#TBT: The Time Princess Diana Snuck Into A Gay Bar In Drag

Legendary rocker Freddie Mercury helped sneak Di into London's Royal Vauxhaul Tavern.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Princess Diana, today’s Throwback Thursday recalls the time the Princess of Wales snuck into a gay club in male drag.

The story goes that in 1988, seven years into her marriage to Prince Charles, Diana wanted to experience a night out with all the baggage that comes with being a British royal. So she enlisted rock icon Freddie Mercury to doll her up as a man before the two went joined friends for drinks at London’s famed Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

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Television presenter Cleo Rocos, who was also in attendance that night, detailed the scene in her 2013 book, The Power of Positive Drinking.

She wanted the thrill of going in undetected to order one drink and would leave right away, she promised. She tried on the outfit [comedian] Kenny [Everett] had intended to wear: a camouflage army jacket, hair tucked up into a leather cap, and dark aviator sunglasses. Scrutinizing her in the half light, we decided that the most famous icon of the modern world might just – just – pass for a rather eccentrically dressed gay male model.

Diana stayed just long enough to saunter up to the bar to order a white wine and a beer. Apparently, the crowd was too excited to see Mercury to notice the dragged-up princess. The group left shortly thereafter and Diana was returned to Kensington Palace.

Royal Vauxhall is one of the oldest gay bars in London—the structure dates to 1860, and it was a popular gay hangout at least as far back as WWII. But, like many gay bars, it’s faced difficulty in recent years. After it was purchased by developers in 2014, a campaign was launched to preserve the bar.

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In 2015, the Royal Vauxhall became the first building in the UK added to the National Heritage list because of its importance to the LGBT community.

Last year, the tavern played host to a musical recounting that night.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery