Review - Sheila, Robert Wainwright

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Vivacious, confident and striking, young Australian Sheila Chisholm met her English husband, Lord Loughborough, in Egypt during the First World War. Arriving in London as a young married woman, she quickly conquered English society, and would spend the next half a century inside the palaces, mansions and clubs of the elite. Her clandestine affair with young Bertie, the future George VI, caused ruptures at Buckingham Palace, with King George offering his son the title Duke of York in exchange for 'never hearing of the Australian again'. Sheila subsequently became Lady Milbanke and ended her days as Princess Dimitri of Russia, juggling her royal duties with a successful career as a travel agent. Throughout her remarkable life, she won the hearts of men ranging from Rudolph Valentino to Prince Obolensky, and maintained longstanding friendships with Evelyn Waugh, Wallis Simpson, Idina Sackville and Nancy Mitford. A story unknown to most, Sheila is a spellbinding account of an utterly fascinating woman.

Book Review

There's a slightly obvious reason for being attracted to this novel, way outside my normal reading preferences. The story of a young Australian woman who arrives in England just before the outbreak of the First World War, ends up in Egypt working with injured soldiers during that war, marries a Lord, returns to England and promptly inserts herself into the upper echelons of English Aristocracy, right up to the Royal Family themselves, becoming good friends with the young Princes, and ultimately having an affair with the future George VI.

It's a piece of social history, that is sometimes absolutely fascinating and informative, and at others a long drawn out recital of names names names (with the obvious hat-tip to Ab Fab). When it's delving into the life and times, and even into the connections between the well-known, the Aristocracy and the strictures and nuances of society it's interesting, although a little more detail would have been preferable. When it's simply a bit gossipy, encumbered by a tendency to refer to names and titles that didn't necessarily call any particular significance to mind, it did become tedious.

One that you can, however, dip in and out of as mood permits, which is ultimately how this reader finished it eventually. A chapter or two at a time, when untaxing reading was required.

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