THE DAILY MAIL, 2 September 2012—My grandfather, Winston Churchill, was an enthusiastic and adventurous traveller throughout his life. He loved Chartwell, his home in Kent, but sometimes needed to get away.
I was lucky enough to travel with him several times between 1959 and 1963. By then he was in his 80s and, although still very much in the public eye, was able to devote more time to writing and his lifelong passion, painting.
He was drawn time and time again to the beauty, light and warmth of the Mediterranean. He always liked having a member of his family with him and, at that time, I was an available grandchild of an appropriate age to accompany him. My first journey with him was the most memorable holiday I have ever had.
With my grandparents and my mother – and an entourage that included Maria Callas and her husband – I spent four weeks sailing in the Mediterranean as a guest of Aristotle Onassis on his fabulous yacht, Christina.
We sailed from Monte Carlo to Capri, from Athens to Rhodes and on to Istanbul. I was 16 and very naive, and watched with fascination as our host and the diva embarked on what would become one of the most famous love affairs of the 20th century.
What a thrill to be observing the sort of things I had only read about in the newspapers I was not meant to see!
The cruise itself was an extraordinary experience for a teenager who had grown up in post-war Britain with its rationed food and clothing. Now I was being waited on hand and foot and visiting places I had only dreamed about.
After that first holiday, I journeyed with my grandfather to the South of France four times in the next five years. We would drive right up to the plane and, once in the air, my grandfather would puff away happily on a cigar. Smoking was allowed on planes, but not pipes or cigars.
But when he was on board, this rule became simply no pipes.
At Nice, we would pile into a fleet of cars also carrying easels, canvasses, paints – and a generous supply of Pol Roger, his favourite champagne. We were escorted by police to Monaco where we were installed in magnificent rooms on the top floor of the Hotel de Paris, with a breathtaking view of the harbour and Prince Rainier’s pink palace.
On one of these visits Churchill fell and broke his hip. He told us he did not want to die away from England, so Harold Macmillan sent an RAF VC10 to fly him home. He was strapped into a stretcher bed in the stripped-down aircraft and I sat beside him, holding his hand and hoping and praying he would make it.
Make it he did – and he and I would make one more visit to France.
For the past 20 years I have been with my grandfather once again, researching a book and documentary on his travels. More recently, I have been leading Chasing Churchill tours to some of the places he liked the best. I even led one group on a Mediterranean cruise on Christina.
I have followed in his footsteps from India’s North West Frontier to the Boer War battlefields; from America to Cuba; to Marrakech and, of course, the South of France where he painted so many of his most beautiful pictures.
My journey will never be over.
Around every corner there is another story and another place touched by this extraordinary man whom I am proud to have called Grandpapa.
An eight-day Churchill tour of Casablanca and Marrakech marking the 70th anniversary of the visit of Churchill and Roosevelt in 1943 will take place from January 21 to 27, 2013.
It costs from £2,930 per person including two nights at the Royal Mansour in Casablanca and four nights at the Hotel Es Saadi in Marrakech, all meals, wine and drinks in private houses, transport, entrance fees, tips and guides. The price excludes international flights.
For information on all Celia’s tours, visit www.celiasandys.com.
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