The heart-warming reason Princess Diana once sat in the pouring rain to hear Pavarotti live

28 April 2022, 13:48

Luciano Pavarotti and Princess Diana
Luciano Pavarotti and Princess Diana. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Diana, Princess of Wales, refused an umbrella offered to her by staff, in case she ended up blocking the view of others at the open air concert.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

On 30 July 1991, a rainy summer’s day, 125,000 fans gathered in London’s Hyde Park to hear a free concert given by the legendary Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.

Among the large crowd was Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who were seated in a small enclosed VIP section at the front of the stage where Pavarotti was performing, accompanied by the 82-piece Philharmonia Orchestra and the 120-strong Philharmonia Chorus.

Despite the previous July day having been a sunny day with temperature in the 20s, the day of the concert, as Verdi’s overture to Luisa Miller began to play, the skies opened, showering the audience, including the VIPs, with an unexpected downpour.

While the majority of the audience came to the concert for free, the VIPs seated in the enclosure had paid upwards of £150 for their prime position in the park. Some of those seated began to put up umbrellas, but were met with moans from other paying concertgoers behind them.

Reportedly, Princess Diana was offered an umbrella by her staff, but refused as she didn’t want to ruin the view for those behind her. An onslaught of photographs of a soaked Princess entered the press the next morning.

Read more: The time Princess Diana casually sat at a piano and played Rachmaninov

Luciano Pavarotti: 'Nessun Dorma' from Puccini's 'Turandot' - London Hyde Park 1991

The free concert was to celebrate the Italian tenor’s 30-year-long operatic career, and a recording of the concert was released by Decca Music Group in 1992 on an album titled, Pavarotti in Hyde Park.

Pavarotti serenaded the crowd with a concert of over an hour long, with no break, performing works by Verdi, Richard Wagner, Giacomo Puccini, Cesare Andrea Bixio, François Borne, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Ernesto De Curtis, Jules Massenet, and Giacomo Meyerbeer.

The concert concluded with Pavarotti’s world-renowned rendition of ‘Nessun dorma’, the aria from the final act of Puccini’s opera Turandot.

Read more: Take a listen to the incredible fresh voice of a 28-year-old Luciano Pavarotti

1991: Crowds gather for Pavarotti concert in Hyde Park

London couple, Michele and Dorian Watkins were in the 125,000-strong audience on the unusually rainy summer’s day.

“It was publicised so heavily at the time,” Michele told Classic FM. “There was a real drive to get people there.

“But it was free, so everyone wanted to come anyway! Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun dorma’ had been used as the theme for the 1990 World Cup, so everyone knew who he was.

“These beautiful arias no longer felt gate-kept by a certain class of music fans – Pavarotti took this music beyond the world of opera, and made it accessible for everyone.”

Read more: When Pavarotti sang his final ‘Nessun dorma’ to close Italy’s Olympics Opening Ceremony

Pavarotti sings 'Nessun Dorma', with English translation

While the couple couldn’t see the stage as clearly as the VIPs at the front of the park, there were screens and speakers across the park so the large audience could all see and hear Pavarotti perform.

“It must have cost so much to put on, so it was amazing that none of us had to pay to be there,” Michele recalled. “We felt quite privileged to be standing in that park watching him. It really was something else.”

Similarly to the Princess of Wales, Michele and Dorian didn’t want to ruin the view for the thousands standing around them, “so we put bin bags on our head to try and stop us getting wet!” Michele laughed.

Despite the weather, the couple described the experience as “magical”, and to this day still tell the story of when they saw Pavarotti – for free – in London.

Read more: The amazing story of the Welsh village choir that inspired Pavarotti to take up singing

Princess Diana was a great fan of the Italian tenor
Princess Diana was a great fan, and friend of the Italian tenor. Picture: Getty

Princess Diana had been a fan of Pavarotti’s since Prince Charles took her to watch the virtuosic tenor in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in the Arena di Verona in Italy.

The two became firm friends, and Pavarotti speaks highly of the Princess in his autobiography. One hilarious extract recalls the time the two shared a meal. Diana ordered the prawns, which Pavarotti commented looked delicious. Further on during the meal, he repeated how delicious they looked. Finally the musicians said, “Listen, I tried twice with no success. Now I ask you directly. May I have one of your shrimp?”

Six years earlier at the 1991 Hyde Park concert, Pavarotti dedicated the aria ‘Donna non vidi mai’ (‘I Have Never Seen a Woman Like That’) from the Puccini opera Manon Lesacut to Diana, romantically serenading the rain-soaked princess in front of the large crowd, and her husband.

Pavarotti was asked to perform at Diana’s funeral in 1997, however due to their close friendship, he was grief-stricken, and though he initially declined to attend the event, he eventually agreed to attend as a guest.