Hundreds of books have been written about Winston Churchill, most of which focus on his military service and his leadership during both World Wars, but none assess his personal style like Barry Singer does in “Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill.” Churchill published a score of books himself, including a novel, two biographies, three volumes of memoirs, several histories and scores of newspaper articles, and he is the only British Prime Minister to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In fact, it was his secondary career as a writer that allowed him to live out the extravagant lifestyle he was brought up in. The son of aristocrats (his father was of the Dukes of Marlborough), Churchill was accustomed to having only the very best and wasn’t about to let his low pay, and in some cases no pay, as an army officer stand in the way of enjoying luxury cars, multiple estates, fine dining, pricey cigars, an alcohol habit and a wardrobe filled with high-end, bespoke fashion.
Though we tend to picture a tweed-clad Santa Claus of a man when we think of Churchill, he was, in fact, very particular about the way he dressed. After all, if you’re going to master the art of living well beyond your means you have to dress the part. Taking a look at the lesser-known side of Churchill as closet clotheshorse luxury lifestyle addict is Singer, owner of Chartwell Booksellers in NYC, the world’s only bookstore that carries nothing but books by or about Churchill.
Michael Korda writes a deliciously gossipy introduction that gets into some of Churchill’s more peculiar tastes. “His valet was equipped with a silver-mounted thermometer from Asprey’s to measure the exact temperature of [his] bathwater before he stepped into it…Churchill never tied his own shoes (his valet did that for him)…His skin was so sensitive he would only wear woven silk undervests and undershorts, and that even at the height of the war he had breakfast on a tray in bed—bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes, tea and toast, which he ate while reading the morning newspapers and feeding bits to the Admiralty cat, Nelson, while murmuring, ‘Darling cat.'” Korda concludes that run-down with, “It is hard to dislike such a man.”
It’s clear enough that Singer loves this man, and his book offers personal accounts that humanize the military persona of the gruff, hard-edged Churchill we’ve come to know. Singer concedes that Churchill was “sometimes infuriating and selfish, always conscious of his own worth and his place in history—after all, it was the young Churchill who said, ‘We are all worms, but I do believe that I am a glow-worm’—and deeply conscious of and grateful for the small pleasures in life, which meant so much to him.” The book is full of images of such small pleasures, like his velvet monogrammed house slippers, as well as a wealth of photographs, many from the Churchill family archives that have never been seen before.
If you can’t get enough Churchill, check out the Morgan Library & Museum’s upcoming exhibition “Churchill: The Power of Words,” which runs from 8 June – 23 September 2012.