Without Churchill's inspiring leadership Britain could not have survived its darkest hour and repelled the Nazi menace. Without his wife Clementine, however, he might never have become Prime Minister. By his own admission, the Second World War would have been 'impossible without her'. Clementine was Winston's emotional rock and his most trusted confidante; not only was she involved in some of the most crucial decisions of war, but she exerted an influence over her husband and the Government that would appear scandalous to modern eyes.
Yet her ability to charm Britain's allies and her humanitarian efforts on the Home Front earned her deep respect, both behind closed doors in Whitehall and among the population at large. That Clementine should become Britain's First Lady was by no means pre-ordained. Born into impecunious aristocracy, her childhood was far from gilded. Her mother was a serial adulteress and gambler, who spent many years uprooting her children to escape the clutches of their erstwhile father, and by the time Clementine entered polite society she had become the target of cruel snobbery and rumours about her parentage.
In Winston, however, she discovered a partner as emotionally insecure as herself, and in his career she found her mission. Her dedication to his cause may have had tragic consequences for their children, but theirs was a marriage that changed the course of history. Now, acclaimed biographer Sonia Purnell explores the peculiar dynamics of this fascinating union. From the personal and political upheavals of the Great War, through the Churchills' 'wilderness years' in the 1930s, to Clementine's desperate efforts to preserve her husband's health during the struggle against Hitler, Sonia presents the inspiring but often ignored story of one of the most important women in modern history.
About the Author
Sonia Purnell started work at The Economist Intelligence Unit, edited a weekly financial magazine when only twenty-five, and then went on to a senior position on the Daily Telegraph's City pages before reporting on the EU from Brussels. On her return to London she assumed the position of Whitehall Correspondent, before moving to the Daily Mail, where she was Whitehall Editor. Her first book, Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition, was a candid and widely acclaimed portrait of London Mayor Boris Johnson, informed by her time working alongside him in Brussels. Just Boris was long listed for the Orwell Prize. She now writes and broadcasts as a freelancer and lives in London with her husband and two sons.
"Engrossing... Clementine Churchill became her husband's essential confidante and adviser, vetting his speeches, smoothing over his faux pas, dealing with his constituents... Purnell's book is the first formal biography of a woman who has heretofore been relegated to the sidelines." The New York Times "Purnell has delivered an astute, pacey account of a woman who hardly ever emerged from the shadows. It is a sharp analysis of what it meant to be a politician's wife... [and] shows how much we can learn about Winston Churchill from his wife and marriage." The Wall Street Journal 'Both scrupulous and fair-minded, Sonia Purnell has done her subject proud in this eye-opening and engrossing account of the strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom - so Purnell argues with authority - Winston Churchill's political career would have been a washout. It is clear from this admirable account that Churchill would never have risen to greatness without Clementine.' -- Miranda Seymour Daily Telegraph 'It seems remarkable that no one has given this remarkable woman proper biographical treatment before. One of the great political partnerships ... sensitively explored by Sonia Purnell.' -- Daisy Goodwin The Times 'Eye opening biography. First Lady is a bold biography of a bold woman; at last Purnell has put Clementine Churchill at the centre of her own extraordinary story, rather than in the shadow of her husband's.' -- Frances Wilson Mail on Sunday 'Sonia Purnell has written a highly readable, well researched, and insightful biography. This is an immensely enjoyable and deeply researched account.' -- Anne Sebba 'Compellingly readable... the heroic saga of a warrior queen who wanted power but only got it by playing subtle diplomatic games as her husband's eminence grise during two world wars.' -- Michele Roberts Independent 'Well researched and fluently written. Eminently readable.' -- Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times 'An intriguing study of a character both deeply flawed and, in her way, magnificent.' -- Jane Shilling Evening Standard 'From the influence she wielded to the secrets she kept, a new book looks at the extraordinary role of Winston Churchill's wife Clementine who proved that behind every great man is a great woman. Giving Winston confidence and conviction was a key element of her support. The safety and security that Clementine provided - as an emotional blanket and political sounding board - was vital in allowing Churchill to be the dominant politician of his age. Churchill's chief of staff, General Pug Ismay said later: "Without her... the history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story."' -- Dan Townend Daily Express 'Outstanding.' Yorkshire Post 'Purnell is an exhaustive researcher and eloquent storyteller. This biography is partly a history of domesticity, and this is its great strength. Winston clearly loved his wife. More to the point, he needed her. Purnell shows convincingly how much 'great men' rely on the everyday emotional labour of the women closest to them. Purnell wants to say much more than this, however: she wants Clementine to be recognised as a 'great woman'. More interesting, though, is what this look at Britain's 'first lady' tells us about the role of leaders' wives in the UK compared to in the US.' BBC History Magazine 'A unique take on Mrs Churchill's time as Britain's 'First Lady'.' Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine "This exemplary biography illustrates how Clementine's intelligence, hard work, and perseverance in often difficult circumstances made her every bit a match for her remarkable, intimidating husband, and a fascinating figure in her own right." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)