Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Why our older citizens really are in the driving seat now

Age Awareness Week gets underway today. Maureen Coleman and Rachel Quigley speak to some of our hardest working pensioners about how age is just a number and you are only as young as you feel

Gloria Hunniford presents a number of television shows including Cash in the Attic and a new programme called Rip Off Britain. She also recently stood in for Christine Bleakley on The One Show. Gloria is 69. She says: "First of all I want to say that I am bored with the whole ageism debate. The Arlene Phillips saga started because the newspapers had nothing else to report on at the time. Nobody really knows why she was replaced. I can only speak for myself, but I have not stopped working since my broadcasting career began in Belfast in 1969 and touch wood, I've never been out of a job.

"What keeps me going is basically love of the job. My children sometimes say to me that I should use my time to sit on a beach. But as much as I love doing that, I don't want to be the type of lady who lunches or spends my time at coffee mornings. I keep going because I'm still interested. Sometimes it's hard to know where my job ends and social life begins, the two often overlap. But I like it that way.

I have to say I've never been busier than I am now. It's all to do with attitude. I was brought up to keep myself busy and I think that is so important. It doesn't have to be about a job necessarily, as long as you have something that holds your interest, like playing Scrabble or Bridge, doing crosswords or watching the news.

"Only the other day I was talking to an 83-year-old man who plays tennis and bowls three days a week. That's a great attitude to have to life.

"I also have the love of my family to help me stay young, particularly my grandchildren. I feel so alive when I'm around them."

"When I was a young man in my 20s, doctors warned me I'd be dead by the age of 30 if I did not stop my partying.

Then they told me 40, then 50. Well I'm still here and going strong and they're all dead. Age, to me, is just a number, it doesn't bother me at all. Anyway, I have the mental age of an 11-year-old!

"I guess the reason I keep going and keep working is because I'm afraid I'm going to miss out on something. You never know what's around the corner, when the next gig is going to be, the next party, the next walking tour.

"My parents both died recently. My father was 97 and my mother was 86, so I think it's in the genes.

"I think people tend to live longer and work longer these days. Being 60 is nothing. Every Wednesday I go to Lisburn to judge a battle of the bands competition. It's important to me to keep that interest going. Being around young bands keeps me young too. I'll keep going till I drop."

"So I went back to the Europa to work twice a week, Saturday afternoons and Sundays too, and sometimes special functions when they need me.

"I tried retirement for three weeks but I was so bored. I used to wake up in the morning and think 'what am I going to do today?'. There are only so many times you can peel the spuds or vacuum the floors. I was doing the job for 50 years, so I suppose it was never going to be easy for me to put my feet up and relax.

"I still get that buzz from working, from meeting people, whether they're high level faces or just the ordinary man in the street. I made good friends behind that bar.

"When I was retiring, Dr Hastings (the Europa Hotel's owner) told me 'Paddy, if you sit down, you go down'. That's the best advice I've had.

"Age doesn't register with me at all. You're only as old as you feel and I feel good enough to keep working. And I'll do so as long as I still have that buzz."

"At 68, I'm the same age as Sir Alex Ferguson, erudite manager of Manchester United and still going strong. The pension book arrived three years ago while I was preparing to undergo a quadruple heart by-pass, so by the law of averages I should be retired and, like my namesake, Mr Victor Meldrew, placing one foot in the grave.

"But, for reasons best known to themselves, the Portadown Times (for whom I'd scribbled for 36 years) offered me three days a week as a freelance, even as I recovered from the surgeon's box of tools. And the Belfast Telegraph also stepped in with a couple of days a week.

"It was a great boost to the confidence, with the double spectre of old age and heart trouble having suggested that perhaps it was time to pull up the drawbridge of life and - horror or horrors - watch mind-numbing dayime TV where there's a makeover every half-hour, they sell antiques even older than the one writing this guff, and there are game shows that wouldn't tax the grey cells of an extremely dim goldfish.

"And my wife would go mental if I was under her feet all day. Anyway, the ability to string a few words together doesn't end at 65. So here I am, back at the computer, reporting on all manner of local and provincial issues and enjoying every moment.

"Now, which key do I press to save this story...?"

She says: "To me age is just a number, I've never felt my age or that I need to slow down. I keep myself busy and spend my days surrounded by people who help me feel younger than my years.

"I am always touched by the enthusiasm and love for life I see in a lot of the people I meet and I tend to surround myself with those types of individuals. I think if you can give something to other people, every day it keeps you going. So much depends on the personality of the person.

"A 70-year-old can have more energy and enthusiasm in them than someone half their age and that takes years off a person. Look at Bruce Forsyth, he is still very nimble on his feet and would put a lot of younger people to shame.

"No two days are the same with me. I go for a four mile walk in the morning. I can't understand people who just lie in their bed. Life is for living, everyone should get up and embrace the day.

"The joy of getting up, getting some fresh air and looking at the beautiful nature around me, that is what keeps me going. My walk in the morning is my time because the rest of the day is usually consumed with other people as I do a lot of charity work.

"Another big part of what keeps me young is my work with the Mary Peter's Trust, which gives grants to the next generation of sports people.

"I am so heartened to see some of the things they have achieved and how they travel all over the world representing their country. It is a great opportunity and I love helping them to realise their dreams and ambitions.

"I see the world as a place where everyone contributes, I don't look at people and think they are young or old, it just depends what they bring to the table, how much energy they have and the kind of outlook they have on life. That's what keeps people young. This is not a rehearsal, this is life and you only get one chance at it. I try to live mine to the full and embrace every day that comes.

He says:"I'm sure I have many, many years left in me. But it all depends on my fans. As long as I can keep them happy and keep entertaining them then I'll keep going.

"I'll be 65 in November but I don't feel anywhere near that. It's the adrenaline that keeps me ticking, the rush and energy of my work. Everything from seeing that red button telling me we are going live, to standing on stage with my band, to going out and meeting the fans. Getting good feedback from them gives you such a high and if they are happy, I am happy.

"I have been with my band Clubsound for 40 years, we have grown up together. Rock and roll is like a drug, you live off the adrenaline and euphoria of the crowd. I can still stand on stage with my guitar for a couple of hours and give the audience what they want.

"Look at Cliff Richards, there is a man who has been entertaining people for 60 years and is still as popular as ever.

"As long as I can reach out to people and make them happy, that is my adage, too much on TV and radio now is about shocking people. I try to be zany and funny and a lot of people still respond to that. Comedy is ageless and universal and I have people from all ages call into my show.

"I hope I won't be going anywhere for a while, but if my producer came and told me they were replacing me with someone younger then I would respect that. You have to give the audience what they want and realise when it is your day to go.

"But I live by the motto 'if you think young, you will stay young' and I think that comes across in all aspects of my life."

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