For Winston - Valerie Mendes
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For Winston

Between the two World Wars: it is 6 November 1924. Winston is elected Chancellor of the Exchequer. His fans at Blenheim are overjoyed. His chubby smile reveals his own delight

The threads of Churchill’s long and extraordinary life are revealed in this exhibition at Blenheim Palace in marvellously rich, authentic detail. Here are the clothes he wore as a child, his uniforms, his siren suit, his weapons of war, together with bound volumes of his own work.

His typewriter sits beneath a green-lidded lamp on a tiny desk. His dining-room table is immaculately laid for dinner. Recordings of his speeches remind us not only of the sound of his voice but of the dangers and the two devastating World Wars through which he lived.

Winston Churchill was born, unexpectedly early, one memorable evening in Blenheim Palace. Throughout his life, he spent many weekends there with his cousin and close friend, “Sunny”, 9th Duke of Marlborough: eating a lot, sleeping when he felt like it, talking endlessly, reading, staring at the marvellous landscapes that surrounded him – and recording what he saw in the wonderful luminosity of oil paint.

The final room of the exhibition reveals his breakfast table, his favourite chair, his beloved easel and some of those paintings. Visit – and feel his very presence. Here is my tribute.

For Winston

Nobody said it was easy
Being the man that he was –
The wars and the women he fancied
Were never straightforward because
He wanted to prove he was worthy
He needed to say to the world
That in spite of those dangerous battles
He was bloody well going to be heard.

He had money and privileged backing –
As long as he toed the right line –
With jackets and gloves at the ready
Or a glittering sword just in time.
But then in the background was Mummy
Who never quite loved him enough
Who often knew nothing about him
While Daddy was off, taking snuff …

Nobody said, “Take it easy!
“It will all be all right on the night!”
The advisors who clustered around him
Were keen to encourage him. “Fight!”
So he ate and he drank and he worried
He made big decisions. He spoke
In the voice that is now so familiar
To rally our country. No joke

That we died in our hundreds of thousands
We starved and we sweated for him
We turned on the wireless and nodded
We scraped and we saved. We stayed slim.
We slept with his voice in our eardrums
We rose every crack of the dawn
To fight for our Winston and then some
And now? We are glad he was born.

With very special gratitude to the teams who beavered away behind closed Palace doors during the pandemic to create this triumph out of our global disaster