Bill Simpson OBE – Schedule of Talks
Pivotal Moments in History
1. “Napoleon – Master of Italy”
When a young Napoleon Bonaparte took command of the ‘rag-tag’ French Army of Italy, he defeated much larger Piedmont-Sardinian and Austrian armies, before subduing the Papal States. After a stunning series of victories, he led his army into Austria, compelling it to sue for peace. Bill Simpson describes how Napoleon displayed his military genius in the face of overwhelming odds, and explains how his status as a hero increased his political influence enabling him to launch a coup d’état that would eventually see his emergence as Emperor of France, heralding years of bloody conflict in Europe.
2. “Horatio Nelson – Path to Glory”
In a captivating talk, Bill Simpson portrays the rise to glory of Horatio Nelson, Britain’s most celebrated hero, demonstrating how his unorthodox tactics at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent ensured an unexpected British victory. Success though was followed by defeat by the Spanish at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, an encounter that saw Nelson lose an arm. Convinced that his career had ended, Nelson not only recovered, but famously disobeyed orders to achieve victory at the hard-fought Battle of Copenhagen. However, his destruction of Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile brought him widespread public acclaim, success that was eclipsed in 1805 by his defeat of combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar at the cost of his own life, thereby guaranteeing Nelson’s place in history.
3. “Empires Clash – The Crimean War”
A watershed in world history, coming between the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and World War I in 1914, the Crimean War (1853–1856) was the most mismanaged, brutal and futile campaign ever fought, a conflict between the Russian Empire and the French, British, and Ottoman Empires and the Kingdom of Sardinia. In a revealing talk, Bill Simpson examines the complex causes of the war and the bloody battles of Alma, Balaclava and Inkermann, and concludes his talk with the chaos behind the ill-fated heroism of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
4. “London Aerodrome and the Birth of Aviation”
The cradle of British aviation history was the first London Aerodrome which would become Royal Air Force Station Hendon in 1927. Wing Commander Bill Simpson, Hendon’s last Station Commander, speaks about the aerial firsts and breathtaking aerial displays of the 20s and 30s by an embryonic Royal Air Force that prepared it to meet the challenges presented during WWII. Charged with closing Hendon in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, Bill received the Freedom of the London Borough of Barnet the day that Royal Air Force Hendon closed.
5. “The Battle of Britain – A Close Run Thing”
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” When Winston Churchill spoke those words about the pilots defending Britain in 1940, Fighter Command was on the verge of withdrawing Spitfires and Hurricanes from the skies above London and the South East. In a revealing talk, Wing Commander Bill Simpson exposes the true facts of a momentous struggle that became the legend known as the Battle of Britain.
6. “Malta George Cross – Faith, Hope & Charity”
From 1940 to 1942, the Luftwaffe and Italian Air Force bombed Malta and the vital Allied shipping convoys – one of which “Operation Pedestal” was the largest and most heavily defended British convoy ever assembled. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel warned “Without Malta, the Axis will lose control of North Africa.” In this talk, Bill Simpson describes how the Royal Air Force steadfastly defended Malta’s airspace as Axis aircraft tried to bomb and starve the island into submission; they came within days of succeeding. For its courage, King George VI awarded Malta the George Cross.
7. “Talking with Presidents”
Bill Simpson tells how writing the biography of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s National Security Advisor and Head of Intelligence, opened the doors to Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush senior, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, and to Dr. Henry Kissinger and General Colin Powell. Bill’s anecdotal talk reveals secret stories from the Cold War, the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War. Bill also provides first-hand accounts of Mandela’s negotiations with Gaddafi over the Lockerbie Bombers, and includes a personal video message from the former South African president. Finally, Bill explains why Bill Clinton lost his temper during his interview with the president, heaping invective on former FBI boss, Louis Freeh.
Additional Talks by Bill Simpson complete and ready for delivery
8. “Nelson and the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife”
In this revealing talk, Bill Simpson highlights an episode in Horatio Nelson’s career that history has largely glossed over. Following victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797, Nelson led an amphibious attack on Cádiz to destroy the remnants of the Spanish fleet. The British assault was repulsed at great cost and as morale in the fleet collapsed, Nelson attempted to capture Santa Cruz in Tenerife, a stopping point for Spanish treasure ships. Once again though, the British Navy was beaten back. Worse still, Nelson was hit by a Spanish musket-ball and lost his right arm. In a riveting and vividly illustrated presentation, Bill examines these failed attacks and analyses their impact on Nelson’s character.
