supported them unconditionally.”
Burrell continued, “[With Harry] being sixth in line to the throne, it is unlikely that he will become king. Why not let [he and Meghan] have a happy life? And with the Queen’s approval, there is no reason why they shouldn’t achieve their dreams and be totally independent.”
In an interview with Closer the following month, Burrell even suggested that Harry’s wife and his late mom had things in common. He said, “Harry went for and married Meghan because she’s like Diana. Both [are] women who would always stand up for what they believe in and wouldn’t be pushovers.” Nonetheless, Burrell claimed that the similarities between Meghan and Diana could have caused some friction if the princess were still alive.
“I think, possibly, [Diana and Meghan] would have clashed,” Burrell theorized. “I imagine it would have been two strong, independent women with different views on things. It would have been a battle between Meghan’s way and Diana’s way.” He admitted, however, that there are several ways in which the pair differ.
Burrell conceded, “I think the main difference between them is that Meghan has a game plan, whereas Diana was young and naïve.” And while the princess may appear to have used the media to her advantage during her lifetime, her ex-employee hinted that it wasn’t for the same reasons as her future daughter-in-law.
“Diana did the book with Andrew Morton and courted the press over the years because she didn’t have a voice,” Burrell explained. “And her strong-mindedness meant [that] she cared, and she felt the people of the country had a right to know what had gone on behind closed doors. You could say Meghan does too – but I think her courting of the press is more for her career.”
Yes, Burrell seems to believe that the Duchess of Sussex is far more at ease with selling her public image than her late mother-in-law had been. He added, “In years to come, we’ll see [Meghan] on red carpets, with A-list friends [and] in films, perhaps. Diana wasn’t like that; she wasn’t interested in self-promotion.”
And it’s Meghan’s relationship with the press that appears to be a particular concern for Burrell. While talking to CheshireLive, for example, the ex-royal aide said that the duchess and her husband should avoid all talk about being stalked. He added, “They do need to accept being photographed by the paparazzi. They can’t have an entirely private life.”
Burrell had even previously voiced his distaste for Meghan’s alleged love of the limelight in a 2019 piece for The Sun. There, he wrote, “The lines are getting blurred between celebrity and royal. There is a clear line between the two, and Meghan doesn’t know the difference. The Queen has always said, ‘We are not celebrities. To be royal is something very different.’”
“[Meghan] may say she doesn’t have to toe the line, but she has a royal title now, and you have to give up a lot to be a member of the royal family,” Burrell continued. “She can’t have her cake and eat it. I think we all have to wait with bated breath and watch the way this one is going to progress. It is certainly a fiery, tempestuous comet streaking through the royal family.”
Unlike much of the press, though, Burrell refuses to believe that the Duchess of Sussex is pulling all the strings in her relationship. While in conversation with OK!, he instead asserted, “Meghan’s an independent woman who has her own mind. It may look as if she’s manipulating Harry, but she’s not! I have no doubt they discuss everything, and they’ll have another baby very soon.”
Burrell would court the press himself again in May that year by unveiling what he claimed to be a previously unpublished letter from Princess Diana. In the correspondence – apparently penned in 1992 – the royal remarks on a visit to Mother Teresa’s Calcutta convent home. And although the princess didn’t get to meet the saint herself, Diana still apparently felt that the trip was hugely beneficial.
In the handwritten note to Burrell, Diana revealed, “Today, something really profound touched my life. I went to Mother Teresa’s home and found the direction I’ve been searching for all these years. The sisters sang to me on arrival – a deeply spiritual experience – and I soared to such great heights in my spirit.”
So, what else is Burrell up to these days now that he’s no longer mixing in royal circles? Well, in 2019 he closed the floristry business he’d owned for almost 18 years in order to go traveling with husband Cooper. And of the planned jaunt, he told the Daily Mail, “I want to take [Cooper] to places I’ve been with the Queen and the princess and say ‘I remember walking on this spot with the Queen on the Great Wall of China.’”