In season four of The Crown, released in 2020, the story of the British royal family and historical events in the United Kingdom that shaped the reign of Queen Elizabeth II continued. The season of the hit Netflix show welcomed two very new star female figures: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played by Gillian Anderson) and Diana Spencer (played by actress Emma Corrin). Most relevant for us here at Untapped New York, the last episode of season four of The Crown retells the story of Princess Diana’s trip to New York City in 1989.
The New York City trip was Princess Diana’s first official solo trip overseas, and it was planned amidst some secrecy, due to fear of an attack by supporters of Irish Republican Army in New York. Diana had previously been targeted by the IRA at a concert, but the bombing failed. In February 1st, 1989, Diana arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport by a supersonic Concorde jet alongside a small team of staff, without her husband Prince Charles and her children Prince William and Harry.
Princess Diana (played by Emma Corrin) in The Crown, entering the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Photo: Des Willie/Netflix.
The 27-year-old Princess was there to promote trade between the United States and Great Britain, but her trip was “under immense scrutiny from the American press,” according to journalist Anita Rani who speaks about Diana’s trip to New York for a Netflix behind-the-scenes video. The New York Post had dubbed Diana “the most famous welfare mother in the world,” prior to her arrival, and other publications criticized her high-fashion shopping habits. In fact, her small entourage on this trip did not include a hairdresser, so Diana did all of her own styling during the trip using heated rollers.
The Concorde Airplane from Air France. Princess Diana would have taken British Airways
After Princess Diana got off the jet, she immediately headed to a cocktail party at Axa Equitable Center in Midtown Manhattan. The next day, Diana visited the Henry Street Settlement, a not-for-profit agency on the Lower East Side that provides social service, arts and health care programs. The princess spent time talking to children and mothers who had been homeless.
Inside the lobby of the AXA Equitable Center where Princess Diana attended a cocktail party
There is one establishing shot of the Lower East Side in The Crown that shows the neighborhood as seen by Princess Diana in her limousine, looking out at the street scene. The Netflix behind the scenes video claims that New York City government cleaned up the Lower East Side for her arrival, which seems…doubtful especially for the 1980s! If you’re zooming in trying to figure out where in New York City the scene was filmed — you won’t find it. The crew of The Crown transformed the streets of the Northern Quarter in the city of Manchester, England to replicate the neighborhood around the Henry Street Settlement in Manhattan in the 1980s. The skyscrapers in the distance are added by CGI.
The Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side
After that, Princess Diana went to FAO Schwarz, the high-end toy store on Fifth Avenue and the oldest toy store in the United States. An exhibition of British toys was slated for opening at the shop, and it featured a doll of Diana in her wedding dress. Amongst those who were starstruck was FAO Schwarz’s CEO Peter Harris. “Our view is that this is a fun, happy and positive experience for her,” Harris told WABC, the day before Princess Diana was scheduled to visit his toy shop, “And we are all just going to be ourselves and hope she enjoys the spirt that is toys.”
The pinnacle of Princess Diana’s visit culminated in her appearance at a Royal Gala at Brooklyn Academy of Music that included the production of Welsh National Opera’s Falstaff. The event was recreated on The Crown in Manchester on Peter Street. Diana was greeted with 500 or so IRA protesters according to WABC, but her Victor Edelstein white gown attracted all the attention. “Since it was New York, everyone was wearing black — the men were in black tie and many women wore black designer gowns,” said Karen Brooks Hopkins, President Emerita of BAM who hosted Diana at the gala, to People Magazine. “So when Diana entered the box, radiant in a magnificent long white dress with a matching bolero jacket covered in jewels, a gasp went up from the crowd. She was — in a word — perfection!” After the production, she headed back to Manhattan for a fundraising dinner for the Welsh National Opera at the Winter Garden.
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in The Crown, waving to the crowd at BAM. Photo: Des Willie/Netflix.
During her last day at New York, Diana went to the Harlem Hospital (filmed at the Reynold Building in Manchester) to pay a visit to babies who were struggling with AIDS and HIV, an issue the Princess cared about deeply. In 1987, she opened the first purpose-built ward for AIDS patients at Middlesex Hospital in London. At Harlem Hospital, “she picked up a little boy who has AIDS and hugged him,” Margaret Heagarty, Director of Pediatrics at Harlem Hospital, said in a news interview. “This community and this hospital has been delighted with this charming young woman who showed with great sensitivity and compassion and interest in concern for poor children.” Throughout her life, Diana’s compassion for the sick and less privileged helped reduce the stigma of those suffering from AIDS and other diseases.
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana visiting AIDS patients at Harlem Hospital. Photo: Des Willie/Netflix.
The Harlem Hospital was also where Martin Luther King Jr. was taken to and operated on after he was stabbed at the Blumstein Department Store in 1958, and is still in operation today as part of the NYC Health+Hospitals system.
The Harlem Hospital
Netflix’s historical drama The Crown also stars the likes of Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth, Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip and Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret.
Next, check out the filming locations for The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant.