It’s 140 years since Churchill was born. The man, that is. Not the goofy rubber advert dog. To celebrate, the Churchill War Rooms offered war-curious Londoners the chance to party like Winston at an underground late event on November 27. But were we Londoners really ready to adopt the lifestyle of a war hero? After all, the man worked a 15- to 20-hour day despite sinking quantities of drink that would turn most people into a blancmange. To find out, the Churchill War Rooms challenged me to spend 24 hours following ol’ V-sign’s boozy, secretary-attended work routine (a sort of OD-Day, if you will). Here’s what happened.
7.30am Churchill liked to start the day with a fry-up which he would eat in bed. Sometimes this would be combined with a meeting to which he’d summon colleagues to gawp at him as he shovelled greasy goods down his piehole. As I don’t have a well-drilled retinue, this proves a little tricky to replicate. My waiting staff (girlfriend) proves somewhat unprepared for the necessary tasks (she’s asleep) so I am forced to take other measures. I make breakfast myself.
11am This is the point at which Churchill would slug back his first whisky and soda of the day and toddle off for a stroll around the gardens. The thing is, I don’t even own a single garden, let alone ‘gardens’.
11.15am The whisky seeping into my system feels like a warm cuddle for my internal organs. Sitting in my pinstriped suit and Mr Benn hat (that is what he wore, I believe), it suddenly occurs to me: I might not own a garden but I have the delightful streets of Elephant & Castle on my doorstep. Not quite as salubrious, but who cares? It’s not like I’m going to get anyone wandering up to me, squeaking ‘Hello, Mr Churchill!’
11.30am ‘Hello, Mr Churchill!’ squeaks a female voice as I amble past fly-tipped office chairs. I turn to find a woman impeccably dolled-up in 1940s gear. ‘I’m your secretary for the day,’ she says, nervously. Well, this is embarrassing.
11.45am We hop into a taxi and head to the Churchill War Rooms, the underground bunker where the bullish leader and his government waged WWII. My secretary hands me a red folder containing today’s schedule. Now this feels like authentic prime ministerial business. ‘What’s your name?’ I ask. ‘Jenny,’ she replies. On arrival at the War Rooms, I’m handed an extract from ‘Simply Churchill’ (a book written by his nurse Roy Howells), which includes the revelation that ‘Churchill never referred to his secretaries by name, always referring to the one on duty as “her”, “miss” or “the young lady”.’ Already I’ve failed to follow his routine – and I’m only one whisky and soda into the day.
12.10pm Painting lessons. Early in his political career, Churchill took up art to help him get over his depression following the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, which he oversaw in WWI as First Lord of the Admiralty. Exhibitions manager Jenny Wooden shows me some of his paintings. ‘He was very good,’ she says. ‘Who’s that fellow?’ I ask, pointing to a picture of a gentleman who could be the double of Malcolm McLaren.‘That’s his wife,’ she replies.
12.45pm I have painted an exact likeness of Churchill, if, by ‘Churchill’, you mean ‘a blotchy mess’. Afterwards, I’m presented with a gigantic, red velvet onesie. Presumably this is some kind of dunce’s prize. ‘Oh no, it’s a siren suit,’ says Jenny. ‘Churchill wore them all the time.’ It turns out he designed the one-piece himself and would even wear it for meetings with world figures including Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Joseph Stalin.
1pm Lunch. ‘Churchill was pretty surly until he’d had a few glasses,’ explains historian Terry Charman as we settle down to a meal of beef broth, bacon-and-mushroom flan and baked apple pudding. Fair enough. He was, after all, often dressed like a giant baby. 1.05pm The waitress pours me a glass of fizz. It goes down well.
1.20pm The second glass of champagne also goes down well.
1.35pm As does the third.
1.50pm And the port…
2.05pm Oh God, and there’s brandy too.
2.30pm Shaky. Very shaky. And hot. As hot as one of those hot things. You know. Suns. Makes it hard to concentrate on the man. The man who’s making me look at room after room. Saying stuff about Churchill. Says he’s the director. Am I in a film? Am I Churchill?
3.30pm I slump in a chair. My head’s a bit less fuzzy now, so I catch up on some correspondence (ie jabbing out emails on my iPhone). Unfortunately, as the booze starts to wear off, so does my sense of inner contentment. I open a new mail window and type the subject line ‘Another fucking email’.
5pm Nap time! Finally, a sensible part of Churchill’s day: his hour-and-a-half siesta. ‘Here’s your bed,’ says Jenny, pointing to one that forms part of a functioning exhibit, surrounded by a group of tourists. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘We’ll put up a sign.’
6pm As I roll over in my sleep, I hear someone shout: ‘What the fuck?’ I wake up to find a bunch of museum visitors gawping at me.
6.30pm ‘Time to dress for dinner with another whisky and soda!’ exclaims one of the War Rooms’ press team. Dinner, I’m told, was the cornerstone of Churchill’s working day: his guests would be business-related, so he’d chew over politics while chowing down on beef Wellington. Dinnertime is serious. It’s weighty. It’s the meal where they would serve wine (with the champagne, port and brandy).
7pm Dinner gets under way. As we tuck into a three-course meal, three colleagues and I attempt to brainstorm some fantastic new work initiatives.
9.30pm ‘Can we have another bottle of champagne?’ barks our editor after we’ve drunk the place out of white wine and port. At this point, my notes read: ‘1) Build a phone cupboard. 2) The office needs a retired greyhound. Or maybe a parrot. 3) Dapper Laughs squealing and weeping as he bashes a mouse to death.’ No wonder Churchill was so revered. This stuff is great!
11pm Sleepy. So sleepy. Everyone else has gone home. But I must work. Churchill used to carry on until at least 1am. So must I.
12.30pm Can’t go on. My emails have become utter drivel. I click on my last one and read it back. This is what I have just sent to Time Out’s editor: ‘Drone porn. Let’s print porn from drones! It could be really good! Erm, I mean fun. Not good. I’m not a perv!’ I give up. My brain has turned into a load of cock – literally – after just one day of Churchill’s lifestyle. Hats off to him. All this, and he won a war.
Photography by David Sandison
Read more of Alexi’s adventures.