Ever since arriving in London, Wallis Simpson had wanted to meet the Prince of Wales. She accomplished this fairly easily through her friendship with Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness. Thelma was the Prince’s current fling and was unhappily married to Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness. They eventually divorced in 1933 and Thelma became known as Thelma, Viscountess Furness as the divorced wife of a peer.
Wallis had met Thelma through her friends Benny and Consuelo Thaw, who happened to be Thelma’s sister. In early January 1931, Consuelo invited Wallis to the Furness home at Melton Mowbray for a week away. The Prince of Wales and Thelma would both be there, but Consuelo couldn’t make it. Convention demanded that one married couple should act as chaperones and Consuelo asked if the Simpsons would be able to help out. Wallis nervously accepted the invitation as it could prove to be an excellent step up the social ladder for both her and Ernest. Wallis spent the entire Friday on her hair and nails and battling an inconvenient cold.
In her memoirs Wallis wrote, “So one Friday1 afternoon Ernest and I met Benny Thaw at St Pancras station, where we board the train for Melton. I had never felt worse in my life. Possibly from the onslaught of excitement, I had come down with a dreadful cold. My head was stuffed up; my body ached; my voice rasped in my ears. In my despair I saw nothing but disaster ahead: a sniffling chaperon boring the Prince and the other guests.”2 On the train, Wallis demanded that Benny teach her how to curtsey properly.
A waiting car drove them from the station to the house where they were met by Thelma’s stepdaughter Averill. The rest of the party had been delayed by the fog on the road. For two hours, they waited as Wallis desperately wanted to crawl under the covers. Around 7 in the evening, Thelma appeared with the Prince of Wales and his brother Prince George – later the Duke of Kent – who would not be staying. She curtsied to both of them before having tea. Wallis later wrote, “I remember thinking, as I studied the Prince of Wales, how much like his pictures he really was – the slightly wind-rumpled golden hair, the turned-up nose, and a strange, wistful, almost sad look about the eyes when his expression was in repose. But I was surprised on seeing him for the first time to discover how small he was.”3 After a late dinner and playing cards – Wallis lost £8 – the evening came to an end. She slept in the following morning.
At lunch, Wallis was seated next to the Prince, and he later recalled that they discussed the differing British and American attitudes to central heating. Wallis remained petrified of leading the conversation astray, having been instructed that royalty must be allowed to lead any conversation. That same evening, she regained the £8 she lost and some more. Benny, Wallis and Ernest were up early the following morning to take the train back to London. Wallis later wrote of the weekend, “I decided that the Prince was truly one of the most attractive personalities I had ever met. He had a rare capacity for evoking an atmosphere of warmth and mutual interest, and yet it was hardly bonhomie. […] I had been fascinated by the odd and indefinable melancholy that seemed to haunt the Prince of Wales’s countenance; his quick smile momentarily illuminated but never quite dispelled this look of sadness.”4
Wallis and the Prince of Wales would not meet again until several months later.
- In her memoirs Wallis writes Friday, while in her letter to her aunt Bessie she writes Saturday. In Anne Sebba’s That Woman their first meeting is said to have taken place on the Saturday – 10 January
- The heart has its reasons by the Duchess of Windsor p. 178
- The heart has its reasons by the Duchess of Windsor p. 180
- The heart has its reasons by the Duchess of Windsor p. 183-184