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This is the story of Joss de Wahl who was, pretended he was, or believed he was, the secret son of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. He was hidden from history because his birth coincided with the abdication crisis and questions surrounding Edward VIII’s legal entitlement to renounce the throne on behalf of his descendants. In The Secret Son of Wallis Simpson, Selina Molteno tells this tall tale with verve and imagination and not a little sly humour. She enters the strange world of her subject, sympathetically relating his interpretation of his life, while keeping a sceptical, critical distance. Could his story have been true? Was he a conman? Or was he a deluded fantasist who felt so unloved that he needed to create another set of fictitious parents? Whichever way we look at it, he led an intriguing, if not necessarily particularly happy, life. It was a life touched by extraordinary privilege and considerable wealth, yet it was also scarred by the cruel and debilitating disease of porphyria, which he believed he inherited from the British royal family, and, most painfully of all for him, he was betrayed by the very people he had most trusted and loved.
Much of the story is set in South Africa, a place where those with something to hide often find their way. Joss de Wahl asserted he had been sent there at an early age with the connivance of important contemporary figures, including Winston Churchill, who had helped to construct his new identity. With the arrival of weird conspiracy theories on the internet, we have all become used to the thin line that many people walk between what is and what they choose to believe. In this respect, Joss de Wahl is a potent precursor and reminder of the dilemmas we all face. What answers may be arrived at is up to the reader to decide, but the journey is undeniably fascinating.
“A must-read piece of highly entertaining biographical detection. A superbly-orchestrated rummage through a rich and assorted set of circumstances and characters. The author’s stylish prose and judicious eye brings this astonishing story vividly and compellingly to life.”
– Bill Nasson, Emeritus Professor in History, Stellenbosch University.
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