The Story of... 'Uptown Girl' by Billy Joel

17 November 2020, 15:38

Billy Joel - Uptown Girl
Billy Joel - Uptown Girl. Picture: Columbia/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Billy Joel scored a massive hit around the world with the pop anthem 'Uptown Girl' in 1983, and it remains one of his most popular and enduring songs.

But what - or who - was the song inspired by and who also later achieved a number one with a cover version? And did Princess Diana really dance ballet to it on stage as a present for Prince Charles?

Here's all the facts behind the making of the classic Billy Joel song:

  1. Who inspired Billy Joel to write 'Uptown Girl'?

    Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel in 1983
    Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel in 1983. Picture: Getty

    Speaking to radio DJ Howard Stern, Billy Joel revealed that he originally titled the song 'Uptown Girls', and it was created at a time when he found himself surrounded by Christie Brinkley, Whitney Houston and his then-girlfriend Elle Macpherson.

    The song was initially written about his relationship with model Macpherson, but it ended up also being about his soon-to-be wife, Brinkley.

    Read more: Billy Joel's greatest songs ever, ranked

    Both women were two of the most famous supermodels of the 1980s.

    He later said: "The fact that I can attract such a beautiful woman as Christie should give hope to every ugly guy in the world!"

    Billy has also said that the song was inspired by the music style of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

  2. Christie Brinkley appeared in the music video

    Billy Joel - Uptown Girl (Official Video)

    The song's video shows Billy and his backup singers working as car mechanics.

    Christie arrives in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, as Billy and his mates dance around her.

    A poster of Brinkley can also be seen in the garage, as well as on a billboard above the garage advertising 'Uptown cosmetics'.

    By the end of the video, Billy and Christie ride off on a motorcycle.

  3. Are Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley still together?

    Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray Joel and Billy Joel in 2010
    Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray Joel and Billy Joel in 2010. Picture: Getty

    In a word, no.

    The couple got married in 1985. They first met in 1983 on the Island of St Barts, in the Caribbean, and were married on a yacht on the Hudson River, the second marriage for both of them.

    Guests at the wedding included singer Paul Simon and members of the band Stray Cats.

    However, the marriage ended in August 1994.

    They had one child together: Alexa Ray Joel, born December 29, 1985.

    The couple have remained good friends over the years while raising Alexa.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    It was a number three record in the US, and reached number one in the UK, his only number one in the country.

    It was the second biggest-selling single of 1983 in the UK, and was the 19th biggest-selling single of the 1980s, selling 975,000 copies. It had sold over 1.06 million copies by 2017.

  5. Westlife also scored a number one with a cover

    Westlife - Uptown Girl (Official Video)

    Of the many cover versions, boyband Westlife's is the most famous.

    In the UK, the song was recorded as 2001's Comic Relief single, reaching number one and becoming the group's best-selling single to date.

    Read more: Westlife's 10 best songs ever, ranked

    Its music video also parodied the Billy Joel video, showing the boys trying to impress model Claudia Schiffer.

  6. Did Princess Diana really dance ballet to 'Uptown Girl'?

    Dancing with Diana: Princess wowed audience in surprise appearance

    A scene in the penultimate episode of season four of The Crown shows Princess Diana (played by Emma Corrin) surprising her husband Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), with a dance sequence set to 'Uptown Girl' at the Royal Opera House.

    This did actually happen!

    In December 1985 at a VIP event held at London’s Royal Opera House, the event occurred at the annual Friends of Covent Garden.

    As a surprise for her husband, Diana appeared on stage with dancer Wayne Sleep.

    Emma Corrin in The Crown season 4
    Emma Corrin in The Crown season 4. Picture: Netflix

    Sleep later said of the moment: “I said to Princess Diana – this will never work, Ma’am. You’re so much taller than me.”

    The pair danced a short dance routine to Billy Joel’s classic hit, to huge applause from the lucky audience.

    Years later, Sleep wrote in The Guardian: “She loved the freedom dancing gave her. A few days later, I got a letter. She wrote: ‘Now I understand the buzz you get from performing.’”