Winston Churchill was probably slow of body. His favorite cigars were Cubans, Romeo y Julieta and La Aroma de Cuba, so reports Cigar Aficionado. He kept 3000 – 4000 on hand in carefully labeled boxes and smoked up in two days the equivalent of his valet’s weekly salary. The Prime Minister’s alcohol consumption also must have held him to a sluggish pace. Science writer Chris Woodford reports that Churchill’s drinking started in 1899 when he was sent by the Morning Post to cover the Boer War. Out on the front his stash included “36 bottles of wine, 18 bottles of ten-year old scotch, and 6 bottles of vintage brandy (a drink he believed was essential to a stable diet). Clearly Churchill had better access to alcohol than most people on the South African front: his stores were also said to contain ‘many bottles of whisky, claret, and port.’” Churchill’s consumption continued briskly until retirement, when he apparently set out to finish off his liver: “One visitor from the period noted: ‘There is always some alcohol in his blood, and it reaches its peak late in the evening after he has had two or three scotches, several glasses of champagne, at least two brandies, and a highball … but his family never sees him the worst for drink.’” Multiple sources attest that Churchill held his liquor exceptionally well.
Six to ten 8 -10 inch cigars a day, gallons of drink, and a portly body: slow of body certainly, but quick-witted. Two of his best-known exchanges with Lady Nancy Astor are wicked—if they’re true:
Astor: “If you were my husband, Winston, I should flavour your coffee with poison.”
Churchill: “If I were your husband, madam, I should drink it.”
And . . .
Astor: “You, Mr. Churchill, are drunk.”
Churchill: “And you, Lady Astor, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning.”
Churchill 2, Astor 0. If you could have taken getting stung with repartee and didn’t mind constantly being tempted to binge drink, Churchill would have been a lively companion—except for a couple of hours in the afternoon, when he would have been unavailable.
Churchill was a steadfast napper. He undressed, put on pajamas, and got between the sheets, not for twenty or sixty minutes, but for an hour and a half to two hours. He insisted that this habit helped him “get two days in one—well, at least one and a half, I’m sure.” World War II was obviously taxing, and, writes Joseph Cardieri, the siesta enabled Churchill “to carry out—until the wee hours of the morning—the business of defeating the Axis powers.” The alcohol’s numbing effect must have been therapeutic without extinguishing all of the Prime Minister’s brain cells, for he knew in the 1940’s what science would prove today. “Nature had not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight,” Churchill wrote in The Gathering Storm, the first in his six-volume memoir The Second World War, “without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”
Stay tuned for Part II of Churchill’s profile and learn about his Black Dog and love of pink silk.