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The moment the world changed forever


A dubious honour
John Julius Norwich Writer
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In the only summer that he was king, the summer of 1936, King Edward VIII had chartered a boat for a cruise on the Mediterranean. It was called the Nahlin, N-A-H-L-I-N, and to my parents' great surprise, because they knew him and Mrs Simpson, they'd already been an item for over a year, perhaps two years. But they weren't close friends, they were acquaintances more than friends, they saw each other at parties, but they didn't invite each other much. And they were very surprised to receive an invitation from the king to join them on a section of this cruise, the section when they were in Greece. But of course… naturally, they accepted. And it wasn't a tremendous success actually, my mother had a septic throat and had to stay in her cabin for a couple of days and there was nothing very much went on. But we subsequently of course we realised that the point of the whole thing was that my father, of all the cabinet ministers having got a fairly Casanova-like reputation himself, the king thought might be the most... of all the cabinet ministers the one most likely to sympathise with his position, which, of course, my father couldn't. I mean... it was perfectly impossible. The first time he ever saw Wallis at a lunch party, he wrote down in his diary, 'She's a perfectly nice woman but she's hard as nails and doesn't love him.' That was his very, very first reaction. And anyway, everybody knew a twice divorcee, American woman just couldn't be queen. Everybody believed this except the king who still thought she was Helen of Troy. It was the most extraordinary schoolboy crush that he had on her and he really couldn't think of anything else at all. And he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world and we only had to see her and know her to see what a wonderful queen she'd be and all that. We thought she looked like an old boot and we couldn't really see the point at all. But anyway, that was the point of the Nahlin cruise and I remember everybody talking and I used to sing songs I'd picked up from my parents' gramophone records and I remember there was a wonderful Calypso I think it was, 'Love, love, love along that made King Edward leave the throne' and several other songs like that I remember from the time. So anyway, that was the abdication.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: King Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson

Duration: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018