Diana Wanted Baryshnikov -- Not Travolta -- for Dream Dance

Sept. 12, 2006 — -- If you can't dance with the man of your dreams, John Travolta is not a bad second choice.

While Princess Diana enjoyed her famous White House dance with Mr. "Saturday Night Fever," it was Mikhail Baryshnikov that drove her to a fever pinch.

For years, Diana's famous twirl was one of the most heralded moments in her life.

It was said that the princess' "only wish" when she came to America in 1985 was to dance with the disco king, and photos of the beaming couple, with her in a striking midnight-blue, velvet gown, became world famous.

In exclusive interviews with ABC News, however, Paul Burrell, Diana's butler and confidant, has offered new details about her storied life, and her circle of famous friends -- from her close relationships with Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to a bizarre evening with Tom Cruise, when he invited her to a movie premiere, and then ignored her.

The dance with Travolta was hardly a dream come true, Burrell writes in his new book, "The Way We Were," which is being published by Harper Collins.

"The Way We Were" is a follow-up to his best-seller, "A Royal Duty," which sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

"John Travolta was a gentleman and absolutely charming but he wasn't my chosen partner," Diana once said, according to Burrell.

In reality, the princess was smitten with Baryshnikov ever since she was a teen.

She had once waited for him at the stage door of a London theater, to get him to sign her autograph book, only to be disappointed.

"He had signed it without looking at her," Burrell writes.

When they met years later at a White House reception hosted by President Reagan, it was Baryshnikov's turn to ask for an autograph.

He passed her his menu, to get her to sign it.

Diana wanted more than a signature, Burrell writes.

"All the time, she wanted to dance with Baryshnikov."

Was the Disco Dance Prince Charles' Idea?

Unfortunately, the dance with Travolta had been prearranged, and she never got the moment she wanted with the ballet legend.

It was all something of a mystery to Diana, especially when Travolta recalled the moment in subsequent TV interviews.

"Nancy [Reagan] had asked if I please would dance with Diana, because it was her big wish," Travolta said to "Good Morning America" in 1997. "And I said, 'Well, I was nervous, but I'd be glad to do it.'"

A spokesman for Travolta did not return a call to comment on the book.

Diana later speculated that the whole thing had been set up without her knowledge.

"Maybe it was all Prince Charles' idea," Diana told Burrell.

The rest of the world might have seen the dance as a symbol of the new nexus between Hollywood and British royalty, but according to Burrell, the princess reflected fondly on the photo "because it reminds me of the night I got to dine with Mikhail Baryshnikov."

But no matter how the princess felt privately, the moment was a testament to the 24-year-old's sudden star power.

The next day, London's Daily Mirror declared, "Disco Queen Diana Upstages John Travolta," and similar headlines appeared on papers around the world.

Within the next few years, Diana would become one of the most famous celebrities in the world.

Her ties with the United States only intensified as her marriage to Prince Charles crumbled, ending in divorce in 1996.

While she would never become Britain's queen, she remained celebrity royalty, with close ties to a long list of luminaries.

Burrell details interactions with Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Hanks, Henry Kissinger, Katharine Graham, Tina Brown and Barbara Walters, among many others.

Among Diana's brushes with celebrities:

Oprah Winfrey -- Of all the guests who came to Kensington Palace, Winfrey was one of Diana's favorites. "The princess could have sat chatting with her all afternoon and into the evening," Burrell says. When Diana was contemplating a life after divorce, both Winfrey and Hillary Rodham Clinton encouraged Diana to move to the United States after her divorce, Burrell says.

Tom Cruise -- Cruise's off-screen "Mission: Impossible" was to forge a friendship with Diana, Burrell says. Diana was excited when Cruise invited her to the 1993 London premiere for "Far and Away." Diana had "taken hours to get ready, wanting to look her best" in a halter-neck, cream evening gown.

When she was seated beside Cruise, however, he spent the whole evening canoodling with his then-wife and co-star Nicole Kidman.

"He hardly spoke to me at all!" Burrell quotes Diana as saying. "He was all over her like a rash. They couldn't keep their hands off each other. It was the height of rudeness."

Cruise's media representative did not return a call to ABC News.

Burrell says that Cruise seemed to be intimidated by the princess.

"His famous self-confidence had deserted him when it came to approaching the boss," he writes, saying that he was "too shy" to call the palace, and instead had sent a go-between to extend a dinner invitation.

These overtures were "purely innocent, platonic invitations" and "never a hint of romantic intention," Burrell writes, but Diana sent her regrets.

Michael Jackson -- In the mid-1980s, when Jackson ruled the Billboard charts, Princess Diana was an eager fan. Meeting the King of Pop at Wembley Stadium in 1988 was a big disappointment, though. "If ever mystique was shattered by a personal meeting," Burrell writes, "this was it."

Burrell says Diana told him, "It looked like his nose was about to drop off," and she was surprised at how effeminate he was. Still, she said she loved him for his music, not his looks, and brought back concert T-shirts and souvenirs for Princes Harry and William.

Jack Nicholson -- When Diana ran into Nicholson in New York City, she was immediately impressed with his magnetism. Nicholson sent a handwritten note that evening, saying, "it would have been wonderful if we could have found time to have dinner," and Burrell recalls that she was more than impressed.

"A dinner date with Jack Nicholson!" Burrell recalls Diana saying. She added that "she understands why so many women had fallen for him."