You’re going on pilgrimage. What part of the world would you like to walk in?
I’d like to see two places that were important in Winston Churchill’s life that I haven’t yet visited. The first is the battlefield in Omdurman, which is just outside Khartoum in Sudan. I’d love to do a tour of the place where Churchill took charge of the last great cavalry charge of the British Empire in 1898.
Then I would go to South Africa to where Churchill’s armoured train was ambushed by the Boers during the Boer War the following year. I’d like to see the place where his train came off the rails, and the place where Churchill was captured by the Boers. To work out where he was and what he was doing would be very exciting.
Would you make any special stops?
If I were going to these two destinations, I would stop off in Cape Town: my brother lives there.
Who would be your travelling companions?
Unimaginative though it is, I would take my wife, Susan Gilchrist. She has been to lots of battlefields with me in the past and she likes to go to sunny places – both Sudan and South Africa count for that. The day after I proposed to her in 2006, I took her to Lake Como because it’s where Mussolini was shot. On the first day of our honeymoon we went to a Japanese concentration camp and we’ve also been to Stalingrad – but that wasn’t sunny. She’s used to being the wife of a military historian.
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto your route. Which would it be?
I’d stop at a restaurant called Max and Greti, in Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s halfway up the mountains and serves the most fabulous food. I would eat the asparagus and the veal, and drink a wine called Dôle which is the local red, athough it doesn’t taste very nice outside Max and Greti. Then I’d have the Napoleon pudding, which is an extremely delicious and fattening tart. It would also remind me of my biography of Napoleon!
Camp under the stars or sleep in a church hall?
There is no way I would get away with either … my wife likes her luxurious hotels.
Which books would you take?
Richard Langworth’s Winston Churchill: Myth and Reality is super. It’s about what you can and can’t believe about Churchill. The other would have to be Churchill’s War by Allan Packwood.
Which passage from the Bible would you ponder as you walked?
Churchill said that the Sermon on the Mount was the last word in ethics and I think he’s right, so I would ponder that.
You stop in your church. What’s your go-to prayer?
It would be hypocritical of me to pray: I am unable to engage intellectually with religion. That said, there is nothing better to understand the culture of a place than visiting its churches. My wife and I go to churches, synagogues and mosques wherever we are.
What singalong would keep your spirits up?
Here I would be a bit religious. I love the hymns from my schooldays. At weddings and funerals I belt out hymns at the top of my voice. I’d take the English Hymnal with me and Onward, Christian Soldiers would be my go-to.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
There’s only one thing I can cook: poached eggs on toast. I have to say, I’m extremely good at them and I cook them for my family about three times a week. The secret is in the timing. It’s one of the few things I know that I do extremely well. Funnily enough, my family laughed at me yesterday because I didn’t know how to turn on a kettle – but I’ve never tasted tea or coffee, so that’s my defence!
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
My luxury – and it would be a luxury – would be a 1995 vintage bottle of St Julien or St Estephe claret. I’ve just had the honour of writing the Introduction for the reissue of Hugh Johnson’s great classic The Story of Wine (1989), and it would be ideal to toast Churchill with such sublime wine at the scenes of two of his greatest acts of heroism.
What would you miss most about ordinary life?
It’s a rather sickening thing to admit but I’d miss working. I do exactly what I love doing in life and after a few days of pilgrimage, I would want to get back to work. Each day I start work at 4.30am. I have a Churchillian nap for 45 minutes in the afternoon, which means I can get two days’ work out of one day. When I’m writing a book, I work a 16-hour day, which means no wine with dinner!
What would you miss least?
Deliveries. My wife, who is a successful businesswoman, has a Net-a-Porter habit. Clothes are delivered about four times a day, so I am basically a porter for her. A few days free of that would be a delight.
Andrew Roberts is the author of Leadership in War: Lessons from those who Made History. He is currently writing a book on King George III
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