(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.”
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.”
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.)