The Crown in Crisis – Times Books of Summer, History Hack and more…

Another week, another round of publicity. I’ve never before been involved with a book that has so excited people, and that is testament, I think, to its endlessly fascinating subject. Though I hope that it’s also that rare but wonderful thing- a good read.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed chatting to the marvellous people between History Hack, Alex and Alina – you can hear our conversation (without the really outrageous parts) here, and I’ve also done another Mail Plus video, this time focusing on the assassination attempt on Edward VIII by George McMahon, in which you can see me trying to sound and look knowledgeable while speaking into an iPhone here. I’m hoping that another podcast that I’ve done with a very special guest interviewer will be appearing very soon, too, and will flag it up when it appears.

The reviews continue to appear, which is very pleasing. I was thrilled that BBC History Revealed called the book ‘an enthralling look at the abdication of Edward VIII’ and that I apparently chart ‘the events of 1936 with a dynamic sense of drama’. And The Times included the book in their round-up of the best books of summer 2020, calling me a ‘lively historian’ and talking of my ‘entertaining tales and stern things to say about Edward VIII’. Have a read here, not least because there are lots of excellent books on it that are well worth buying and reading.

Lastly if you’ve bought the book from an online shop such as Amazon, Waterstones or Audible, do leave a review if you’ve enjoyed the book, as it makes a vast difference.

The Crown in Crisis – a Times Book of 2020, Dan Snow and more

As publication date approaches tomorrow, I’ve been exceptionally busy promoting and publicising the new book. It has been an honour to chat to so many people about the abdication crisis, the near-miss assassination attempt by George McMahon in July 1936 and much more besides. The conversations have been edifying, surprising and often made me rethink some of my assumptions and ideas. You can hear some of them as podcasts: it was a particular treat to talk to the great Dan Snow for his History Hit podcast, which you can listen to here. I’ll put the links up to the others when they appear.

I’m making a couple of radio appearances, too. I’m on Dan Wootton’s show on TalkRadio tonight at 6.30 and appearing on Matt Chorley’s morning show tomorrow at 11.30 on Times Radio. Very much looking forward to both appearances.

I’ve also done some filming, which has been exciting. I’ve talked to MailPlus’ programme Palace Confidential about all things Edward and Wallis, which can be seen here – I appear from about 16 minutes in.

And, of course, the reviews have started appearing, and I imagine will continue. I was delighted by a perceptive and engaged review by David Aaronovitch in The Times, and even more pleased by the paper not only making it their Book of the Week, but also listing it as one of their Best Books of 2020, which is extraordinarily flattering.

I’m sorry that I’m not going to be holding a physical book launch for the book, or a virtual one (I looked into it but it was too complicated and potentially embarrasing). And the dread coronavirus has meant that physical appearances are a good deal trickier than they once were. That said, I’ve signed a few copies in Hatchard’s – run, don’t walk to get one, as they’re the only signed copies in the shops at the moment anywhere – and there will be some virtual appearances coming up over the summer and autumn, all of which I’ll be letting you know about here in due course.

 

 

The Crown In Crisis – Daily Express, Daily Mail & The Guardian

Gosh, what a busy few days. I’m delighted that my book The Crown In Crisis has been serialised in the Daily Express yesterday (29 June) and today (30 June), with the content revolving around Edward VIII and his Nazi sympathies and the bizarre divorce case of Wallis Simpson. It’s especially appropriate because the Express, and its proprietor Lord Beaverbrook, plays such a central role in the book. You can have a read of the first extract here:

https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-express/20200629/281891595546382

Regular readers might also remember that I have mentioned George McMahon, Edward’s would-be assassin, before. I was thrilled that the Guardian, and several other papers (including Italy’s La Repubblica), have run a story about my discovery of McMahon’s extraordinary autobiographical document ‘He Was My King’, about his involvement with the Italian embassy and his MI5 links. Richard Kay of the Daily Mail has also done a fine write-up. You can read some of the pieces here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8472853/RICHARD-KAY-Did-MI5-want-assassin-shoot-Edward-VIII-Newfound-dossiers-reveal-explosive-story.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/28/british-state-covered-up-plot-to-assassinate-king-edward-viii

A lot more to come – podcasts, TV appearances, reviews, etc. All will be linked to here as and when they appear.

 

The Crown in Crisis – Daily Telegraph serialisation

I’m delighted to announce that the book has been serialised in today’s Daily Telegraph, in the Telegraph Magazine. It’s an absolute thrill to see it in the paper and it looks fantastic, thanks to the rare and archive pictures that’s accompanying the story. You can read it online here – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/royal-family/2020/06/27/inside-story-loveaffair-almost-tore-apart-royal-family/ – but I would strongly recommend that you buy a paper, for full effect.

