Some people like to sit down, read a book and enjoy a cup of tea. Well, if you do that with Michael D’Antonio’s newest offering, “A Full Cup,” you’ll be enjoying a cup of tea while reading about the guy who made that cup of tea possible. It’s the story of Thomas Lipton, who brought the drink of kings to the people, then became one of the most famous sportsmen in the world.
We’re also making some history today. We spoke to Michael D’Antonio about a year and a half ago, when he released his last book, “Forever Blue,” a biography of Walter O’Malley. Today, he becomes the first author to sit down for two SCP interviews. And, as you’ll see, he knows exactly how important that really is.
SCP: Why Thomas Lipton? And why now?
MD: Starting out I knew that Lipton was one of the first media-created, larger-than-life figures in both business and sport. I also saw that his story had been neglected and therefore lost to the billions of people who know Lipton’s tea and the millions who follow the America’s Cup races. As for timing, I thought that in the throes of the recent (and some would say continuing) deep recession it would be good to remind folks of a man who helped people forget their troubles for a while during the Great Depression. As readers will discover, the last great chapter of Lipton’s life brought him to America where he made his final run for the cup and was rewarded with the love and admiration of a nation.
SCP: Was Thomas Lipton’s effort to win the America’s Cup simply a case of a man on a mission or was it a 19th century attempt at global marketing?
MD: He began racing as a favor to then Prince Edward VII (soon to be king) who wanted someone to heal a recent rift between America and Britain that had been caused by the unsportsmanlike behavior of a recent British challenger. Lipton, who rose from the humblest beginnings to become part of Edward’s inner circle saw the opportunity to “do well by doing good” because the cup races were the most publicized sporting events in the world. Newspapers from New York to London and even Tokyo followed every aspect of the races, from design and construction of the yachts to the actual ocean-going battles, as if the future of the world depended upon the outcome. With every report citing the name “Lipton” time after time, the publicity was priceless.
SCP: Can you compare Thomas Lipton to someone like Richard Branson? What about Milton Hershey, another man you’ve written about?
MD: Lipton was, by far, a greater raconteur and self promoter than either Hershey or Branson. In part because of his Mennonite background, Hershey was just too down-to-earth to ever fully embrace the showman’s role. Branson came along at a time when many other glamorous capitalists competed for the limelight. Lipton was an original who had the field to himself and devoted as much time and energy to attention-getting schemes as he did to the development of his actual businesses. Between the elephant parades, the “monster” cheeses, and his magnificent parties aboard the steam yacht Erin, he managed to become the most photographed man of his time and won over every social class. Kings and presidents loved him as well as barmen and maids.
SCP: Were the America’s Cup or professional yachting topics you knew much about before you began researching this book?
MD: I grew up on a small island called New Castle in the harbor of Portsmouth, N.H. where I saw yachts under sail outside my bedroom window and managed to get out on a few of them even though my skills as a sailor never went beyond obeying the skipper’s orders. I also spent lots of time on the water in my own motorized skiff and between exploring the bays and inlets, fishing and pulling lobster traps, I became very fond of saltwater. I followed the America’s Cup races in the press — especially those involving Ted Turner — but I cannot say I understood their historical significance until I began my research for A Full Cup. It didn’t take long, though, for me to realize the role the races played in spurring the development of marine technology and design which were vitally important to politics and economic development.
SCP: This book hits stores just about two years after your last one, Forever Blue. Did you dive right into this one or take some time in between? How long does it take to complete a project like this?
MD: After thirty-five years at various keyboards — yes I started writing when typewriters were the cutting edge technology — I just don’t feel comfortable without having something in the works. I dove in as soon as the O’Malley book was finished and just loved the process of discovering Lipton’s life and times.
SCP: When you were writing this book, did you have a cup of Lipton tea sitting next to your computer? Or was it coffee?
MD: I am a coffee addict but drink decaf tea every night. Some of it was, indeed, Lipton’s. I like it because the flavor stands up to milk.
SCP: You’re the first author to sit down for two interviews with SportsCracklePop. You’ve also won a Pulitzer. Which one is a greater honor?
MD: You know, the Pulitzer was shared with a team at Newsday and these Q&A sessions have been mine alone. I’d have to say it’s a toss-up!