Celia Sandys is Winston Churchill’s granddaughter. She has spent the last 20 years writing and speaking about her grandfather, and is now the brand ambassador for Tauck, an upmarket American tour operator. She talks to Richard Hopton about their shared passion for travel…
Celia’s first foreign holiday with her grandfather took place in the summer of 1959 when, aged just 16, she accompanied him on a Mediterranean cruise aboard Aristotle Onassis’s yacht Christina. At this time, Onassis was one of the richest, most talked-about men in the world.
Also aboard the Christina with Onassis, his wife Tina, the Churchills and their entourage was the Greek diva Maria Callas. The Christina had the most luxurious specification: Celia recalls that despite the barstools being covered in sperm whales’ foreskins the yacht ‘wasn’t at all vulgar.’ Onassis was bewitched by Callas and therefore tolerated her continual ‘spoiled and ill-mannered behaviour.’ She was particularly piqued by the fact that, whenever the yacht came into harbour, the waiting paparazzi were intent on snapping Churchill not her. Not long after the end of the voyage Tina left Onassis. For Celia, it was quite an introduction to the high life.
Celia then spent three holidays with her grandfather in the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo during the early 1960s. ‘I just happened to be an available grandchild of an appropriate age,’ she writes. For these brief interludes, ‘I had to myself the grandfather whom the world thought it owned.’ But her abiding memory of her grandfather was of him clad in his velvet siren suit surrounded by his family at the dining table at Chartwell, his house in Kent. ‘He was never happy,’ says Celia, ‘until everyone had a glass of champagne.’
Celia has written five books about her grandfather, the best of which are Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive, which tells the story of his adventures as a journalist during the Boer War, and Chasing Churchill, an account of his life-long love of travel. Given the vast literature about Churchill- the British Library catalogue lists at least 2,250 titles on the subject- Celia concentrates on aspects of his life not covered elsewhere. In her experience, people are most interested in the personal things, the small details that bring the man to life.
Given Churchill’s well-documented love of travelling, it is appropriate that his granddaughter should be involved with Tauck. The tour operator was founded in 1925 by Arthur C. Tauck Sn, a travelling salesman who recognised that his knowledge of New England could be put to profitable use by taking paying customers on guided holidays. It was the start of the guided travel industry. Since those early days, Tauck has expanded enormously; in 2017 it will escort clients from 84 countries on more than 140 different tours on all seven continents. It remains a family company- the third generation is now at the wheel- with an unchanged commitment to quality and service. The company’s mantra that ‘Travel can change people’s lives’ is as true now as it was in 1925. Tauck began organising river cruises in Europe in 1993, when the industry was in its infancy. For Celia, whose grandfather declared that ‘I am a man of simple tastes, easily satisfied by the best’, this is an easy cause to promote.
Q&A: Questions of Family
Who do you most admire as an author?
I like Jane Austen.
Of the five books you’ve written about Churchill, which is your favourite?
Dead or Alive, as it was the most exciting to research.
What was Churchill’s greatest quality?
What was his greatest failing?
Continuing to believe in things long after they had ceased to be credible, e.g. the Empire and Edward VIII.
Where do you most like going on holiday?