Why did Princess Diana refuse to use the Melbourne Arts Centre’s private bathroom?

Deep underground in the Melbourne Arts Center is a bathroom that is off-limits to the public.

Tiled in royal blue from floor to ceiling and featuring two huge mirrors laced with lights, this bathroom was built for royalty.

And it was expected that the first person to use it would be Princess Diana.

But she refused.

Princess Diana was expected to use the bathroom in the Truscott Lounge.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

The bathroom was built as part of the new Melbourne Concert Hall, a historic venue which opened in 1984 and is now known as Hamer Hall.

Prior to the building’s official opening, a concert was held in 1983 for Princess Diana and Prince Charles who were touring Australia at the time.

A photo of a mirror with blue tiles and lights surrounding the mirror
The first mirror in the Truscott Lounge bathroom.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

The royal gala was hosted by Bert Newton and featured performances from Marcia Hines, John Farnham and Peter Allen.

Claudia Funder, who now works at the Arts Center Melbourne as a research co-ordinator, performed at that gig and remembers the “tune of excitement”.

A photo of a toilet cubicle in an opulent bathroom
The Truscott Lounge restrooms.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

“I was in the Melbourne Youth Choir and we were singing with Marcia Hines,” she said.

“It was a place Melbourne had never had before in the tradition of Broadway and the West End.”

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A bathroom made for Diana

When they weren’t watching the show, Princess Diana and Prince Charles spent time in the private reception room, the Truscott Lounge.

Designed by festival director and theater designer John Truscott, the hall’s walls are draped in luxurious green velvet, finished with a gold ceiling.

“The space is the exact shape of Hamer Hall if you looked at it from above – an odd egg shape,” said Arts Center Melbourne tour guide Emma Whitby.

“If you come to a private function before or after the show, you can have a drink and see everyone walk into the stalls or line up for the bar.”

A photo of a room with white sofas and green velvet on the walls with a golden ceiling
The Truscott Lounge is an exclusive private space in the Center for the Arts.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

And through a door to the side of this room is a bathroom.

“The toilets have been specially designed for Princess Diana to enjoy,” Ms Whitby said.

“It was filled with flowers and toiletries exclusively for her.”

A photo of Princess Diana with her head bowed, wearing a pink dress and surrounded by people
Princess Diana at the Melbourne Concert Hall.(Provided: Melbourne Arts Center)

Ms Whitby said the story goes that Princess Diana had a drink with everyone in the function room – but was embarrassed to use the toilet.

“They told her the flowers and toiletries were picked especially for her,” Ms Whitby said.

Princess Diana then spoke to security and told them she wanted to use another bathroom.

“They took her back to public homes to use public restrooms and evacuated the public there,” she said.

“I find it bizarre that we know this, but it was noted how many times she went to the toilet – it is recorded that she went to the toilet twice, and each time they had to empty it for reasons of security.”

Light brown double doors in a playhouse foyer
The Truscott Lounge is hidden behind a locked door on Level 3 of Hamer Hall.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

Ms Whitby said the toilet used by Princess Diana in 1983 no longer exists.

“We had 35 toilets on this floor, we increased it to 67, but then we destroyed the existing toilets,” she said.

The toilets represent Melbourne becoming a cultural capital

For Ms Funder, the story of Princess Diana and the bathroom “symbolizes much more” than just the bathroom business.

A dark haired middle aged woman sitting in an opulent green room smiling at the camera
Claudia Funder performed in a choir at the Royal Gala in 1983 for Princess Diana.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

It was about Melbourne having a place – and a bathroom – fit for royalty, something the city didn’t have before.

“Where have the concerts been held before? Melbourne Town Hall. And have you seen those toilets?”

A shot of Melbourne's Arts District at night illuminated with blue and purple light
Hamer Hall and the Arts Center spire in Melbourne.(Facebook: Melbourne Arts Center)

Ms Whitby said the story has been recorded in the history of the Arts Center and was a favorite with those visiting the theatre.

Although the space is not freely accessible, it is a stop on the Arts Center tour for school groups and the public.

“All the tour guides know about it and talk about it,” she said.

“Public tours aren’t back yet after COVID, but hopefully they’ll be back soon.”

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