I just finished reading That Woman, the new book by author, Reuters journalist and lecturer Anne Sebba. The title refers to the term often used by the then-Queen and others in the British Royal circle to describe my client Wallis Simpson, who went on to become the Duchess of Windsor.
Did I enjoy the book? Not really. In fairness, it’s wonderfully researched, I’m sure. And for history buffs it’s no doubt a delight because great detail has gone in to describing the people and places involved in the story. It relies heavily on letters and documents of the time, many of which have just recently been made available.
The book is a study of Wallis Simpson beginning with her early years and following through to her meeting and eventually marrying the former King Edward VIII after he abdicated the throne for her, feeling he could not fulfill his duties without her by his side.
But I feel that the book, for all its historical detail, lacks the romance and excitement that was part of their lives, at least during times that I knew them. In particular, I was shocked to find that only one page had been devoted to famed partygiver Elsa Maxwell, and then no mention was made of her full relationship with the couple.
In reality, I met the Duke and Duchess through Elsa. She introduced me to them because she said the Duchess loved “fortunetellers”, as she called psychics in those days. The Duke tolerated me and was often rushing off to a golf game but would say “hello” and then seem very pleased that I was giving a reading to his wife because he saw the pleasure it brought her.
During the years that I gave readings on and off to the Duchess and spoke to Elsa Maxwell, Elsa told me that she acted as a “broker” for the couple, arranging a hefty fee for them to appear at parties. Elsa would then take a percentage of the fee they were given. Sometimes the fee would be $15,000 she told me; sometimes it would be in the neighborhood of $25,000.
Elsa was very much a part of their lives. And whether they were paid for attending or not, they did enjoy themselves. That Woman paints a picture of a constant struggle throughout their lives. I’m sure that they did struggle and I can verify, as mentioned in the book, that the Duke insisted on everyone in their environment referring to the Duchess as “Her Royal Highness”, even though she’d been denied the title by the Queen.
I found them to be a very loving couple – he perhaps was more in love with her than she with him – or it may have been that she was just the stronger and more businesslike person and he acted more with his emotions.
I wish I could recommend the book completely. It may offer a couple of new and rather scandalous theories on their sexual lives, but otherwise to me it lacks the warm feeling I’d have liked to find.