Interviu aparut in revista TABU octombrie 2014.
How you choose your subjects?
Obviously they have to intrigue you and you have to want to know more but sadly these days you have to get the publisher to agree that the world also wants to know more about them. In my case it was the history of the period as much as anything and the sense that nobody could really understand Wallis. She needed to be explained not seen as a one dimensional caricature.
How long did you work on your book about Duchess of Windsor?
In one sense just 3 years , in another all my life as I specialized in history of the 1930s at University and have read lots about her over many years.
Sometimes you seem to be a bit cruel . Do you think the author must have a sympathy for her/his subject ?
I don’t think I am cruel but I think until very recently when people were extremely deferential to the Royal Family nobody dared say anything negative about Edward 8th. However I think the present royal family admit that h3 was something of the black sheep of the family and that once you understand how weak and defective a personality he was, you are actually being very kind and sympathetic to Wallis. You are turning the whole story on its head. I do think a biographer must have sympathy with your subject to the extent that you care about them or you will end up just bashing your person unfairly but I don’t think that sympathy should lead you to create a warped version of the truth , More important than sympathy is a feeling of responsibility to the truth.
Is it possible to create a bond between you and your subject?
Yes but that is dangerous in some ways. You must not believe you are the savior or the interpreter or the one person who can tell their story as human beings are far too complicated and there are many aspects of a personality. It is dangerous to identify with your subject, I believe
How difficult was to do the research ? What involved this ?
The research is fun…I spent a lot of time in libraries in England and America, read a lot of diaries and other books but I also went to Mexico to interview the son of Ernest Simpson which was fascinating in my quest to understand Wallis and Ernest and why they let this royal liaison take over their lives. Family
Was Wallis Simpson a good or a bad woman in your opinion ?
No one is pure god or pure evil. She was weak in some ways in that she craved money and jewellery and recognition but it was created by her insecurity as a child. She became strong once she realised there was no way out and that turned her into an unpleasant personality as far as many people were concerned. But she was loyal and believed that her new found status and money was in some ways recompense for her mother’s struggle and insecurity. To understand is to forgive I believe. Or it can be!
Do you own things which belonged to her ? Or do you wish to have one?
No I don’t own anything and I don’t crave jewellery, it isn’t part of my life style.
What was the most difficult thing or situation while working on your book ?
It is the same as it always is; not to hurt minor characters who happen to be swept up in the story and who never expected to be part of history or to be public characters.
Are you a fashionista ?
I love beautiful clothes but no not a fashionista as I spend most of my working day in trousers at my desk or in the library and in yoga or gym clothes! But every so often I appear on TV and then I have to look smart! I love to have something striking when publication comes and I was lucky that the designer Roland Mouret made me a fabulous gold dress for publication of THAT WOMAN which he called THAT DRESS because he was inspired by Wallis rags to riches story.
What was always in the Duchess purse ? And in yours ?
Oh she had lipstick and compact and not much else…me you don’t want to know my bag is so heavy…I have notebooks and dozens of pens and pencils and a wallet and make up bag and keys and a book in case I am stuck on the metro and a spare set of glasses and a phone and a diary and much, much else JUST IN CASE!
Did you meet people whom are living at the same addresses as the Duchess ? Are they disturbed in anyway about the fact ? Or are they proud about this ?
No not really…Only Mohamed al Fayed who lives in her Paris house but he is very proud of the association
Do you think the Duchess was a trend setter ?
Yes definitely what she wore others copied …if they could e.g. the jewels she wore as dress clips became a fashion accessory but were very expensive!
What you discovered at her and become something for you ( a place, a thing, a custom)?
After finishing book did closed the door between her and you ?
No not at all new material kept emerging and other people told me things that I thought were probably true but not sure about and they confirmed these. You can read about some of these on my blog.
Photos: Anne Sebba, and Cartier.