We’re still obsessed with Wallis Simpson

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What is it about this middle-aged, double divorcee from Baltimore, square-jawed with a mole on her chin and hair scraped back into airplane wings, that suddenly we can’t get enough of? Either she, or an actress impersonating her, has been on almost as many front pages in the last year as she was at the height of her infamy in 1936, the period known as the Abdication Crisis (which perhaps should now be renamed the Abdication Solution, considering how well it all turned out).

Ever since the award-winning film, The King’s Speech, when Wallis had only a brief part – but was, of course, the catalyst for the entire story – there has been an explosion of interest in her: from William Boyd’s bestselling novel, Any Human Heart, recently adapted for television, to Caroline Blackwood’s book, The Last of the Duchess, transformed into a critically acclaimed stage play, and, of course, my own biography, That Woman. Partly based on a new cache of letters from Wallis to second husband Ernest Simpson, it dramatically revises the traditional interpretation of her story – of which more later.

And now, as celebrations begin for the Diamond Jubilee, Madonna’s film about Wallis, W.E., is released. It’s so-called because Wallis and Edward referred to themselves as W.E. – their joint initials, but also a dig at the royal “we”. Subversive, intimate, playful, their nickname reveals much about their relationship....

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