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The Vintage Guide To London | November 22, 2017

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Eat, drink and be merry - have a Churchill inspired Christmas

Rebecca McWattie takes a look at Winston Churchill’s love for the finer pleasures in life, and suggests we let our Christmas be inspired by his ability to feast and be merry.

I think it would be fair to say Winston Churchill did not need Christmas as an excuse to eat, drink and be merry. His food and alcohol consumption has long been commented on – namely because he consumed rather a lot of both, but because Churchill not only threw himself into his political work but keenly embraced the finer things in life – good food, good wine and good company.

His average day would begin with breakfast in bed at 7.30am. There he would read the papers and start sorting through official letters. If he had no appointments to attend, he would often stay in bed until lunchtime and it was quite usual for him to dictate to his secretary with his beloved cats curled up at his feet. Churchill’s odd habits were known far and wide. In 1941 Goebbels wrote in his diary: “A book on Churchill reports that he drinks too much and wears silk underwear. He dictates messages in his bath or in his underpants- a startling image which the Fuhrer finds hugely amusing.”

Churchill would have his first whiskey and soda an hour after breakfast. He would sip it slowly, making sure the tumbler was never empty. For lunch Churchill liked to drink beer. He always insisted on having a sleep in the afternoon as he often worked into the early hours of the morning. This way he thought he could gain an extra day’s work. When he became Prime Minister he had a bed installed in the Houses of Parliament, often managing to have a nap before an important debate.

Churchill was extremely partial to champagne. “A glass of Champagne imparts a feeling of exhilaration. The nerves are braced; the imagination is stirred, the wits become more nimble.” He commissioned his favourite label Pol Roger to make a bottle containing the irregular measure of 1 pint. He found the standard 75cl measure too much and the 37.5cl half bottle too little.  During the war, champagne supplies were getting harder to come by. When asked ‘what happens if we run out?’ Winston typically replied ‘get some more!’ Churchill felt so strongly about this that there were soon emergency supplies of Pol Roger at the Cabinet War Rooms. “In success you deserve it and in defeat you need it.”

He certainly knew what he liked – “I am easily satisfied with the best.” Other favourite brands included Plymouth Gin and Hennessy Cognac. Johnnie Walker’s Black Label is even featured in Bottlescape, a painting Churchill began at Chartwell one Christmas. He loved oysters, traditional roast beef, and always liked to finish a meal with cheese and port – “A gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton and Whitfield” he would remark. 

Churchill would continue the evening with brandy. He loathed afternoon tea and despite being a regular visitor to the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, he avoided cocktails at all cost.

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