How to entertain like Wallis Simpson: Gloriously acid-tounged guide for Vogue in 1949 reveals Duchess made guests discuss controversial topics and entertained after 8.45pm when ‘women over 40 look their best’
From accusing guests of having controversial views to liven up conversation to avoiding celebrity attendees, the Duchess of Windsor had some unconventional hosting methods.
Wallis Simpson became a world famous hostess, jetting around the globe entertaining high profile figures, after her husband, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in December 1936.
Writing for Vogue in 1949, the American socialite shared her witty guide to entertaining – which has been reprinted to conicide with party season.
In a tongue-and-cheek assessment, she wryly joked that Soviet Russia may not have been solely laser-focused on building a nuclear bomb – but also keen to beat the French in their pursuit of fine cuisine.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor attending a party being held in their honour at the Waldorf Astoria in 1953
Wallis Simpson became a world famous hostess, jetting around the globe entertaining high profile figures, after her husband, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in December 1936
The Duchess noted that while the USSR was locked in a nuclear arms race, it was also the birthplace of fine dishes such as Stroganoff – predicting that Soviet Russia hadn’t yet ‘lost their appetite for the good things in life’.
Citing the race to build an atomic bomb, she questioned whether the Russians could be focused on more than just this ‘unpleasant task’
‘Suppose that it should presently turn out that other Russians were working with equal fanaticism and secret to produce a fine Sauce Gribiche to break the French monopoly?’ she wrote.
She suggested that while peace could not be made at dinner – a ‘truly elegant’ dining table – ‘one of the finest flowerings of the good society’ – could be reflective of the success of individual countries.
Writing for Vogue in 1949, the American socialite, pictured a week before King Edward VIII abdicated, shared her satirical guide to entertaining
The Duchess commented that while the discussion of politics is essential to every good dinner party, her husband was expected not to take a view on the issues of the day.
Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII: A scandal that rocked a nation
January 1931 – Wallis meets Prince Edward in January 1931, after being introduced via her friend Lady Furness
1931- 1934 – They see each other regularly at various parties
August 1934 – Wallis admits she and Edward are no longer just friends, after joining him on a cruise
January 1936 – King George V dies. Edward asks Wallis to watch the proclamation of his accession with him from St. James’s Palace
August 1936 – The pair enjoy a cruise. Details of their relationship appear in the American press
December 11, 1936 – Edward announces his abdication
June 3, 1937 – The couple get married in France. Wallis was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, but was not allowed to share her husband’s title of ‘Royal Highness’
Wallis never focused her dinner parties around the hot celebrities of the moment, adding that few were able to decipher between expensive meats like pheasant and guineafowl.
She added: ‘The present generation of bright, young global thinkers, who were weaned on the box lunches served by transoceanic airliners, are lost to the subtleties of a menu.’
In the Duchess’ eyes, ten was the ideal number of guests to invite to a dinner party because more than eight meant no soufflé – a ‘melancholy omission’ – while 12 meant staff wouldn’t be able to serve all the food at once.
The Duchess warned hostess’ to avoid long rectangular tables because it would be impossible to spark conversation again once it inevitably died.
Adding that one guest is always left out of conversation, Wallis suggested reviving conversation by bringing up a controversial topic, and accusing another guest of having strong views on the matter.
She suggested rotating seating partners with each course and said in general, the French and British eat more than Americans because the French often have a second helping while Britons finish their meal with cheese and port.
Another tip was ensuring never to leave a French chef alone because they all have a ‘secret ambition’ to ‘obliterate’ their delicious meal with a ‘violent outpouring of sauces’.
She also suggested summoning the chef three or four days in advance to discuss your worries with them.
During the discussion with your chef, she suggested combining your own menu with their three or four ‘experimental’ options.
To avoid falling into a rut while hosting dinner parties, she suggested keeping a record of guest lists, menus and seating arrangements to avoid inviting the same group of friends each time and the event becoming boring.
She suggested the reason Europeans dine much later than Americans is because by 8:45pm ‘bankers and industrialists are as mellow as they are ever likely to be, and women over 40 begin to look their best’.
The Duchess shared tips including swapping guests with every course and leaving the British to drink champagne for the entire evening
Dismissing the French custom of a new wine for each course, she suggested just one throughout the dinner – adding that the British are content to drink nothing but champagne as ‘their one release from austerity’.
The Duchess warned against the British custom of men staying behind after dinner to chat over coffee, brandy, cigars to avoid solving all of the worlds problems after 11pm and forgetting them in the conference room the next day.
Finally, the Duchess joked that planning the party is often more interesting than the dinner itself, and if you’re worried about things going wrong, she shared her golden rule: ‘Don’t worry. It never happens.’
Who was Wallis Simpson and how did she shape the monarchy?
Born in 1896 in Pennsylvania, Wallis moved to London in 1931 after marrying her second husband, shipping executive Ernest Aldrich Simpson.
She struck up a friendship with Lady Thelma Furness who was the mistress of the then Prince of Wales.
Over the course of 1931, the Simpsons were gradually absorbed into Edward’s social life, spending frequent weekends with him at Fort Belvedere, his 18th-century home in the grounds of Windsor Great Park.
The turning-point in the friendship came in January 1934, when Thelma sailed off for a visit to the United States. According to Wallis, Thelma said laughingly, ‘I’m afraid the Prince is going to be lonely. Wallis, won’t you look after him?’
The Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson is pictured in 1927, four years before moving to London
As the pair grew closer, he wooed Wallis with gifts of jewellery as well as money to buy clothes and other luxuries.
At Edward’s insistence, Wallis, wearing a tiara borrowed from Cartier, was formally presented to his parents, King George V and Queen Mary. The meeting, at which few words were exchanged, was not a success.
Outraged to have to receive ‘that woman in my own house’, the King gave orders that Mrs Simpson was not to be invited to any of the Silver Jubilee functions being planned for the following year, nor to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.
As news of the affair spread, the Duchess of York — later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother — declared openly that she would no longer meet Mrs Simpson and would beat a hasty retreat whenever ‘that woman’ walked into the same party.
In 1936 Edward ascended the throne after the death of his father George V. He made clear his intentions to marry Wallis as soon as her second divorce came through.
It caused a national scandal and the Church of England decreed he couldn’t marry a divorcee with two living former husbands.
Wallis went to live in exile in France to escape the pressure, and in December 1936 Edward abdicated so they could marry, assuming the lesser title of Duke of Windsor.
The King abdicated, signing off his brief reign with a broadcast that referred to ‘the woman I love’.
Simpson received abusive and hostile hate mail and was accused of being a Nazi sympathiser.
In 1937, she and Edward went to Germany to meet Hitler, before the atrocities of the Second World War, with her husband keen for her to experience the pomp and ceremony of a royal tour, denied to Wallis in England.
Edward become governor of The Bahamas between 1940 and 1945, and the couple lived out the rest of their days enjoying the life of high society figures.
However, she never lost her affection for Ernest Simpson, her beloved second husband and her friends and confidantes have since said that she never wanted to divorce him.
Significantly, she kept writing to him and these intimate letters, which have only come to light in recent years, reveal that Wallis was beset by fears and regrets over how her life had turned out.
When the Duke died in 1972, Wallis became something of a recluse and was rarely seen in public before her death in 1986, at the age of 89.