This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of BBC History Magazine
Winston Churchill was a British statesman and author who served two spells as prime minister, notably from 1940–45 when his inspirational leadership and powerful oratory guided Britain through the Second World War. His writing career earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953. Widely acclaimed as one of the greatest Britons in history, he was recently portrayed by Gary Oldman on the big screen in the film Darkest Hour.
When did you first hear about Winston Churchill?
I first heard about him when I was a child. My father’s name was Winston, and when I was about seven years old, my paternal grandmother told me that she had named my father after Churchill. Winston Taylor was born in 1900, when Churchill had just escaped from a Boer prison in South Africa. My grandmother’s sister, who had no children, but had married well, offered to pay for my father’s education if grandma called him either Winston, for Churchill, or Redvers, for General Buller. Grandma told me she preferred the name Winston, and so do I!
What kind of person was he?
Churchill was highly intelligent, a born politician, a visionary of no mean proportions, and a man who understood European politics as well as the politics of his own country. He realised early on that Germany was rearming and that there would be a Second World War, but none of his colleagues in parliament wanted to listen. Yet how right he was.
He was the grandson of a duke, and therefore an aristocrat, and this annoyed some of his colleagues. But he was always unbowed, and went about his business with skill and determination, as well as conviction.
What made him a hero?
He was a hero because he was a great patriot and loved his country and its people. He was brave, strong, confident, and a born leader of men. His courage was immense, his fearlessness amazing.
What was his finest hour?
It was the year Britain stood alone in the Second World War. He became prime minister on 10 May 1940. I remember the date because it is my birthday! When France surrendered, Churchill knew he had to keep Britain safe. He held the country together with his words and his rhetoric. That was all he had, but how well he used those two great gifts.
I was only a little girl, but I still hear that voice of his in my head when I look back. It was confident, sonorous, and his words were filled with patriotism. He kept Britain going by speaking to everyone on the BBC, and in person.
Is there anything you don’t admire about him?
There isn’t anything in his character that I feel critical about. Churchill has always been my great hero, and I won’t take him down from his pedestal. I would certainly turn a blind eye to anything detrimental about him – I just don’t want to know. I shut people up if they bad-mouth him!
Do you see any parallels between Churchill’s life and your own?
I don’t see any parallels. I think the only thing we have in common is that he loved to write, as do I.
If you could meet Churchill, what would you ask him?
I would ask him how he discovered his love of words and his extraordinary talent for rhetoric that served him so well.
Barbara Taylor Bradford is one of the world’s most successful authors, best-known for her 1979 novel A Woman of Substance, which has sold over 30 million copies. Her latest book, Secrets of Cavendon, was published by HarperCollins in November.
To listen to Lord Digby Jones choose Churchill for Radio 4’s Great Lives, click here.