Princess Kate is clearly, radiantly, the apple of William’s eye, but Wallis Windsor was the king’s peach….when I worked for American Vogue in New York I came across them from time to time. Once, most memorably, as I describe in my memoir ‘Redeeming Features’, the duchess and I were both early for a cocktail party at the Waldorf Towers so she insisted we hid for 20 minutes, laughing, in a corridor broom closet until some other guests arrived.
This was typical of the woman as I knew her…full of vim and vigor and completely unstuffy…an example is this Philippe Halsman ‘jump’ photograph of the couple, though as a detractor sourly remarked, ‘it looks more like they’ve been dropped by somebody’.
The duchess also had a very tender side. I have a letter she wrote to her friend and mentor, the decorating genius Elsie Mendl, from La Cröe, the Windsors house on Cap d’Antibes (and now Roman Abramovitch’s), in the late 1930s … “nothing could make me happier than to be alone with you at the Villa Trianon… to look at you, and all the things you have created”….and she adds… “tonight I go to play cards with Winston Churchill who is stopping with Max Beaverbrook”…so much for her being shunned by ‘society’.
Wallis’s style and chic are legendary, to say nothing of the famous jewels. Some of these were sold recently at Sotheby’s and Chairman Henry Wyndham asked me to co-host a lunch there before the sale. The idea was our guests would try on those huge historic rocks, but maddeningly they had all been sent to some Hong Kong potentate for a private viewing. So the nearest I’ve got to clamping on that vast ruby and emerald flamingo is one of the copies made by Butler and Wilson….and which my friend Hugo Vickers snapped up in readiness for his forthcoming book, ‘Behind Closed Doors’, a chronicle the duchess’s last tragic years after the duke died.
It makes harrowing reading, the poor woman bedridden and bullied…..tortured would not be too strong….by the ogreish female attorney Maitre Blum. I prefer to remember her as the epitome of elegance.
And fun…the first time we met, I mentioned a new group. “The Beatles!” she said. “don’t you just love ‘em?”