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British Prime Ministers and their favourite drinks

A diverse array of leaders have been British Prime Minister with their own tastes and preferences, including drinks. Ahead of the 2024 General Election, db investigates.

From the 17th century to the present day, the favourite drinks of these leaders often reflected their personalities, the times they lived in, and sometimes even their political ideologies.

Here, db explores the preferred alcoholic drinks of British Prime Ministers across the centuries.

Robert Walpole – Madeira wine

Robert Walpole, often considered the first de facto Prime Minister of Great Britain, served from 1721 to 1742.

In the early 18th century, Madeira wine was a popular choice among the British elite. Walpole was particularly fond of this fortified wine, which was imported from the Madeira Islands.

Madeira wine is known for its longevity and resilience, characteristics that seemed to align with Walpole’s own lengthy and resilient political career. The wine’s robust and rich flavor made it a favourite in an era when long sea voyages required beverages that could withstand the journey without spoiling.

William Pitt the Younger – Port

William Pitt the Younger, who served as Prime Minister in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was known for his fondness for port wine. Port, a fortified wine from the Douro Valley in Portugal, was immensely popular in Britain during Pitt’s time.

Pitt’s preference for port was emblematic of his era, as the British upper class enjoyed port as a symbol of sophistication and status. Port’s rich and full-bodied flavor was a favorite at political dinners and social gatherings.

Pitt was known to consume large quantities of port, which some historians believe contributed to his poor health and early death at the age of 46.

Benjamin Disraeli – Brandy with water

Benjamin Disraeli, who served as Prime Minister in the 19th century, was a man of flair and charisma. His favourite drink was brandy with water.

His great rival, William Gladstone, preferred sherry…with a beaten egg.

Winston Churchill – Pol Roger Champagne and Johnnie Walker Whiskey

Winston Churchill, one of Britain’s most iconic Prime Ministers of the 20th century, had a well-documented love for alcohol, and cigars.

Churchill’s drink of choice was Champagne, and his preferred brand was Pol Roger, infamously in a pint bottle size.

He reportedly consumed more than 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger during his lifetime. This preference led to a close relationship between Churchill and the Pol Roger family, with the Champagne house even naming a special cuvée in his honour, which continues to this day.

Apart from Champagne, Churchill was also known for his love of whiskey. Johnnie Walker was a favourite. Churchill often started (and ended) his day with a glass of whiskey and soda.

Clement Attlee — Beer

Clement Attlee, who was Prime Minister immediately after Churchill from 1945 to 1951, led the country through a significant period of post-war reconstruction.

Attlee, who became known for his modesty and understated nature, was perhaps reflected well in his choice of drink: beer. But unlike his predecessor, his preferred nightcap was a cup of cocoa rather than a large dram of whiskey.

Beer was then, as now, seen as a drink for the working man or woman. In today’s politics, beer is still used by politicians to reference their ‘connection’ to the working class, with numerous politicians through the years being seen either pulling pints in a pub or holding a pint of lager or ale.

Harold Wilson — Ale

Harold Wilson, another Labour PM who served in two non-consecutive terms during the 1960s and 1970s, was known for his love of pipe smoking, and ale.

He often frequented local pubs where he would engage with constituents during a quick jar.

Secret documents released by the government under the ’30 year rule’ in 2006 revealed that Wilson was also somewhat ahead his time when it came to understanding the role of small breweries in the UK as well.

He had planned to save small breweries under threat from closure or being taken over by big macro-brewers, and nationalising those at risk.

He said in words which still ring true today: “Much resentment is caused when a local brewery is taken over by one of the anonymous national breweries, thus reducing choice. It is our intention to make sure that local breweries do not disappear.”

Edward Heath — Port

Edward Heath, who served as Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974, had a taste for Port as well.

Heath, known for his love of classical music, enjoyed a glass of Port, particularly at social gatherings and official functions.

Heath’s preference illustrates his refined tastes and his appreciation for the finer things in life.

