Legend of the Leaf: Sir Winson Churchill

No series of cigar icons would be complete without mentioning the legendary Winston Churchill. Is there anyone else who can claim to have enjoyed cigars as frequently as the British Bulldog? Is there any other personality whose image is more readily equated with the cigar? Is there anyone else who had a vitola named after him? Knowing full well that his political endeavors may be controversial to some– and maybe justly so– we will be leaving politics aside for this piece, as we can all acknowledge the dramatic impact Sir Winston had and continues to have on the cigar world to this day.

Born in 1874 at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom to an English father and an American mother (yes, Churchill was indeed half American), Winston lived a life that could easily fill 2 or 3 lifetimes. He would join the British army 1895 at the age of 20, where he would see military action in British India in the Mahdist War and in Second Boer War.  He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1904, and in his governmental career he would serve in numerous positions including Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, and Secretary of State for the Colonies. He most famously served two separate stints as Britain’s Prime Minister under King George VI, and later under that Monarch’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.  During his time as Prime Minister under King George VI he oversaw Britain’s involvement in the Allied war effort against the encroaching Nazi regime and is widely lauded as Britain’s greatest wartime leader.

Outside his military and governmental careers, Churchill was an accomplished writer, historian and artist.  His literary works include a Novel titled “Savrola”, a six-volume memoir, “The Second World War”, and perhaps his most well-known work, the four-volume “A History of English-Speaking People.  He produced hundreds of paintings as an amateur artist in his lifetime, was particularly fond of animals, and kept a wide variety of pets at his personal home including cats, dogs, pigs, bantam fowl, goats, fox cubs, and even bred butterflies for a time. Of the animals he kept he once made the observation: “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you. Give me a pig! He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.”

It was when Winston was 21 years old that he would discover his passion for cigars when he traveled to Cuba on a quest to prove his manliness. While it was his father that originally introduced cigars to him in England, it was in Cuba where he was surrounded by the craft and culture of cigars that his love for them would blossom into maturity. It was a love story unlike any other for young Winston, and he would forever be devoted to this love to the end of his days. His daily smoking (and indeed his drinking) regimens are the stuff of legend, consisting of anywhere from 5 to 10 cigars a day. It is in fact rather difficult to find photographs of the man without a cigar firmly planted IN his teeth or hand. 

His favorites included the Romeo Y Julieta and Aroma de Cuba, and his personal collection housed in his custom-made smoking room at his home at Chartwell Manor had as many as 4000 cigars.  His preferred pairings included Scotch, wine, or brandy. And while his purported consumption of wine and spirits was sufficient to intoxicate even the toughest of men today, it was seldom that he was ever found to be drunk.  As he once put it, “All I can say is that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me.”  On one rare and infamous occasion where he was found to be visibly affected by alcohol, he nonetheless maintained his reputed razor-sharp wit. As the story goes, one M.P. Bessie Braddock indignantly pointed out to Winston, “Sir, you are drunk!”  To which the indomitable Churchill replied, “Yes, I believe I am. Tomorrow, however, I will be sober, though you will still be ugly.” 

Churchill would live to a remarkable age of 90 years old, before succumbing to a stroke in January of 1965. It was the last of a total of 8 strokes he would suffer going back to 1949.  He was survived by his wife of 56 years, Clementine, 5 children, and 10 grandchildren.  By decree of Queen Elizabeth II, His body lay in state for 3 days. His funeral involved representatives from 120 countries, over 1000 police and security personnel, 9 military bands, 18 military battalions, 16 English fighter jets, and was even attended by the Queen herself, which was a rarity.   His was at the time the largest state funeral in British history. His legacy as a cigar lover is thoroughly deserved, and it was an intimate aspect of his persona. He is the timeless spokesperson of the cigar world, and his longevity is perhaps owing to his love affair with the craft.  How much is owed to him in political or military conquest is ever debatable, though one truth is clear. The cigar was elevated in the human psyche by no man so well as by Sir Winston.

Joe Kenney

I am a Certified Consumer Tobacconist, have enjoyed cigars for over 10 years, and I run the Jonose Cigars cigar review channel on YouTube. My primary goal is to spread cigar lifetsyle to as many as possible while discovering as much as possible about the craft of cigars along the way.