Churchill enjoyed life. He liked Cuban cigars, French champagne, Scottish whiskey and excellent food. He ‘was easily satisfied with the best’. He cultivated a distinctive personal style with his love of military uniforms, his zip up ‘siren suits’ (so called because they could be put on easily in an air raid), his bow ties and his V for Victory hand gestures. What is less well known is that in his youth he was also a keen sportsman. Think of Churchill and you don’t immediately think of sport, but he was a school boy fencing champion and a skilled polo player. In later life he owned and bred racehorses. While he enjoyed travelling and holidays and the glamour of the film world, he was nowhere happier than at his country house, Chartwell in Kent, surrounded by his family and by his animals; dogs, cats, swans, fish, pigs, sheep and even a budgerigar called ‘Toby’ and playing poker. In this section, you’ll be able to find out more about Churchill’s life away from the political world – his enthusiasms and hobbies and his own particular inimitable style.
I have in my life concentrated more on self-expression than self-denial.
Churchill, 8 August, 1953 (cited in Langworth, Churchill: In His Own Words)
Although Churchill enjoyed travelling and holidays, he was happiest at Chartwell.
Purchased in 1922, much against Clementine’s wishes, it was dilapidated and in very poor repair and Churchill dedicated much of his energy – and funds – to renovating and developing the house and grounds. He ended up doing much of the smaller building work himself, taking on the construction of a dam, a swimming pool (which proved very costly to heat), brick walls around the vegetable garden and creating a butterfly house out of a former larder, as well as re-tiling a cottage in Chartwell’s grounds.
Travel suited Churchill’s restive nature. While he took great pleasure in the house and grounds at Chartwell with his family and his animals, and always enjoyed returning there, he did relish breaks away from England and holidays in the sun. He travelled widely throughout his life; in his early years, as a soldier and war correspondent and then later, for political purposes or for holidays, to the US and to the Continent.
Here he would stay at smart hotels or the chateaux or villas of rich friends, socialites and associates, or on yachts. Between 1958 and 1963, Churchill was the guest of Greek millionaire shipowner Aristotle Onassis on his yacht in the Eastern Mediterranean, where he painted, swam and generally relaxed and recharged his batteries.
Throughout his life, Churchill exhibited a peculiarly individual sense of style, with a love of military uniforms, specially designed zip-up ‘siren suits’ (so called because they could be put on quickly when the air raid sirens sounded), his bow ties and his famous V for Victory hand gestures. Churchill was always drawn to fine clothes. In his younger days, he wore frock coats, trousers and vests as part of his Parliamentary wardrobe, and his suits and overcoats were made by the best tailors in London.
As early as 1905, Churchill visited Poole & Co in Savile Row and he returned frequently in the years following, although later in his career a cutter was usually sent to Chartwell to measure Churchill at home. He eventually stopped ordering his suits from them – the expense became too great and he ended up owing them a considerable sum of money – but to celebrate the centenary of Churchill’s first order with them, Henry Poole & Co revived the chalk-striped flannel of the suit they made for him around 1936. See more on the Henry Poole website.
Churchill’s fondness for cigars was born during his time in Havana, Cuba, in 1885, along with a lifetime habit of siestas. Just before his twenty-first birthday, Churchill went on a semi-official expedition there and witnessed the fighting between the Spanish government soldiers and guerilla fighters at Arroyo Blanco. He was to continue smoking cigars throughout his life. Like his drinking, Churchill’s consumption of cigars was not as prodigious as it seemed. He tended to chew on cigars, puffing the smoke out rather than inhaling, often discarding them half-smoked. It is said that when Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery told him, ‘I neither drink nor smoke and am a hundred per cent fit’, Churchill famously replied ‘I drink and smoke and I am two hundred per cent fit’.
For Churchill, dining was about more than good food, fine French champagne and a robust Havana cigar. He used dining as an art to both to display his conversational talents and to engage in political debate. During the WWII, he presided over dinners at key conferences, using them to exert his considerable conversational skills to attempt to persuade his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to fight the war according to his strategic vision. Churchill used dining and the dinner table to do what could not always be done at the conference table.
Throughout his life, he relished his food and ate out often, spending considerable amounts of money on fine meals at hotels and restaurants. He liked traditional English dishes like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding as well as French haute cuisine. He enjoyed shellfish more than fish – he particularly enjoyed raw oysters – and Stilton cheese more than sweet desserts (‘pudding’), but he could easily be persuaded to have both when the opportunity arose! He insisted that ‘puddings’ be expressive. His family heard him announce on more than one occasion, ‘Take away this pudding – It has no theme!’
