I have been told that when Churchill arrived late for a meeting with the Queen, expressing his regret by saying, “My sincere apologies madam, I started too late.” But I haven’t found any reference to this. Can you help? —A.P.-H., England
This famous late show was not with the Queen but with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII (1901-10). Robert Lewis Taylor, in Winston Churchill: An Informal Study of Greatness (New York Doubleday, 1952, 16) writes:
As a very young subaltern, he once kept the Prince of Wales and a dinner party of twelve waiting for nearly an hour. The prince, a grand eater and in the blackest kind of mood, refused to go in until the chancy number of thirteen was made fourteen by the dilatory guest. When Churchill arrived, he was asked the meaning of this unseemly breach of good manners. “Do you have an excuse, young man?” inquired the prince, before a drawing room full of starved nobility. “Indeed I have, Sire,” explained the unusual boy. ‘I started too late.’
The only problem here is that he would not have addressed the Prince of Wales as “Sire” but rather as “Sir” or “Your Royal Highness.” Taylor wrote an illuminating book with many unique insights, but his lack of footnotes makes tracking his quotations difficult. But Churchill himself confirmed this incident…
Churchill was habitually and incurably late, as he confessed in his autobiography, where he dates the encounter as 1896: “I realized that I must be upon my best behaviour: punctual, subdued, reserved, in short display all the qualities with which I am least endowed.”
Later he added: “I do think unpunctuality is a vile habit, and all my life I have tried to break myself of it.” —Churchill, My Early Life (London: Butterworth, 1930, 107).
Churchill never quite succeeded in curing himself of this habit. As his wife and chief critic once remarked: “Winston is a sporting man. He always likes to give the train a chance to get away.”
See Churchill By Himself for more quotes on Churchill’s personal habits.