The Story of Winston Churchill’s Gambling Debt in Monaco
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Сэр Уинстон Черчилль

The Story of Winston Churchill’s Gambling Debt in Monaco

“I will pay my debts tomorrow” – Winston Churchill said to the Director of the Hotel de Paris Casino.

The Monte Carlo Casino room is lavish and vast. Its woodwork, hangings, chandeliers and tapestries come together to create a rare and rich decor. Game tables stand in the middle of the room. “Nothing is going right!” he says. The exclamation is followed by the sound of a ball jumping along the roulette squares and the rattling of tokens being picked up by a rake on the green felt of the table. One can feel tension from players who worry about the fate of their wager. Who is that man with the round silhouette whose face disappears behind the smoke of a cigar? Is it not the former British Minister Winston Churchill? It is indeed! At this time, he is no longer part of the government. It’s the end of August 1939 and he’s come to spend a few days in Monaco. It is 1 am. He is losing and he keeps on losing…

Churchill has known about the Casino of Monte Carlo for a long time. He has come here since the beginning of the century, at a time when, as a brilliant deputy, each of his conferences in Europe or America would rake in 10,000 pounds sterling. (Money to spend on green carpets!) When he was 26 years old, he was already going to the Hotel de Paris. His mother had visited the Hotel de Paris and the Casino before him, when she was the Prince of Wales’ mistress (the future King Edward VII, who was a big fan of women and gambling). Ministerial functions then removed Winston Churchill from Monaco, but he was seen returning in 1913 with his wife Clementine Hozier on his arm and after the tragic interruption of the First World War.

Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill giving his famous V sign

From 1920 onward he continued to visit the coast. When he  wasn’t staying at the Hotel de Paris, he and his wife were welcomed by wealthy friends: he stayed in Cap Martin at Daisy Fellowes’ place, grand daughter of the wealthy lsaac Singer (creator of the famous sewing machines with the same name), or with press tycoon Lord Rothermere in his villa la Dragonnière. At Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, he frequented the Comtesse of Essex who received him in his villa Lou Mas. The countess possessed a historical tiara, made by the Cartier house, which was admired by many.  She lent it to Mrs. Churchill for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Winston Churchill and his wife were also received in Eze at another billionaire’s estate, Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of the American railway manufacturer who, with her husband Colonel Balsan, built the villa Lou Sueil. From 1938 on, he was welcomed at the castle of Croë in Cap d’Antibes by the ex-King Edward VII, who abandoned his throne out of love for Wallis Simpson. But one of his favorite homes was the Chateau de l’Horizon in Golfe Juan, built by American actress Maxine Elliott. When Churchill arrived from Paris by the Blue Train, he was picked up at the Cannes station. At the Chateau Horizon, there was a swimming pool which was perfumed with eau de Cologne.  It is said that shortly before the Second World War, Churchill received the British, French and Italian Foreign Ministers there.

Cartier tiara
The Comtesse of Essex possessed a historical Cartier tiara, which she lent to Mrs. Churchill for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Winston Churchill’s life on the Coast is simple. He frequents friends, follows international political affairs, writes a biography about Marlborough and takes up a new pastime: painting. With his easel and brushes, he frequents the shore and ventures up to visit the Guiness family in Mougins – yes, the family of bankers, famous for brewing beer. There he paints the little chapel Notre-Dame de Vie, which is next to their property. That evening, he returns to the Casino of Monte-Carlo.  He cannot resist the attraction of gambling.

It is 1 am in the Casino room, on this morning at the end of August, 1939.Winston Churchill is out of luck. He continues to lose.”Minister, you must stop,” suggests the director of the casino.

The minister doesn’t listen, he bets on red but black comes out. “I’ll pay my debts to you tomorrow,” he says to the manager, in his English accent.

But the next day, Churchill is gone. He was rushed back to London because of the imminence of the war.

