Image by Alvarro Serra on Unsplash

By now – and I’m only guessing here – the New Year resolutions are already being dusted down and cherished only for their irrelevance. The gym membership has been used twice but probably not in the last fortnight, and the alcohol intake post-Christmas may already be nudging pre-holiday levels.

The same can probably be said for those other commitments made in good faith, if a little hastily. So, let me suggest one that you may not have thought about but one that I know can make a big and refreshing impact : why not try sending one – just one – handwritten letter a week. In a world of emails and text messages, an old-fashioned envelope containing inked sentences and the subtle display of effort will set you apart. As world leaders know, letters can be filed but also – if necessary – destroyed. They can’t be dredged from the technological deep for senate hearings.

If you need any inspiration to release those creative juices, there are two books to immediately add to your library. Simon Sebag Montfiore’s “Written in History: Letters that Changed the World” is a remarkable curation that brings to life the great historic characters that otherwise remain rooted flat-footed to the page. As Montefiore notes, letters allow us all to ‘eavesdrop by the keyholes of history’. And it’s a formidable bandwidth that serves from Elizabeth I to Leonard Cohen.

Likewise: Winston Churchill’s love letters to his wife Clementine in “The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill”. Letters that captured his own mortality and vulnerability, from the long weeks in the trenches, to his lonely doom-laden political days, but in all Clementine is the unflinching centre of his affection. ‘I wish I could see you and kiss your sweet face,’ he writes from one war zone.

The power of a letter? A few days before London made its final tilt at bringing the Olympic Games home after a 64-year absence, my teams delivered 104 handwritten letters from me to the members of the International Olympic Committee that were eligible to vote on that momentous July day in 2005 in Singapore.

Each letter, about two pages long, had a different and personal paragraph relating to a trip or conversation during the bid journey of over two years. We won with a wafer-thin majority of four. 

To this day the recipients still talk about them. Any successful campaign is, of course, a winning suffusion of ingredients. But never overlook the impact of a letter. And don’t park this resolution alongside the gym membership.


Kindly reproduced from first publication in Country & Townhouse magazine, Feb 2019 issue.