Sir Winston Churchill in Monaco
Churchill loved Monaco and stayed there often. As early as 1945, he got into the habit of staying at the Hôtel de Paris where he regularly came for year-end festivities. He would often settle down to paint on the balcony of his suite, straight after taking his bath and still dressed in his bathrobe.
It was, in fact, in 1945, in Churchill’s honour, that some really unusual work was undertaken in the basements of the Hôtel de Paris.
Churchill, Master Cellarman Honoris Causa of Hôtel de Paris wine cellar
During the war, Hôtel de Paris wine cellars had been partially walled up to hide the precious wines they contained from the occupying forces. For the year-end festivities in 1945, it was decided to celebrate the return of peace by demolishing the wall that had been built a few years earlier, thus giving access to a few treasures, wines, champagnes and outstanding liqueurs. This was how Churchill became the first person in years to savour an exceptional pre-war whisky. This anecdote no doubt explains why a few years later, he was awarded the title of Master Cellarman Honoris Causa!
At the New Year gala dinner in 1948, the old lion was seen joining in the midnight farandole, chanting the traditional “Happy New Year!” and making his famous V for victory sign.
Churchill also occasionally came to spend holidays with friends, on Cap d’Ail or in Roquebrune.
Then in the early 1960s, when he was no longer Prime Minister, he stayed regularly at the Hôtel de Paris at the invitation of his friend Onassis. He was accommodated on the eighth and top floor, in the loveliest of the three princely apartments which has since been renamed the ‘Churchill Suite’. This suite sadly became famous for a different reason a few years later when actress Martine Carol, who played the unforgettable role of ‘Caroline Chérie’ on French television, died there in 1967.
A budgerigar named Toby
In 1961, Churchill inadvertently mobilised an entire army of employees of the Société des Bains de Mer for a totally unexpected reason. Churchill never went anywhere without his faithful budgerigar, answering to the name of Toby, which used to fly around freely in his suite. But Toby, no doubt enticed by Monaco’s lovely fresh air, escaped through the window when his master was just about to pack his bags. An army of gardeners searched the surrounding gardens but in vain. Motivated by the reward that Churchill had promised, some turned up with budgerigars of dubious origins. However, none of them answered to the name of Toby, and Churchill left Monaco with a heavy heart, without his faithful friend.
Not one to bear a grudge, Churchill nevertheless returned to Monaco in 1962, and again in 1963 when he was already very ill; he was 88 years old. He died two years later, in 1965.