As Sofitel Sydney Wentworth celebrates its 50th-anniversary, Catherine Marshall recalls the night the royals got the party started.

It was an image that went around the world at almost the same speed as the action it had captured: a tuxedoed Prince Charles dancing up a storm with his wife, Princess Diana, in the ballroom of Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel (now called Sofitel Sydney Wentworth) during their royal tour of Australia in 1983.

This was the first time the couple had danced before television cameras. Charles, leading his wife, started off sedately but – perhaps encouraged by the band’s lively tempo – began to twirl Diana faster and faster around the dance floor.

“I remember the talk of the time was the way he spun her,” recalls the hotel’s chief concierge, Mark Peyton, “and she became a little flushed and overwhelmed.”

The fun that the royals were having was so infectious that guests at the function began to spill onto the dance floor to join them. Such was the crush that staff, it’s said, swiftly moved tables out of the way so that everyone could be accommodated.

The Wentworth Suite had been reserved for the royals and though Peyton is discreet about the more intimate details of their visit – the hallmark of a good concierge – legend has it that nine-month-old Prince William was upstairs in the suite with his nanny so as not to be too far from his mother. 

But the hotel – Sydney’s first five-star establishment – had already seen plenty of action before the royal rumba. Following its opening in Chifley Square on December 14, 1966, its first New Year’s Eve bash was the place to be: a ballroom party that cost $5 a head and featured live music, a mirrored ceiling above the dance floor and a special New Year parfait. 

This month, the striking curvilinear structure will once again spring into party mode, celebrating five decades of razzle-dazzle on December 14 in the same ballroom where it all began. As they sip Champagne, guests will no doubt reminisce about Charles, Diana and all the other luminaries who have passed through these doors: the Dalai Lama, the Danish royals, Audrey Hepburn, Vladimir Putin... and Bill Gates, who departed without paying a bill but left behind a handwritten IOU. 

SEE ALSO: Then and Now: Hotel Kurrajong Canberra

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