Churchill at the Yalta conference in February 1945
Churchill at the Yalta conference in February 1945

It is on the world’s chessboard that he will play now. He will become Prime Minister. He will help vanquish Hitler. On the 31st of January, 1945 in Yalta, he will be responsible for sharing the world with Stalin and Roosevelt. The war will end. He’ll run in the legislative elections in July of 1945 but, against all odds, he will be beaten. He will then have only one thing left to do: return to the Cote d’Azur. He will then speak this famous quote: “After the war, two choices were open to me: to end my life as a deputy or as an alcoholic, and I thank God for having guided my choice so well: I am no longer a deputy!”

Forty-six suitcases and six hat-boxes

He arrives with his wife, his valet, his secretaries, forty-six suitcases and six hat-boxes. This is when a famous event takes place: the reopening of the cellars of the palace. During the war, they had been walled up for fear of looting by the enemy. So they come down with pickaxes in the presence of Winston Churchill. He is there, in all its roundness and joviality. The wall collapses in a halo of dust. And we suddenly discover an incredible row of bottles. The director of the Hotel pulls out one of them, a bottle of rum from 1811. They open it up. The Old Lion drinks the first sip. Sir Winston Churchill is 71 years old. There is one thing he has not forgotten: the Casino. Using the tunnel which quietly connects the Hotel de Paris to the gambling halls, he says to the croupiers: “Gentlemen, let’s continue from where we left off before the war!” Alas, fortune does not smile at him anymore. He continues to lose. At the end of the evening, he summons the director of the games. “This time I’ll pay my debts,” he says with his same British accent. “How much do I owe you?” The director whispers a sum in his ear – a sum corresponding to his debt from that evening plus the one from before the war. Sir Churchill takes out his chequebook. He writes out the amount: 1,300,000 Francs. This cheque is still in one of the drawers of the Casino. The Société des Bains de Mer and the owner of the establishment never cashed it. It was his way of paying tribute to the hero of the Second World War.

Gambling Wins a Husband for Churchill’s Daughter

In the summer of 1948, a certain dapper photographer named Antony Beauchamp joins Churchill in Monaco. Sir Winston is with his wife and daughter Sarah, 34, divorced. Antony Beauchamp has eyes for Sarah. But Churchill is against it. The man, willing to try anything to coax her father, decides to give him a lesson in gambling at the Casino after a dinner at the Hotel de Paris. (He later recounts this evening in a story which was taken up by British journalists George Herald and Edward Radin in their book “The Big Wheel: Monte-Carlo’s Opulent Century”:

“I kept winning. Churchill was watching me closely. After a while, he told me to place his bets in his name. When I did, and our luck kept up. The chips kept accumulating. Sir Winston was radiant. He drew joyful puffs from his cigar. He began to take a more pleasant view of the roulette wheels in general and of myself in particular.”

Sarah Churchill; Antony Beauchamp by Unknown photographer
Sarah Churchill; Antony Beauchamp by Unknown photographer

Churchill authorized Beauchamp to marry his daughter that evening, and the marriage took place the same year.  Unfortunately, luck eventually ran out and the marriage took a dramatic turn.  With a stint of gambling Antony Beauchamp lost everything and ended up committing suicide in August 1957.

A Churchill Suite at Hotel de Paris

When he was staying at the Hotel de Paris, Winston Churchill lived in the same suite on the top floor of the Hotel, overlooking the whole of the Principality.  It was on the same floor as the former apartment of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. Sir Winston could sometimes be seen, in his bathrobe, painting on his terrace. This suite, the most beautiful one of the Monegasque palace, now bears his name.

Toby, Churchill’s Lost Parakeet

Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill and his Parakeet Toby

In 1961, Sir Winston Churchill mobilized everyone in the Société des Bains de Mer to help him find his parakeet named Toby. She had made the journey to Monaco in a cage and he released her in his suite at the Hotel de Paris. The day he was supposed to return, she disappeared. An army of gardeners was mobilized to find her in the surrounding gardens. Different parakeets were brought back to Winston, but the real Toby couldn’t be found.

Churchill in Dates

Born on the 30th of November,1874. Elected for the first time as deputy in 1900. Minister of Commerce from 1906 to 1909. Appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. Minister of Armaments from 1917 to 1919. Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921 and 1922. Minister of Finance from 1924 to 1929. Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. Died on the 24th of January, 1965 at 90 years old.


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