The Crown in Crisis – US publication date and first reactions

Not long to go now until British publication of The Crown in Crisis, which will be available from your local bookshop (should it have reopened) or online emporium of choice from Thursday 9 July. American readers will have their chance to purchase the book from 19 January 2021 (tbc), and more details will be here when I have them. (I’ve had a chance to see the US cover design, and I can happily say that it looks fantastic.)

While the reviews for the book won’t be out for a few weeks, I’ve sent the book to some heroes of mine, and they’ve responded with some extremely generous comments. Here they are, in all their glory:

Excellent, well written, deeply researched, THE CROWN IN CRISIS is a dynamic revisionist history of the Abdication that brings to life a national and personal drama with a flamboyant cast of princes, charlatans, socialites, courtiers, press barons, politicians and adventurers that is both heartbreaking and glamorous, scholarly and very entertaining. Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs

Alexander Larman’s well-researched and well-written THE CROWN IN CRISIS is both scholarly and highly readable. He has mastered the sources superbly, and his analysis of the extraordinary story is full of thought-provoking insights. Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny

Anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of one of the key events of the 20th century, whose reverberations are still with us today, must read this book.

At times it beggars belief that so many diplomats, politicians, churchmen and newspaper editors devoted so much valuable thinking time to whether or not the King could marry Wallis Simpson.

Larman pulls apart the story and, having absorbed all the latest scholarship and newly released documents, knits it back together without dropping a stitch.

By seeing the crisis from multiple standpoints and accessing new information Larman creates a detailed, comprehensive and compulsively readable account of how the machinations of men at first threatened to derail but then ultimately saved the monarchy in time for the country to face the real enemy – Nazi Germany.

Larman combines the personal with the political, high drama with low morals, to create a compulsively readable account of one of the key events of the 20th century. Even those who think they know all there is to know about this story will find a fresh perspective in this engagingly fun and must read book.
Anne Sebba, author of That Woman

A completely fascinating and authoritative account of the Abdication Crisis, written with tremendous sophistication and insight. William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart

Finally, I have some very exciting news to reveal later this month, so stay tuned for further updates.

The Crown in Crisis – US publication details and UK pre-order

At this miserable and frightening time, some exciting news. I will be publishing The Crown in Crisis in the US later this year with St Martin’s Press. Any bibliophile knows the reputation that St Martin’s has in America, and it is an honour to be joining their stable. I’ll update this soon with details of the publication date and any more information.

For British readers, meanwhile, I’ve had a few people ask about where they can get hold of the book when it’s published. Obviously I’m hoping that you can buy it from your local bookshop, but in such an uncertain circumstance, it may be best to pre-order online. The best price I’ve found at the moment is through Hive – https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Alexander-Larman/The-Crown-in-Crisis–Countdown-to-the-Abdication/24894669 – but I’ll keep an eye out for any other offers.

The Crown in Crisis – cover reveal

‘The gun in McMahon’s pocket still held four bullets; more than enough, if he did not lose his nerve, to commit the act of regal assassination on which he was bound. Every bullet counts, he told himself.’

The Crown in Crisis, the new book by Alexander Larman.

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 9.7.2020

Crown in Crisis2

 

The Crown In Crisis

Monckton and Duke of Windsor

Happy 2019, everyone. 2018 was a mixed-to-rubbish year for me, because of the loss of various people close to me – not least my father-in-law, Will Alsop. However, things brightened somewhat towards the end of the year, thanks to some interesting professional opportunities, including writing for the excellent Drugstore Culture, and, best of all, the commissioning of my fourth book, The Crown In Crisis, by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

This concludes – for the time being, at least – an enjoyable and productive relationship with my former publisher, Head of Zeus, with whom I published Blazing Star, Restoration and Byron’s Women. Yet, like most historians and biographers, I have always wanted to join the W & N stable. Looking at my bookshelves, I see a lot of great names who have been published by them before – Simon Sebag Montefiore, Cecil Beaton, Kenneth Tynan, Alan Clark – and feel honoured to join their ranks. My thanks to my agent, Andrew Lownie, and to the indefatigable (and newly promoted) Alan Samson at Weidenfeld.

As for the book, it’s going to be a fresh, thrilling and surprising take on the abdication of Edward VIII. My interest was piqued, as many others’ was, by the excellent The Crown, but its depiction of Edward and Wallis – not to mention the likes of Alan ‘Tommy’ Lascelles – can only skim the surface. There is a wealth of untold and little-known stories around the events of 1936, including assassination attempts, cross-European espionage, sexual power play and the ever-present threat of a country on the brink of destruction. Only a few brilliant men and women – including Walter Monckton (pictured, with the Duke of Windsor) – could save Britain, and its throne, from ruin. I can’t wait to be able to share the finished work with you all.

Until then, I’ll keep you updated as to any significant or particularly interesting developments here, or over on Twitter, and, as ever, look forward to receiving your feedback, thoughts and suggestions, for this and any other books.

