I suppose there are still two opinions of Wallis Simpson, the woman whose relationship with Edward VIII precipitated the king’s abdication in December 1936. Was she the woman who ‘pinched our king’, as a popular parody of ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ had it? Or was she merely an unfortunate femme fatale who unwittingly launched the greatest British royal crisis (or greatest royal love story) of the 20th century?
Anna Pasternak is definitely in the second camp. Her publisher’s blurb goes so far as to claim that this book is the first positive biography of Wallis, and it certainly reads a bit hearts and flowers in places. There’s an occasional touch of Private Eye’s Dame Sylvie Krin too, such as in the description of Wallis’s return from her divorce hearing in Ipswich: ‘On the long journey back to London … Wallis sank back, exhausted. She was thankful the ordeal was over, but as always, anxious. Few around her realised, let alone were sensitive to, her fragility.’ This is certainly the first book I have ever read where the author thanks a florist (Bluebells of Henley) for ensuring a regular supply of her subject’s favourite flowers to inspire her writing.
Pasternak overstates the degree of public sympathy there was for Wallis and Edward when the news of their relationship – and of the king’s determination to marry her – broke in the British press eighty-two years ago. We may be a little sceptical when she approvingly quotes Diana Mosley, a