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Churchill's Viewpoint

“There’s so much made of Sir Winston Churchill’s visit to Madeira, you’d think he had ‘time-share’ at Pestana Palms. ” — David J Whyte

Sir Winston Churchill, inventor of the ‘selfie’.

The fact is he only visited the island briefly as a young newspaper correspondent on his way to cover the Boer War in South Africa in 1899 and then again to recuperate after the Second World War. When he did make it back, it was only for 12 days! But his impact on the island has lasted decades!


Sir Winston is one of the world’s more famous political tipplers. Customarily photographed with a cigar in one hand and a drink in the other, his daily habit was to have two watered-down whiskies over the course of the morning, Champagne was taken with lunch and vintage wine with dinner followed with a Port or brandy. His whisky of choice was Johnnie Walker, Black or Red Label. I thought he’d be more of a malt man myself but there you go!

Sir Winston and his wife at Reid’s Palace in 1950

Churchill also held a strong affection for vintage Madeira Wine and this might have prompted him to enquire to the British Consul on Madeira at the time “about warm, paintable, bathable, comfortable, flowery, hotels”, his intention to spend a few weeks on the island to recuperate after his sizeable war-effort and to work on his war memoirs. And, of course, to paint!

The harbour scene at Câmara de Lobos has changed little in the past 72 years.

This is fairly close to the spot where Winston set up his easel to paint Câmara de Lobos harbour


“He went on to create some 500 paintings…”

Sir Winston only took up painting at the age of 36. He freely admitted that painting - along with writing (he published 43 books) revived his spirits and was an antidote to his frequent bouts of depression. He went on to create some 500 paintings with subject matter ranging from his goldfish pond at Chartwell to the ‘Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque’, a view of the city of Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains. Churchhill discovered the light and heady atmosphere of Morocco long before the hippy influx of the 1960s. In the 1930s, he visited the city of Marrakesh six times.

"‘Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque’ by Winston Churchill is considered his most important work and was bought by Angelina Jolie and subsequently sold at Christie's for £7 million.


Arriving on Madeira on the 1st of January 1950, Churchill and his family stayed at Reid’s Palace Hotel with a plan to stay for at least a fortnight. Knowing how keen he was on landscape painting, a Rolls Royce was organised by the Leacock family (Madeira winemakers) to take him and his equipment to the nearby fishing village of Câmara de Lobos. On the 8th of January 1950, the photographer, Raul Perestrelo, captured the moment when Winston applied oil to canvas. The Madeira marketing machine has been making the most of the event ever since.


The actual spot that Sir Winston occupied whilst painting the fishing village has moved - but only slightly. At the time, the outlook was known as the ‘Espírito Santo’ (Holy Spirit) viewpoint. The current ‘Winston Churchill viewpoint’ was built in 1963 but you can still stand close to the original spot. Looking at the pictures of the occasion, you wonder if he was a tad too warm under that big overcoat but it was January and sometimes, even in that month, Madeira does get a little cooler. My only question is did Sir Winston try a Poncha?

David J. Whyte


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