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Who Is the Real Bolter in Taylor Swift’s ‘TTPD’ Track? What to Know About Idina Sackville

Who Is the Real Bolter in Taylor Swift s TTPD Track
Taylor Swift. Amy Sussman/Getty Images

When Taylor Swift announced “The Bolter” edition of her 11th album, The Tortured Poets Department, some fans theorized that the song was about a specific photo of her ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn.

The snap in question shows Alwyn and Swift fleeing — or bolting, if you will — from an afterparty for the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2022. Because the duo were rarely seen in public together during their six-year romance, fans latched onto the idea that “The Bolter” of the TTPD track was Alwyn, who was open about wanting to keep his relationship with Swift private.

While “The Bolter” certainly could be a nod to Alwyn, there’s someone else who’s a more likely inspiration for the song: Idina Sackville, an Edwardian-era socialite who was known for bucking convention and having several husbands. She’s not named in Swift’s song, but her nickname was The Bolter — and there are a few lyrics that hint Swift has heard of Sackville.

Keep scrolling for a complete guide to the real-life Bolter behind Swift’s song:

Who Is Idina Sackville?

Lady Myra Idina Sackville, who went by her middle name, was born in England in 1893. Her father, Gilbert Sackville, was the 8th Earl De La Warr (pronounced like the U.S. state “Delaware”). Idina earned a reputation for flaunting social mores in the era during and after World War I, because of her numerous divorces as well as her penchant for doing things like letting her party guests watch her get dressed. Her cousin was the writer and garden designer Vita Sackville-West, who was also famous for her relationship with Virginia Woolf.

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Idina married her first husband, David Euan Wallace, in 1913. The duo were at one time very much in love, but as WWI forced them apart, their relationship struggled, and they divorced in 1919. Idina soon married her second husband, Charles Gordon, and the pair went to live in Kenya. Wallace, meanwhile, raised his and Idina’s two sons.

Who Is the Real Bolter in Taylor Swift s TTPD Track
Terence Rushin/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Following her split from Gordon, Idina married and divorced three more husbands: Josslyn Hay, Donald Carmichael Haldeman and William Vincent Soltau. Her personal life remained the subject of society gossip throughout the 1920s and ’30s, even as social conventions relaxed somewhat.

In 2008, her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne wrote a book about Idina titled The Bolter. The title references Idina’s nickname, which she earned because of her habit of “bolting” from her husbands. As Osborne points out in the book, Idina’s husbands were often not innocent in the demise of their marriages to her. Both Wallace and Hay engaged in affairs while they were married to Idina, who often knew her husbands were stepping out on her.

Idina died in 1955 at age 62.

What Does ‘The Bolter’ Mean?

Idina became associated with the nickname “The Bolter” because of the novelist Nancy Mitford, who based a character on her. Mitford’s books The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred feature a woman known as The Bolter, who flees to Kenya where she gets involved in “hot stuff.” The Bolter of the books also marries a younger man (as Idina did when she wed Hay) and is known for dressing very well (as Idina was).

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Osborne didn’t know Idina was her great-grandmother until she was a teenager. In her book, she writes that her mother and grandmother kept her secret in part because Mitford’s novels had made her so infamous. “You don’t want to be known as ‘the Bolter’s granddaughter,’” Osborne recalls her mother telling her.

Who Is the Real Bolter in Taylor Swift s TTPD Track
English writer Nancy Mitford. Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Where Else Can You Find ‘The Bolter’?

Mitford wasn’t the only author who mined Idina’s life for inspiration. In 1924, Michael Arlen published a novel called The Green Hat, which followed a woman named Iris Storm — those initials are very intentional — as she embarked on a series of affairs after WWI. Like the real Idina, Iris drives a Hispano-Suiza automobile and treasures a ring given to her by one of her ex-husbands. In the novel, however, Iris is widowed rather than divorced.

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The Green Hat was adapted into the 1928 film A Woman of Affairs starring Greta Garbo, but the book was considered too risqué in the United States and references to it were removed to avoid clashing with the censors. Garbo’s character is instead named Diana Merrick.

Who Is the Real Bolter in Taylor Swift s TTPD Track
Greta Garbo in ‘A Woman of Affairs,’ 1928. Cover Images

How Does Taylor Swift’s Song Relate?

Swift’s “The Bolter” seemingly references both the real Idina and the character in Mitford’s novels. “Splendidly selfish, charmingly helpless / Excellent fun till you get to know her,” Swift sings in the first verse. “Then she runs like it’s a race / Behind her back, her best mates laughed / And they nicknamed her ‘The Bolter.’”

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In the chorus, Swift describes a woman fighting with a lover who might not necessarily be the best choice for her. “Started with a kiss / ‘Oh, we must stop meeting like this’ / But it always ends up with a town car speeding / Out the drive one evening,” the lyrics read. “Ended with the slam of a door / Then he’ll call her a whore / Wish he wouldn’t be sore / But as she was leaving / It felt like breathing.”

Swift also references some things that would be very familiar to socialites of the early 20th century: trophy hunting and horse racing. To drive home the point that the song’s subject is well-traveled and promiscuous, Swift adds, “She’s been many places with / Men of many faces.”

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