Not many people can truthfully say the following:
“Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter cured my hangover in the kitchen of her London home.”
Mary Soames, as she was known after her marriage to former MP and diplomat Christopher Soames, was Winston and Clementine’s last child, born on Sept. 15, 1922.
She died a few weeks ago at the age of 91, and it brought back to me a flood of emotions about a magical day former Alberta premier Ralph Klein and I had with her in the spring of 1995.
Premier Klein and I were in London on a trade mission to Europe when Mary Soames, or “Mary the Mouse” as Winston called her as a child, found out that Mr. Klein was in town.
Mary Churchill had a son working in the oil and gas industry in Alberta at the time and was curious to learn more about this faraway and exotic place.
She let it be known through the Canadian embassy and thus Alberta’s consular office that she would like to meet Mr. Klein to learn more about Alberta.
Would this be possible?
The request, swiftly transmitted, was of course immediately accepted.
The second request was “As I am getting on in years [she was 73 at the time], would Premier Klein come to her house in London’s West End?”
The answer was, of course, yes.
And so it was that Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and his eager chief of staff (me) were arranged to meet Winston Churchill’s daughter, Mary Soames, at her home on the morning of June 14, 1995.
Notwithstanding the fact that we had a security detail, this was, after all, Winston Churchill’s daughter, so a second security detail was added. It was quite the motorcade that swept into the Holland Park neighbourhood that morning.
But, I confess that Premier Klein and I did not exactly behave the night before.
We didn’t do anything stupid – we just stayed up too late drinking wine and discussing how to save civilization, like Churchill did!
So when we pulled up to Ms. Soames’s home at about 10:30 that morning, we were somewhat, um, foggy.
She graciously welcomed us into her home, and we sat in her living room, and her curiosity about all things Alberta was boundless. She wanted to know everything.
And I mean everything.
She peppered Premier Klein with all manner of questions, and Ralph, being Ralph, answered them all with aplomb.
Eventually, she said “You know, my father always loved a glass of champagne in the morning to get his mind stirring. Would you two gentlemen like a glass of champagne?”
Ralph and I looked at each other like two guys who had just won the lottery but didn’t want to tell anybody, and Ralph said to me, “Well, Rod, it is a little early, what do you think?’”
I replied, “Well, Mr. Premier, if Mrs. Soames wants to pour you a glass of champagne, I think you should accept.”
As if Ralph needed convincing.
We moved from the sitting room to the kitchen, a bottle of Pol Roger was opened, a second one consumed, hangover gone.
It was a moment in time never to be forgotten.
“I am drinking champagne with Winston Churchill’s daughter …”
We sat in her kitchen nook as she showed us Winston’s favourite coffee cup and Winston’s slippers, all as if they were just stuff from the guy down the road.
As we readied to leave (champagne consumed and hangover cured), she presented us with a copy of her book, Winston Churchill – His Life as a Painter (Collins London 1990).
She richly and personally inscribed it with the handwritten inscription “with the author’s best wishes.”
As the motorcade departed, Ralph turned to me and said “Did that just happen?”
Winston Churchill’s daughter cured our hangover.
“Yeah Ralph, it did.”
And I was as amazed as he was.
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