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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
4 May 2017

Founder of the international fine-wine market Michael Broadbent of Christie's celebrated his 90th birthday this week, not just once but twice. 

On Tuesday, the day itself, he gave a dinner for enough close friends and family to fill the handsome first-floor dining room of his club, Brooks's, overlooking St James's Street. We enjoyed a handsome beef Wellington plus Gusbourne English sparkling wine, a Hungarian dry white from Royal Tokaji, lashings of delightful Cos d'Estournel 2001, his beloved Moscato d'Asti, and Graham 1997, impressive in both density and quantity.

This despite the fact that he had spent many hours in hospital the night before, accompanied by his grandson Alexander Arbuthnot, but you would never have known. Once the port was served, the dinner began to resemble a Quaker meeting as a succession of guests rose spontaneously to their feet to toast the host and his unique qualities.

He sensibly planned to spend Tuesday night at Brooks's rather than at his flat in Fulham and must have had quite a shock to be woken there on Wednesday morning by an ambulance and some police cars who had come looking for him, his hospital tests having revealed a mild infection. Back he went to hospital during the day but his second party, a large gathering in Vintners' Hall hosted by his children, had been long in the planning so he manfully turned up, looking as elegant as ever, even if he spent much of the time in the chair shown above.

I got there early and one of the first fellow guests I met was, typically, an extremely attractive young woman. She told me she ran his favourite local restaurant where he dines two or three times a week and is known fondly by the staff as The Grandfather. She said he'd been in on Monday night and had told her he was much looking forward to today, Thursday, when it would all be over. But I hope he felt sustained by the warm glow of affection and respect in Vintners' Hall last night, not to mention by the well-aged Pol Roger.

A notable number of guests, including of course his wine importer son Bartholomew (Bollew) Broadbent, daughter-in-law Spencer and his younger brother Roger, who is based in Canada, had crossed the Atlantic to celebrate with him. Ex Christie's colleague Fritz Hatton presented him with the biggest bouquet of roses I have ever seen in recognition of his key role in pioneering the Napa Valley wine auction, thereby spawning a host of charity wine auctions throughout the United States.

Bollew and his lawyer sister Emma Arbuthnot asked me to speak about Michael's professional achievements while it was left to Bollew to read revealing comments from his father's first employer, the irascible wine merchant Tommy Layton. In Nick's picture I'm seen trying to compete with the Vintners' flashy silverware with, left to right, Michael, Bollew, John Harvey and John Salvi MW, who had travelled from Bordeaux with his wife Nellie to celebrate with the wine trade's most prolific and experienced taster, writer and educator.

Michael had given me three tightly typed pages of what he had done and won – and it was by no means comprehensive. I wish him much health, happiness and a jolly good rest.