The End Of The World
Week 14

James Leavey's


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By James Leavey

Not long ago, I spent a few convivial and informative hours with Dr Ernst Schneider, chairman of Davidoff, whose multinational company is often said to be the world’s biggest name in cigars.  Indeed, the name Davidoff is inextricably linked with the smoker-friendly city of Geneva, and I had flown there for the grand reopening of Dr Schneider’s refurbished flagship cigar shop.

At one point, I told him that I had recently interviewed Peter de Savary, the entrepreneurial businessman and founder of The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland, former Highland home of Andrew Carnegie, which went as follows: 

Me: "When did you start smoking""

Peter de Savary: "I never smoked anything in my life until my 16th birthday, when I asked my father if he would let me try one of his beloved Havanas.  He said I could have a cigar on two conditions: 1) that I gave him my word never to smoke cigarettes and 2) if I liked cigars to smoke fewer rather than more and always to smoke good Cuban cigars rather than any inferior tobacco.  He then handed me my first Bolivar and I thoroughly enjoyed it."

Me: "What do you smoke now""

PdS: "On average, 6-8 Havana cigars a day, usually two Partagas D size, and 5-6 Partagas Lusitianas or Punch Double Coronas.  I also like Hoyo de Monterreys and Ramon Allones very much, but I only like dark leaf cigars, nice chocolate colour – I don’t like any pale leaf cigars.  I also enjoy collecting interesting cigars and in 1997 bought a box of 163 Havanas rolled in the 1856 – for £17,600, auctioned to celebrate Christie’s 230th anniversary. They’re still the oldest and most expensive Cuban cigars sold at a commercial auction, and they’re my favourite smoke.  When my eldest daughter, Lisa, got married in April 1998 at Stapleford Park, the groom’s father and I each lit up and enjoyed one of the world’s oldest Havanas cigars to commemorate the happy event. They smoked much better than any modern Cuban cigar, much better."

Me: "Can any of your guests at Skibo, such as Madonna, Guy Ritchie and Sir Sean Connery, smoke in their bedrooms""

PdS: "No.  It doesn’t matter who it is, they’ve got to smoke downstairs.  They can smoke anywhere downstairs except in one of the drawing rooms, which is set aside for non-smokers.  And they can’t smoke at the dinner table, until the ladies have left.  The routine is you go to the cigar room, which was formerly the study of Mr Carnegie’s personal secretary, and in there we keep at least 500 cigars spread over probably 20 different types of cigars. So you go there, and the butler will help you select, cut, prepare and light your cigar.  The best place to smoke it is in the adjoining room, which is Mr Carnegie’s library, which has comfortable squidgy chairs and great views over the loch and estate, with a drink appropriate to that time of day."

Me: "Did Andrew Carnegie smoke""

PdS: "No."

And so on.  Then I asked him the following question:  "Is it true you throw half of your cigars away""

"I never smoke a cigar to what I call the limit as I find that once I’ve smoked two-thirds of a cigar and have had to relight it, that last part starts to get a bit acidy and moist.," replied de Savary.  "Some people would say, ‘God, he’s throwing away a lot of that expensive cigar’, but I prefer to enjoy the quality, not the quantity."

“So what happens to the dog-ends"” I asked him.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “But I think my staff collect them and smoke them surreptitiously.”

“Maybe you should give them a bigger salary,” I told de Savary, who, good-natured soul that he is, laughingly agreed. Later, his P.A. told me that one of de Savary's dogs had taken to regularly snacking on his master's unfinished cigars - but at least the silly mutt (the dog, not de Savary) hasn't learned to smoke them.

De Savary also told me that he’s kept all the cigar boxes he's ever owned, countless thousands, and planned to panel a room in Skibo Castle with them, from floor to ceiling, shortly, and that it will become one of the great smoker’s rooms in Britain.

“It’s a shame you can’t take a few stogies with you, when you pop your clogs,” I said, to which Britain’s great cigar aficionado replied that, actually, he planned to have his coffin lined in cedar wood, and had already given strict instructions for someone to place a very large Hoyo de Monterrey on top of him.

I then suggested to Dr Schneider that of all the people in the world who I thought should have a coffin lined with cedar, then it should be him.  Schneider laughed, and agreed that it was a good idea.

“The thing is”, I told him, “you must ensure that your coffin is cremated, and then all your friends and family will be able to stand around sniffing the air, and say, ‘Not only was a he great ambassador for fine cigars, he also smelled good.’”

So whenever Dr Schneider departs this mortal Earth, and, as I told him, let us pray it won’t be for many years to come, you may have me to blame for the fun at his funeral.

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