9. “Unsung Heroines – Camp Followers and Cantinières”
The Crimean War was the last war in which wives accompanied regiments on campaign. However, only 4 wives per 100 men travelled to the Crimea where they suffered appalling privations during a brutal campaign, barely tolerated by the British Army. In contrast, the French Army valued women in theatres of war, and dressed “cantinières” in attractive, quasi-military uniforms. In his talk, Bill opens the door on an almost unknown episode of military history, telling the story of the unsung heroines of their day.
10. “A Morning with Mandela”
In his riveting account of meetings with Presidents Nelson Mandela, George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton, Bill Simpson reveals secrets of the Gulf War, the Lockerbie Bombers, and Clinton’s affairs. Including a personal video from Nelson Mandela, this talk describes why Bill Clinton lost his temper during an interview, heaping invective on former FBI boss, Louis Freeh.
11. “A Pub Crawl through History”
The history of the English pub can trace its roots back to pre-Roman times. In a fascinating and often humorous talk that trawls the length and breadth of Britain, Bill Simpson reveals how the symbol of pubs and taverns throughout the land – the traditional illustrated pub sign – can capture the essence of English history.
12. “Fortress Alderney—Utopia?”
Bill Simpson describes a hidden paradise that is one of the smallest of the Channel Islands. Alderney has thirteen fortresses, a fascinating history; and with just 2,000 inhabitants, its own government. A Crown Dependency, it owes allegiance to the Queen as the “Duke of Normandy.” Invaded by Hitler in 1940, Alderney was a concentration camp, but today this quirky little island is unspoiled, tranquil and virtually crime free.
13. “Victoria Cross Heroes – Their Remarkable Stores”
The Victoria Cross is Britain’s supreme accolade for courage, awarded for “most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.” Bill Simpson charts the illustrious history of this unique symbol of courage, a medal that has only been awarded 1,356 times since the Crimean War.
14. “Ultimate Courage – Victoria Cross & Bar”
Since its creation, Britain’s Victoria Cross has long been recognised as the ultimate award for courage. However, three remarkable men have won this coveted medal on two separate occasions and were thus awarded the rare bar to the Victoria Cross. Bill Simpson tells the stories of these exceptional individuals, men whose tales of bravery eclipse a dazzling roll of honour.
15. “The Story of the Animal VC – the Dickin Medal”
The Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 to honour animals that displayed “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty.” Known as “The Animals’ Victoria Cross,” this medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949. In charting the history of animals in war, Bill Simpson explains how the medal was recently revived and tells the compelling stories behind its award in recent conflicts.
16. “Diamonds, Despots & Dictators”
Bill Simpson describes the launch of his book ‘The Prince’ at a glittering reception in the Great Hall in the Library of Congress, and a book tour that moved swiftly to New York, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Aspen, Chicago and Delaware. Bill’s breakfast encounter with the world’s most perfect diamond and gems worth $60 million, vies with the tale of a chilling collection of history’s despots and dictators hidden in a shadowy glade in Dallas, in a talk guaranteed to enthral you.
17. “Beyond Mach 10 – NASA’s Experimental Aircraft Program”
Living up to its motto, “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer” no one can deny that NASA has achieved an unparalleled record in the field of aviation. In a dynamic and fast-moving talk that spans nearly 6 decades of reaching for the impossible, Wing Commander Bill Simpson charts NASA’s stunning successes and gut-wrenching failures, as it relentlessly endeavours to advance man’s ability to fly faster and further than ever before.
Proposed Additional Talks by currently under construction.
An admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte, a man whose name ranks in the pages of history with Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Alexander the Great and Hannibal, I have long been fascinated by his exploits. I have written two novels about his Italian campaign, so it was natural that I should develop talks about one of history’s greatest names. The following are currently under construction.
18. “Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign & The Battle of the Nile”
In 1798, Napoleon’s forces defeated the Mamelukes at the Battle of the Pyramids. However, when Admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, Bonaparte was stranded in Egypt. Bill Simpson reveals the real story behind this disastrous campaign in which Napoleon’s army was bloodily repulsed at Acre, and how, even as his decimated army limped back to Egypt, Bonaparte exploited the media of the day, becoming the hero of the “Victory of the Pyramids,” thus ensuring his path to glory.
