a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


I met everyone who counted in France


Open house at the British Embassy
John Julius Norwich Writer
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

And then the next day we flew off to Paris and my mother, who was by this time absolutely determined that she was not going to see either of us ever again, waiting at Le Bourget to meet us and to drive us back into this very, very, very sad, grey, icy-cold Paris. That winter of 1944-1945 was one of the coldest winters Paris has ever had, and hardly anybody had any heating except, of course, the British embassy it was boiling and also had vast, I mean, innumerable amounts of gin and whiskey. So my mother had open house every single night. Every night they were at the embassy for three years, it was open house from 6 to 8 and all the great and famous would come in, not having seen gin and whiskey for five years and whooping it up like billy-o. All of the great ones from Jean Cocteau down really, you know... and soon, of course, joined by Louise de Vilmorin who became the last... not quite the last but perhaps one of the greatest, most important of my father's great mistresses, who actually moved into the embassy and had a room on the top floor and she was there, I means she was sort of semi-resident. My mother didn't mind a bit. God knows what the staff used to mutter about, I don't know. Nobody ever said anything to me, obviously, but the staff must have been deeply shocked, I think. But it's not something my father worried about and not the sort of thing that my mother worried about. That was the great thing: my mother loved Louise every bit as much as my father loved Louise. And I remember saying to her one day long, long afterwards, 'Did you never mind all my papa's mistresses?' And she said, 'Darling, why should I mind them? They made him happy and I always knew they were the flowers, I was the tree.' And she didn't mind what little things went on in the bottom of the trunk. She was it and she always knew it. And my father, in his diaries, when he's writing about these ladies always says 'Of course, she's not a patch on Diana', or, 'If I had to choose between her and Diana, it would be like choosing the night and the day.' And my mother knew that. I mean, there was one moment when she and I and Louise, the three of us, went on a 10-day holiday to the South-West leaving my father working in Paris. It was just the three of us and Louise was wonderful company, never stopped talking or singing. She sang beautifully to the guitar, taught me hundreds of songs. And anyway, she was a great asset to the whole embassy thing, as it turned out.

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: Paris, Louise de Vilmorin

Duration: 3 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018