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Another Side of Winston Churchill

Monday, December 2, 2019

Celia Sandys with President Burns Hargis

Granddaughter Celia Sandys brings legendary British prime minister’s personal side to life at OSU event

Sir Winston Churchill is best known as the man who helped lead Britain to victory during World War II.

But Celia Sandys, who spoke to more than 1,000 people at The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University this fall, came to share a more personal side of her grandfather.

“I like to try and tell people what it was like to grow up with the most famous man in the world,” said Sandys, a speaker and author who has written five books on Churchill’s life. “I want to ... bring him alive for people.”

Sandys spent her late teens and early 20s traveling with Churchill, who died in 1965 at the age of 90. Her experiences and the stories she learned eventually became the book Chasing Churchill: The Travels of Winston Churchill, which also became a PBS documentary.

Their first journey was a nearly four-week trip on Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis’ yacht from Monte Carlo to Istanbul and back.

“He loved traveling ... and looked at everything with a painter’s eye because ... his favorite thing was painting,” Sandys said.

She cherished spending time with her grandfather, whether it was on simple picnics or multiple trips to the South of France.

Sandys — the daughter of Churchill’s eldest child, Diana and Cabinet Minister Duncan Sandys — said Churchill didn’t think of himself as a politician but rather as a writer.

“His children used to say that they didn’t live from hand-to-mouth but from pen-to-mouth,” Sandys said. “As soon as he needed some money, he would write a book or write an article.”

In 1953, he was awarded the Noble Prize in Literature.

"Churchill didn't think of himself as a politician but rather as a writer."

Celia Sandys

Sandys said Churchill was driven from an early age to succeed and that he always believed in his destiny. She recalled a letter Churchill wrote his mother while he was a soldier in South Africa during the Boer War.

“Bullets mean nothing to me. I have faith in my star that I’m intended to do something in the world,” he wrote.

Churchill told a fellow soldier in India that he would be prime minister one day. Roughly 40 years later in May 1940, he achieved that goal. He was the British prime minister and minister of defense until 1945, working with the United States and Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany. He served as prime minister again from 1951-1955.

Churchill has been portrayed in several movies, and Sandys called Gary Oldman as Churchill in 2017’s Darkest Hour “brilliant.”

“It was wonderful, but it wasn’t the grandfather I knew because I didn’t know him as the British Bulldog and fighting for our lives,” Sandys said. “I knew him as a grandfather who I used to go feed the fish with.”

Her first book, From Winston with Love and Kisses: The Young Churchill — published nearly 30 years after Churchill’s passing and detailing the first 20 years of his life — was written entirely from family letters and diaries.

The next book, Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive, details a thrilling nine-month period in South Africa when he was a war correspondent and soldier.

“He had a price of £25 on his head and was imprisoned by the Boers,” Sandys said. “He escaped ... and was on the international stage the rest of his life.”

One of Sandys’ favorite Churchill quotes is “Never, never, never give in.”

“He had to battle through his childhood ... and battle in politics,” she said.

Sandys loves sharing stories of her grandfather and was grateful for the chance to speak at OSU.

When asked what advice Sandys thinks Churchill would offer college students, she simply said, “You must believe in yourself. If you don’t ... no one else will.”

President Burns Hargis and First Cowgirl Ann Hargis invited Sandys to speak at OSU after meeting her through a mutual friend this past summer in London.

“We really appreciate you being here,” President Hargis said during a question and answer session following her speech. “It has been a complete delight.”

Sandys enjoyed her time on the OSU-Stillwater campus, as well.

“I’m enchanted by this campus,” she said. “If I had a child of the right age, I’d definitely send them to this university. I think it is a wonderful environment, and the students I’ve met are great.”

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