But he wasn’t particularly worried about the vintage, as an anecdote by Bruce Anderson in The Spectator on a meal after one Tory Conference with Heath in the 1980s, regarding drinking Taylor’s Port: “I remember lamb with serious claret, but the port was the highlight. So what was it? An outstanding year, with ’55 the favourite. But could it be a forward ’63? Or what about a well-preserved ’45? Surely the old monster would not have been so generous, unless it was provided by rich friends and dispensed by the butler…To avoid making a fool of myself, I simply said: ‘This is such a treat. What is it?’ Ted looked blank-eyed and replied: ‘Glass of port.’”

Margaret Thatcher – Scotch whisky

Margaret Thatcher, known as the Iron Lady, enjoyed a glass of whisky, specifically Glenmorangie and Glenlivet single malt scotches, which she could get from the House of Commons bars, where she liked to drink with fellow MPs.

Although coming from a Methodist background and not accustomed to a household of drinkers, she married Denis Thatcher, who loved a drink enough to have nicknames for different ones throughout the day, including an “opener”, a “brightener”, a “lifter”, a large gin and tonic without the tonic, “a snifter”, a “short” and “a snorter”.

Thatcher also liked a blended Scotch, such as Bells.

Tony Blair — wine

Infamous for the ‘prawn cocktail’ culture of the late 1990s and ‘cool Britannia’, Blair was eager to shrug off the ‘ale and pie’ persona of Labour leaders. Therefore, he was often photographed drinking wine, especially reds.

On the other hand, his opposition number, Tory leader William Hague, was eager to create the exact opposite persona, once claiming to GQ magazine that he had drunk 14 pints a day as a youngster.

During his time in office from 1997 to 2007, he was reported to enjoy a glass or two with dinner.

David Cameron — Beer and cider

(Image: Lauren Hurley / No 10 Downing Street / Wikipedia / National Archives)

Cameron continued in Hague’s footsteps, and sought to do the opposite of Blair. He was eager to show himself as down-to-earth, rather than the blue-blooded aristocratic lineage (he is related to King William IV and to the current House of Windsor).

As a result, he was often pictured drinking beer or cider, and he often spoke about his fondness for local ales —especially as his time in office came at the same time as the craft beer revolution — and was seen drinking beer at various public events, including infamously downing Greene King IPA with Chinese premier Xi Jinping, which resulted in a boom in sales in the country.

Theresa May — Pendeyrn whisky

(Image: Wikipedia/ The National Archives)

Theresa May, Prime Minister from 2016 to 2019, mentioned Welsh whisky Pendeyrn in a Politico round-up of politician’s favourite Christmas tipples.

May said that she was planning to enjoy a dram of Penderyn, which is distilled in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, on “those (hopefully) quiet winter evenings over the holidays”.

Boris Johnson – Italian red wine and lager

Boris Johnson, who became Prime Minister in 2019, is known for his eclectic tastes and charismatic personality. Johnson enjoys both wine and beer, often seen with a glass of Italian red wine, such as Barolo, in hand at various events, and has previously also stated a love for Super Tuscan wine Tignanello.

Additionally, Johnson is fond of beer. It could be argued that mixed preference for refined and sophisticated fine wines and approachable beer mirrors his attempts to produce the broad-brush populism that dominated his time in office.

Rishi Sunak – Mexican Coca-Cola

A tee-totaller, Rishi Sunak recently described himself as a “total Coke addict” to two schoolboys, with a preference for the Mexican variety. No, he didn’t mean it like that.

He was referring to the Mexican variant of Coca-Cola, which is different to the classic formula found elsewhere in the world. The recipe, which is exported into the US, is sweetened with white sugar instead of the high-fructose corn syrup. Some, such as Sunak, claim it tastes better.

Apparently, according The Telegraph, Sunak stocked up on the variant, which isn’t easily available in the UK, during a trip last year to see Joe Biden.

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