Princess Margaret & The Stomping Ballerina

Margaret and me

Here’s one for any of you royal buffs.

On  the afternoon of April 7, 1994, I was backstage at the Kennedy Center in final rehearsal for the world premiere of The Royal Ballet Of London’s production of Sleeping Beauty. Understand that at the time I was regularly working as an actor at the Kennedy Center and was in about four shows a year there, usually operas and ballets. While I didn’t take my privileged position for granted – I was one of 5 or 6 actors on the short list – I wasn’t particularly impressed to be working with the RBL. By this time I’d “carried the scepter ” for many a theatrical “king.” The trick was not to distract from the actual artists bellowing and leaping about you while doing so. As a glorified extra I did everything from wave giant cloth banners to appearing as a slave in a golden loincloth.

Also, being at the low end of the professional totem pole, I wasn’t getting “inside” information so I wasn’t prepared for what I saw backstage that afternoon.

As I stood there with another actor, we being the only ones who were supposed to be there at the time, it was surprising to see a lady and gentleman wandering about backstage curiously. They smiled and nodded at us. I nodded back. They continued to wander.

They kept wandering forward until they were standing in the wings. That’s where actors stand just before an entrance. In fact it was the place where “Princess Aurora” was supposed to go rushing on from before long.

As they watched the dancers onstage, I whispered to my colleague, “That lady looks a lot like Queen Elizabeth, don’t you think?” He nodded in agreement.

Suddenly Darcey Bussell came sprinting out of nowhere past us and – to her horror – found herself blocked from entry – by Princess Margaret!

Just behind Her Highness Darcey came to a sudden halt. Her body stiffened and her hands flew up to her mouth. She couldn’t say anything. Subjects of the Queen can’t speak to a member of the Royal Family unless spoken to first (apparently).

In that moment I realized why security was beefing up for tonight’s show. They were bringing in metal detectors and stern guys in business suits with suspicious glares. I’ll admit, I still didn’t know who it was, maybe the Queen herself?

Anyway there was Darcey (Princess Aurora) blocked by Princess Margaret from making her entrance. The Princess had her back to the ballerina and was captivated by happenings on the stage.

Suddenly – and all this happened in seconds – Darcey stomped her left foot loudly on the floor behind Margaret. The real princess, startled, turned around wide-eyed.

“‘Scuse me, Mum,” begged the ballerina with a quick bow before dashing between Margaret and her escort onto the stage.

Margaret chuckled it off and prudently moved out of harm’s way.

To get backstage that night we had to pass through metal detectors and Secret Service. It wasn’t just Princess Margaret attending. From the Washington Post:

“Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton took a night off from the mundane cares and woes of the presidency Wednesday to get all gussied up and mingle with the swells and cultural elite of the capital at the ballet. 

Not just any ballet, mind, but Britain’s Royal Ballet, which was opening its 1994 U.S. tour with a dazzling performance of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Princess Margaret and the ClintonsHillary’s hair was not, in fact, new but merely fluffier than usual — topped the VIP guest list, which included the Kennedy Center board, a number of ambassadors, a few administration types, and other local royalty. Six hundred patrons paid from $300 to $5,000 (for a box seat) to attend the performance and dinner dance following; the gala raised more than $200,000 for the Kennedy Center’s education programs.”

I went onstage in tights that night, and actually got a Secret Service agent to grin when I quipped, “If you guys think I’m packing, I’m flattered.”

When the Clintons came backstage after the show the same guy made me keep my hands out of my pockets.