Alex

Will Alsop 1947 – 2018

Will_Alsop

 

My father-in-law Will Alsop died yesterday. I’m writing a more formal obituary of him, but here are a few personal thoughts and reminiscences. 

As The Teddy Bears once sang, ‘to know him is to love him’, and a very great  number of people both knew and loved Will Alsop. He had a sense of vitality and bonhomie that infected everything he did, whether it was his architecture, his painting or his life with family and friends. Being ‘the life and soul of the party’ can often be an imposition, a sense of having to play a part, but for Will, any room that had him in was instantly a brighter, warmer and friendlier place.

His work will, of course, endure for many years to come. Nobody who has been to the Peckham Library, to the North Greenwich tube station, to the Sharp Centre for OCAD in Toronto or the Blizard Building at QMU – to name but a tiny handful of his buildings – could walk away without feeling a sense both of awe and amusement at the playful and inquisitive sensibility that they displayed. This is equally true of his art. I’m writing this in a house festooned with his pictures – although, it seems now, not enough of them. His sensibility has always been a colourful, maximalist one; no wonder that he briefly rejoiced in the nickname ‘Mr Blobby’, although, unlike his unloved predecessor, there is little chance that he will end up a forgotten memory.

Yet it is the man behind the work that I want to celebrate. The first time that I met Will was on an early date with his daughter. I came crashing downstairs in the elegant flat that he lived in with his wife, Sheila, and most potential fathers-in-law would have been horrified by the dishevelled young(ish) man in front of them. Will was not one of those. Instead, he poured me a glass of excellent red wine, lit a cigarette, and talked to me about Philip Larkin for twenty minutes. He later pronounced me ‘very amusing’, which was Will parlance for, I think, ‘I like him.’

And thereafter, I became part of the family, a state of affairs enhanced when I married his daughter Nancy in 2015. I shared countless Christmases, Easters, Sunday lunches and family birthdays with him, as well as many a jolly occasion when a bottle of red would appear – he seldom needed an excuse – and mirth would be unconfined. I can think of no more fitting description of him than to say, as Hamlet did of Yorick, that he was ‘a fellow of infinite jest.’ Everything that he did, or said, was seldom without a humorous tinge; he was a man who was constantly amused by the vagaries and absurdities of everyday life, sometimes not without anger, but always with a wry compassion that made him the most human, as well as humane, of artists.

If there are memories of him that I treasure, of good fellowship and great kindness, let me share a few scattered recollections now, before writing this produces too great an emotional toll. I remember, at his house in Norfolk, him appearing with a gleam in his eye from his studio at around six o’clock, and a cry of ‘right! Who’s for a drink?’ In the white shirts he habitually wore, a ‘Will Alsop’ trademark was the spot of ink in the lapel pocked, a legacy of the pens that he consistently carried. I remember things he would say – any gathering of people was always ‘girls’, regardless of age or sex, and it was always ‘nighty-poo’, never ‘goodnight’. I remember the time that he greeted me once by bunny-hopping across a car park, and then, as my incredulous expression gave away my surprise, compounded it by saying ‘D’ye fancy me now?’ I remember his culinary tastes: gammon with parsley sauce, pork pie and trifle. And, of course, I remember his chosen tastes in drink; red wine all year round, strong gin and tonics in summer and very decent-sized measures of whisky in winter. With Will, thirst was seldom an option.

And yet, underneath the charisma and great generosity lay another man, one of enormous kindness and empathy and sensitivity. I remember my wedding day, and his scarcely concealed emotion at walking his beautiful daughter up the aisle. I remember his father of the bride speech, where, with his perfect comic timing and deadpan wit, he had an audience in hearty laughter virtually from the outset – but also paid tribute to Nancy, typically, by saying of her that ‘she is the kindest person I know.’  I remember the day after his first granddaughter, Rose, was born, when he and I sat in a Brighton pub together, toasting the baby’s head – figuratively speaking – and he spoke with a rare, almost fierce emotion, imploring me to be an ever-present part of the little girl’s life and speaking candidly of his own regrets, that his extraordinarily successful and diverse career had led him to spend more time away from his family than he would have liked.

He dealt with his final illness with typical equanimity. I remember being in the hospital room shortly after he was diagnosed, and rather than cursing or breaking down, he simply asked me to buy him a copy of the Times so that he could do the crossword. It was a time towards the end full of friends and family, as his life was. For a man who never went out of his way to shine in the full blaze of publicity, he was and remains hugely popular; the enormous turn out at his 70thbirthday party last year was testament to that, and, as any evening involving Will Alsop should be, it was one hell of a party.

He was a great fan of Bob Dylan, and it seems appropriate now to remember him by Dylan’s words in ‘Forever Young’- which is how, in his quest for fun, knowledge and life, he will always be for me.

‘May you build a ladder up to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay

Forever young

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And your song always be sung

May you stay

Forever young’.

 

William Allen Alsop, OBE, RA, 12 December 1947 – 12 May 2018