When did it all start? At what age did you start smoking?
To my shame, I started smoking cigarettes at the age of around 18 - but then it was the early 1960s and almost everyone did. It’s now been more than 40 years since I smoked a cigarette. My first encounter with Havana cigars took place in my early 20s when, as a budding advertising agency executive, I started entertaining clients. A couple of good cigars could easily be added to the bill.
What was your first cigar?
My first Havana was a Bolivar. I knew nothing about cigars, but was aware that Snr. Bolivar and I shared the same first name and that was good enough for me.
How would you describe the pleasure of smoking cigars?
It’s all to do with the taste. Add to that the peace and enjoyment that surround cigars and you have the basis for a pleasurable pastime.
Which are your favorite cigars?
After more than half a lifetime of visiting Havana, it’s hardly surprising they all come from Cuba. My current top 10 are: Ramon Allones Specially Selected, H. Upmann Half Corona, Trinidad Vigia, Cohiba Siglo III, Partagas Short, Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial, San Cristobal El Principe, Montecristo No.2, Cuaba Divinos and Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill.
How many cigars do you smoke?
Two per day on average.
At what time of the day do you enjoy your cigars the most?
The first cigar of the day is always special; it’s the best time to understand the taste - never before breakfast, of course, but prior to lunch. Then after dinner, but it is important not to choose too big a vitola in case you run out of time to finish it.
What are your favorite cigars for special events?
Good ones. That means they are in good condition and taste as they should. Too often at events the cigars on offer are not up to scratch, so it’s worth taking a private supply just in case.
How do you light your cigars? Do you have a special lighter?
Generally I like to use a gas lighter with what I call a ‘lazy’ flame, not a torch. My most special lighter - a Cohiba Dupont Limited Edition - was a gift and is too valuable to take anywhere.
Your favorite five cigar lounges/hotels worldwide?
Top of the list is the terrace at Havana’s Hotel Nacional. Most of my others are in London, but I couldn’t possibly name them for fear of the way I might be received on my next visit to the ones I didn’t mention!
Your favorite cigar members clubs worldwide?
I am particularly fond of the cigar clubs in Italy like the Amicigar club based in Campania and the Alto Salento cigar club in Puglia. They stage terrific events.
Your favorite five cigar shops worldwide?
I love any cigar shop that has a good range, kept in perfect condition and served by people who know what they are talking about. I couldn’t possibly name five because I’d never sell another cigar to those I didn’t mention.
With which personalities would you like to smoke a cigar?
If I can include dead smokers, top of the list would be the American journalist from the early to mid 20th century, H. L. Mencken. He was an unceasing fighter against the stupidities of society. He played a pivotal role in the repeal of prohibition and was seldom seen without a cigar in his hand. Politicians were his target when he commented: ‘The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and, hence, clamorous to be lead to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.' Nothing sums up better the predicament we face as smokers today. I wish he was still around to help.
Is there a special ‘cigar moment’ in your life you would like to share with us?
Perhaps, the greatest coincidence I have ever experienced involved a cigar. After a dinner in 2005 at Claridges Hotel in London, I was finishing an H. Upmann Monarch in the Fumoir Bar by myself. In walked an Hispanic-looking, American couple. The man looked at my cigar and enquired if it was Cuban. I replied that it was. He explained that they had lived in Cuba over forty years ago and had been in tobacco. I asked what his name was and he said "Menendez, we had H. Upmann". "I know,” I replied, “I work for Hunters & Frankau and we sold it to you in 1937". If you work for an old established company you expect to bump into people from the past, but this was remarkable and the fact I was smoking an H. Upmann was eerie.
Where do you keep your cigars?
In a variety of humidors, but anything valuable is looked after by Hunters & Frankau.
You enjoy your cigars with a glass of … ?
I like sweet drinks, so cognac or port rather than most whiskies. Vintage champagne can be great to go with a pre-dinner cigar. After dinner, I have a penchant for schnapps: Calvados, Kirsch, Marc de Bourgogne or even a good grappa.
How would you describe your passion for smoking to a non-smoker?
I probably wouldn’t.
How much money did you spend on your most expensive cigar?
I hate to admit it but I don’t pay for many of the cigars I smoke. The most money I have ever spent on a cigar was one that was unsmokeable, but it was over a century old and a collector's item if you are student of the history of the Havana.
Is there a cigar you would love to try that you haven’t smoked yet?
The most beautiful humidor?
I don’t care what a humidor likes like, but I do care if it works.
Who has to be featured in a cigar book? Which unique cigar personality worldwide?
Cigars and women?
Women cigar smokers are always welcome. If they are not cigar smokers, they probably won’t enjoy the atmosphere regardless of gender.
When did your company start doing business with Cuban cigars?
As far as Hunters & Frankau is concerned, it was some time in the 1830s.
From my point of view, I started in 1977.
How would you describe a business relationship with Cuba?
Exciting. One of the things that has kept me in the Cuban cigar business for so long is that no two years have ever been the same. There is always something new happening, often unforeseen.
What makes Cuban Cigars so special?
UK and Cuban Cigars?
The UK’s history with Cuban cigars goes back such a long way it would need a book to do it justice. The UK is the spiritual home of Havana cigars.
How has Cuba changed in the last years?
When I first went to Cuba, the Cold War was still on and the best way to get there was once a week by Aeroflot, then a Soviet airline. Today they are talking about hundreds of flights a week from the US to the island. So much has changed and in some ways so little.