Fifty years after she cruised the Mediterranean with her grandfather, Winston Churchill, as guests of Aristotle Onassis on his yacht, Christina, Celia Sandys has relived that unforgettable experience.
In summer 2008 PBS broadcast a three part documentary based on Chasing Churchill, one of five books she has written about less well-known aspects of the life of Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, saw Sandys back on the Christina in the Mediterranean. She also traced his footsteps in South Africa, Morocco, Cuba, Egypt, France, and the United States, Churchill’s “other country”.
After writing about Churchill’s early life in From Winston with Love and Kisses and Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive, Sandys decided to devote her next book to describing her famous grandfather’s extraordinary travels on three continents in both war and peace. Four years and thousands of miles later, Chasing Churchill appeared in print. And in summer 2008, thanks to PBS, it was seen on television screens around the country.
The child of Churchill’s eldest child, Diana, and British Cabinet Minister Duncan Sandys, Celia was 21 when her grandfather died in 1965. By then, she had become very close to him. She accompanied him often on the many trips that filled his later years. They cried together as they watched the news reports of the assassination of President Kennedy. She held his hand as he was brought back to England in an ambulance plane from a holiday in the south of France. She was at his bedside as his life ebbed away some 18 months later on January 24, 1965.
Researching Chasing Churchill was a fascinating adventure in itself. It took her to Cuba, where she lunched with Fidel Castro and interviewed Gregorio Fuentes, the fisherman of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It took her to South Africa, where she met children and grandchildren of those who captured, imprisoned and saved Churchill’s life in the bloody battles of the Anglo-Boer War. In Morocco, she met the son of Churchill’s friend, The Black Panther. In Egypt, she relived the camel race at the Pyramids in which Winston Churchill challenged Lawrence of Arabia. In France, she found herself once again in the luxurious surroundings of the Christina, full of memories of an extraordinary cruise where the guests, including Winston Churchill, watched Onassis and Maria Callas begin the love affair which made headlines round the world.
And, finally, in the United States, the country in which Churchill’s mother was born and to which he himself felt so closely connected, Celia met and interviewed a host of individuals with vivid memories of her grandfather at various stages in his life. Harry Hopkins’s daughter, for example, who, at the age of seven, made friends with Winston Churchill at the White House at Christmas 1943 and Senator Harry Byrd Jr, who has the oldest living memories of Winston Churchill.
While staying at the Plaza in New York, Churchill said, “I am a man of simple taste easily satisfied by the best”. With that in mind, Celia is now planning a series of tours “Chasing Churchill” in Morocco, South Africa, Egypt and on the Christina.
It took seven long years from the time Celia first conceived Chasing Churchill until its broadcast on PBS during the summer of 2008. She must have wondered whether it would ever happen, but in true Churchillian fashion, she kept pressing ahead inspired by her grandfather’s words: “Never Give In”.
Just finished watching “Chasing Churchill”. It was surprisingly emotional for me to watch. Here is one of the most famous statesmen of the 20th century…and the story of his life being told by his granddaughter. It was enough to bring this 56 year old California guy to tears. We would all be so lucky to have a granddaughter like you…. (and a grandfather like Winston).
I feel compelled to write with accolades for your astounding production of “Chasing Churchill”. At once you were able to convey the import of one of the English speaking world’s greatest leader, while painting an intimate portrait of your grandfather amidst friends and family. That truly is an accomplishment which will inspire future historians. Again, thank you for providing us with, what would otherwise be, an unobtainable view of history.
Celia took me on a magic carpet ride with wit, insight and warmth that both enlightened and entertained.
Great British Menu
Churchill: The Nation’s Farewell with Jeremy Paxman
The One Show
Churchill and Me with Hugh Dennis
Blood Sweat and Oil Paint with Andrew Marr
Interview with Trevor MacDonald.