The extraordinary speedboat racer and Caribbean potentate Joe Carstairs died 20 years ago today. From 1933 she ruled over the Bahamian island of Whale Cay, her consort a puckish doll by the name of Lord Tod Wadley. The Bahamas, you may recall, was where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor held sway during the Second World War, a piece of vice-regal busywork presumably intended to keep them far from Europe where their off-message admiration for Hitler might have proved an unwelcome distraction.
Above we see Carstairs with the Windsors on a Whale Cay walkabout; making up the foursome is the island’s spiritual leader Reverend Julian Henshaw (“a gay priest, a very very gay priest,” according to Carstairs), who once managed to get himself thrown off Capri after an impromptu table-top drag act. Can you imagine the after-dinner conversation back at the big house between the dethroned king and the uncrowned queen, the waspish Wallis and the vicar in a tutu? The indiscretions which might have slipped from those eight gin-loosened lips? We can but speculate, but Kate Summerscale’s essential The Queen of Whale Cay provides some tantalising background:
In January 1941 the Duke and Duchess paid a visit to Whale Cay, and Life magazine took photographs of their progress round the island. ‘Damn it,’ said the Duke of Windsor as he inspected the roads, ‘why can’t all the Out Islands make roads like these?’ Joe showed them her boats in the dock, and while the Duke was on the deck of one of the yachts she took the Duchess into the cabin. The Duchess saw Wadley. ‘Who is that?’ she asked (Joe was impressed that she said ‘who’ rather than ‘what’). Joe introduced her: ‘That’s my boy, that’s Wadley.’ ‘My God,’ said the Duchess, ‘he’s just like my husband’.