19. “The Rise and Fall of Napoleon Bonaparte”
Corsican born Napoleon Bonaparte exploited the opportunities the French Revolution provided to showcase his military talents. Bill Simpson explains how he helped defeat the British at Toulon and as commander of the French army in Italy, defeated numerically superior Austrian and Neapolitan armies. Despite a disastrous expedition to Egypt, he returned to France a hero, and in a coup d’état became First Consul. Later crowned Emperor of France, he defeated Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz. However, Napoleon’s Grand Army was decimated by a deadly Russian winter in 1812. He returned to Paris to raise a new army, but was overwhelmed in 1814 by a coalition of European forces at Leipzig. Exiled to Elba, Napoleon escaped but was defeated at Waterloo in June 1815, heralding his exile to distant Saint Helena.
20. “Napoleon Bonaparte – Man, Myth and Legend”
Egotistical tyrant or visionary liberator? Gifted opportunist or Machiavellian schemer? Hero of the Revolution or man of blood? The mere mention of Napoleon Bonaparte stirs emotions. He has inspired film makers, playwrights and historians, creating an enduring legend in the process. Bill Simpson opens the door on the real Napoleon Bonaparte: military prodigy, brilliant battlefield tactician and formidable strategist, often cited as the greatest military leader in history. However, Bill also reveals that while Napoleon was calculating, audacious, driven and ruthless, he was also a skilled statesman, and a charismatic individual with natural vivacity, wit and intensity that impressed all who knew him.
21. “Napoleon and the Application of Power”
“Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.” Following military success in Italy, Bonaparte seized power in an audacious coup d’état. Bill Simpson describes how as First Consul, he devised a Napoleonic Code that reinforced his grip on power. Engineering his election as Emperor of France, he firmly controlled the press and the Catholic Church, and implemented changes to government and education that underpinned his position. He also used his closest relatives and friends to maintain effective control of conquered states, and employed marriage ties as a political tool to promote alliances. Moreover, by destroying the privileges of the nobles and the clergy in Italian and German states, Napoleon consolidated his power outside France. Finally, Bill reveals how by using punitive taxation to dominate Europe, Napoleon ensured it was impossible to finance resistance to his rule.
22. “Napoleon and the Peninsular War”
By 1808, following crushing defeats on victories Austria, Prussia and Russia at Ulm (1805), Austerlitz (1805), Jena-Auerstädt (1806) and Friedland (1807), France dominated most of continental Europe. Britain alone had withstood the power of France at Trafalgar. By usurping the Spanish throne in favour of his brother Joseph in 1808, Napoleon prompted a Spanish uprising that encouraged Britain to send an expeditionary force to the Iberian Peninsula. In his action-packed talk on the Peninsular War, Bill Simpson describes how the ensuing conflict would to play a major part in Napoleon’s downfall.
23. “The Defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte”
Napoleon Bonaparte swept across Europe in 1805 destroying an Austrian army at Ulm. Just six weeks later he proved his tactical skill and daring at Austerlitz in arguably his greatest victory over a combined allied army of Austrians and Russians. In 1806 he crushed the Prussians at Jena and Auerstädt, and again at Eylau in early 1807. Short months later, he beat the Russians at Friedland, forcing them to sign the Peace of Tilsit. In 1809, he decisively defeated the Austrians again at Wagram thus completing one of the most remarkable series of military victories in modern history. By 1810, Napoleon’s France ruled or controlled the greater part of Europe, yet five years later, his Empire had collapsed. Bill Simpson explores the reasons for his victories and his later defeats, and assesses Napoleon’s impact on Europe.
24. “Napoleon Bonaparte – The Hundred Days”
Exiled to Elba, Napoleon returned to France in 1815. Bill Simpson describes how troops sent to arrest him promptly changed sides forcing Louis XVIII to flee. When the allies rejected Napoleon’s peace overtures, he filled the French army with war-hardened veterans and prisoners of war returned from Russia. With Wellington at Brussels, and Blucher and his Prussian army at Liège, Napoleon planned to defeat them separately. Bill describes how on 16 June 1815 the Prussians were routed at the Battle of Ligny, but the Battle of Quatre Bras ended in stalemate, and Wellington withdrew to Waterloo. The combined armies of Ney and Napoleon faced Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 and Napoleon’s defeat ended the Hundred Days. He spent his last six years on the island of St Helena where he died on 5 May 1821.