I’ve never really got cigars, they’ve always struck me as phallic symbols of pungent expense. I’ve suspected that those who smoke them do so as an excuse to mask that they are often unable to stand up after a heavy meal. To smoke one seems to take as long as running a marathon and is just as painful on your lungs.
But ever keen for self improvement (or should that be self-damage?), I thought I should give them another try at the Spectator cigar smoker of the year awards. Yes, I hoped to learn a bit more about them, but I was most drawn by the fine opportunities for rubber-necking and the extremely nice looking menu (with wines), which the organisers sent over beforehand.
Boisedale Canary Wharf, where it took place, provided the people-watching I had hoped for: captains of industry, the odd film director and the sort of puce-faced chaps whose weekend trousers match their complexions. Oh, and Nancy Dell’Olio.
Ranald Macdonald, the restaurant’s proprietor played the genial host, while publisher Andrew Neil was MC for the awards ceremony. He played this role like a headmaster to the unruly (or in this case, drunk) pupils, having to plough on as one chap (yes, a red face/trouser type) twice stood to heckle incoherently. Indeed judging from the general volume of the evening, there was no doubting the passion cigar fans have for their Havanas.
The shortlist for the main prize was a mix of the great, the good and the godawful, combining (among others) Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alan Greenspan and former West Ham footballer Julian Dicks. In the end the prize went to Simon Le Bon, who looked delighted with both the trophy and the drunken adulation shouting, “this could be as good as it gets”. It did occur to me though, that perhaps his elation was elevated by the fact that he’d just been given a £15,000 Jean Richard watch as part of his award.
Afterwards as the assembled brayers rolled into the night, I stood at the bar enjoying the excellent whisky on offer. Le Bon chose to celebrate in a different way, by pouring samples of various different glasses of whisky into one, to make a unique blend, which he proclaimed delicious. Perhaps it is this sort of creative approach to life that wins you awards.