[My ideal of a good dinner] is to discuss good food, and, after this good food has been discussed, to discuss a good topic – with myself the chief conversationalist.
Churchill, 1925, “Ephesian” [Roberts C. Bechhofer] in Winston Churchill (cited in Langworth, Churchill: In His Own Words)
Churchill was fond of alcohol and fuelled the perception that he had great capacity for it. He never felt that there was ever any need to apologise for his drinking or to explain it, despite some (including both Hitler and Goebbels) accusing him of drinking to excess. He clearly had the constitution for it.
Whatever else they may say of me as a soldier, at least nobody can say I have ever failed to display a meet and proper appreciation of the virtues of alcohol.
Churchill, 1916, Belgium; in Taylor: Winston Churchill: An Informal Study in Greatness
Churchill loved animals, large and small. He had always loved horses – he took part in the last great cavalry charge at Omdurman as a soldier in the 21st Lancers, played polo and, in later life, owned broodmares and racehorses – but he also enjoyed having cats and dogs at his side – and oftentimes even on his bed – while at Chartwell.
Churchill surrounded himself with a veritable menagerie of animals, including sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, guinea pigs, hens, ducks, swans and goldfish and, of course, cats and dogs (notably two brown poodles, Rufus I and Rufus II). In 1926 during an economy drive – Chartwell and its staff were expensive to run – many of the animals were sold, but he couldn’t bear to part with his prized Middle White pigs.
Churchill was a man of many interests. He took a keen interest in the development of both silent movies and ‘talking pictures’ and turned the dining room at Chartwell into a cinema room so that we could watch movies in the comfort of his own home. He often stayed up late into the night, particularly during the Second World War, relaxing from the tensions of the day. He particularly enjoyed the film Lady Hamilton (That Hamilton Woman in the US), Alexander Korda’s 1941 patriotic epic starring Laurence Olivier, as Nelson, and Vivien Leigh as Lady Hamilton.
Although he was given presents of more cigars than he could ever smoke, Churchill also spent a considerable amount of money on Havana cigars.
Among his suppliers were James J. Fox. Purveyors of fine specialist cigars to Churchill and others, including Oscar Wilde and British and European royalty, James J. Fox have been trading for over 225 years from 19 St James’s Street, London. See the Freddie Fox Museum, with Churchill’s ledger of account at the shop, the chair he sat in while selecting his favourite cigars and other memorabilia.
Although not often thought of as a sportsman, Churchill was a fine fencer in his schooldays, becoming English Public Schools Champion at fencing during his time at Harrow School. But it was riding that he most enjoyed. Always a keen horseman, life as a cavalry officer in the Queen’s Own Hussars suited him enormously. He learnt to play polo as a subaltern, hunted (infrequently) and, although he played polo until his fifties, eventually turned to racehorses – he owned many – to continue his involvement with horses.
In later life, Churchill owned twelve brood mares (his first, in 1945, called ‘Madonna’) and in the summer of 1949, he bought a racehorse – a three-year-old colt called ‘Colonist II’ – which was the first of many thoroughbreds (including, of course, one named ‘Pol Roger’!). Churchill was made a member of the Jockey Club in 1950, much to his delight. His racing colours – pink and chocolate brown (Lord Randolph’s colours) – became the colours of Churchill College, Cambridge
By Marianne Almquist
Originally published, October 1992, Finest Hour No. 75How do you recreate a legend? Not easily: yet the Dallas Museum of Art has done precisely this in its recreation of six rooms from the celebrated Riviera villa La Pausa, home of Wendy and the late Emery Reves.
How do you recreate a legend? Not easily: yet the Dallas Museum of Art has done precisely this in its recreation of six rooms from the celebrated Riviera villa La Pausa, home of Wendy and the late Emery Reves. Mrs. Reves, Fellow and Trustee of ICS/United States, and her late husband were longtime friends of Sir Winston Churchill, their frequent house-guest in the late 1950s. Many pleasant days spent at the villa led Churchill to refer to it as “Pausaland.”Emery Reves, Hungarian by birth, was a political journalist, author, publisher and financier. He formed the Cooperation Press in Paris in the 1930s, forming a lifelong association with Winston Churchill, among other world statesmen and journalists, whom he contracted to write for his syndicated service. Later, as Churchill’s literary agent outside the UK, he negotiated the sale of rights to The Second World War, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and numerous new editions of earlier Churchill books. Reves purchased the foreign language rights personally.
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Churchill was delighted when a little girl surprised him with flowers one day in Italy. Gratefully moving his cane aside, he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Missing his own family, and beset with troubles, he truly loved this moment. I guess we’ll never know the little chap behind the bouquet. … See MoreSee Less
The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.