There are few things more thrilling or more nerve wracking than writing a book. Churchill at the Gallop is published at the end of the week and I just hope the glasses we raised at its launch last Thursday will speed it on its way.
This has been the most challenging, thrilling and yet fulfilling thing that I have been through in print. Working on it has forced me to get as close as possible to Churchill the man, and – because the stance of the book is a view from the saddle – that meant far closer than I ever imagined.
For one of the forgotten facts about Winston Churchill is how much he was involved with riding and horses. It helped shape his life, it certainly saved his life on at least two occasions and, since it was a bumpy pony trap trip back from a Blenheim Park shooting party that brought on Jennie Churchill’s premature labour on November 30th 1874, we can even say it started his life.
One of his earliest memories is of falling off a donkey – in Ireland in 1879, but that’s a story in itself. His very first letter to his mother says proudly of his pony: “I rode Rob Roy round the park today and rode him all by myself in the school.” He rode more extensively than any Prime Minister before or since. He rode in England, Ireland, France, Spain, Moravia, Malta, India, the North West Frontier, South Africa, Cuba, and Canada too. He hacked across Newmarket Heath to watch his father’s Oaks winner gallop on the Limekilns. He rode in a steeplechase at Tweseldown, in the hunting field, on the polo ground, and most famously, on the 2nd September 1898 in a full on, 400 horse, blood and sword and bullets cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan. Horses were his escape in childhood, his challenge in youth, his triumph in sport, his transport in war and, after he took up racing at the end of his life, his diversion in dotage.
I know it’s a dangerous thing to say but I believe in this book more than anything I have ever done before. Fingers crossed to see what the readers think.