“Churchill Drank 42,000 Bottles of Champagne”?

“Churchill Drank 42,000 Bottles of Champagne”?

(Updat­ed from 2014.) It’s nice to be quot­ed, even if it’s only your pen name, in my case “Michael Richards.” In “Churchill’s Leg­endary Thirst,” The Her­ald (Scot­land), drinks colum­nist Tom Bruce-Gar­dyne kind­ly quot­ed me while reveal­ing the aston­ish­ing esti­mate that Churchill drank 42,000 bot­tles of champagne!

The claim is one of a stream culled from a new book by the team behind the tele­vi­sion pro­gramme QI. The total amount of fizz—enough to float a battleship—is a sim­ple cal­cu­la­tion which takes an arbi­trary date of 1908, when Sir Win­ston Churchill was 34, and assumes he drank an aver­age of two bot­tles a day for the rest of his life….

Churchill liked to claim he took more out of alco­hol than it took out of him, but I sus­pect it’s part of the myth. Accord­ing to the his­to­ri­an Michael Richards, “he amused him­self by allow­ing peo­ple to think he had a bot­tom­less capac­i­ty.” Richards reck­ons the drinks and cig­ars were “at least part­ly a prop.”

Pol Roger’s Churchill Cuvée: still invok­ing the mem­o­ry. (Cham­pagne Pol Roger)

How much, really?

I still stand behind those asser­tions. I am not sure if Churchill real­ly drank two bot­tles of cham­pagne every day, but he habit­u­al­ly drank Impe­r­i­al pints (568ml) which are small­er than full bot­tles (750ml). Mr. Bruce-Gar­dyne is main­ly right that no one close to him ever saw Churchill the worse for drink. (A body­guard did once, at Teheran in 1943.) As for cig­ars, those who saw a lot of him believed he “chewed” a fair por­tion of most of them. How­ev­er, his usage was cer­tain­ly prodi­gious, up to six or eight a day.

A favorite tableau was often act­ed out by Churchill with his friend Pro­fes­sor Fred­er­ick Lin­de­mann, who would play the straight-man. “Prof!” Churchill would com­mand: “Pray cal­cu­late the total quan­ti­ty of cham­pagne, wine and spir­its I have con­sumed thus far in my life and tell us how much of this room it would fill.”

Lin­de­mann would take out his slide rule and pre­tend to make cal­cu­la­tions. Then he would say, “I’m sor­ry, Win­ston, it would only reach our ankles,” or some such remark.

On cue Churchill would reply: “How much to do—how lit­tle time remains.”

Further reading

This site has dealt with exag­ger­a­tions of Churchill’s alco­holic intake before. For enter­tain­ing quotes see the remarks of War­ren Kim­ball and Sir John Colville. See also the post about Churchill’s strong aver­sion to drink­ing whisky neat —“you are not like­ly to live a long life if you drink it like that.”

For a foren­sic run­down on WSC and the Demon Drink, see Michael McMe­namin, “Churchill and Alco­hol,” Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, 2018. (The exten­sive com­ments offer much debate on the sub­ject, and Mr. McMe­namin acquits him­self well.)

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