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Could Roy Walker spend his retirement in India with six famous pensioners?

Did The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel leave you longing to follow in Dame Judi Dench's footsteps and flee to Asia for your golden years? BBC Two has lined up a string of celebrities, including the popular local presenter to give it a go

By Susan Griffin

In the 2011 movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a number of retired people head to what they believe is a newly renovated establishment, where they can enjoy their remaining years in exotic luxury.

While it's not exactly the picturesque idyll they'd been promised, they do eventually come to find contentment in their new surroundings in India.

Inspired by the success of the film, and its 2015 sequel, BBC Two is airing a three-part documentary, which sees eight, familiar-faced, senior citizens travel 4,000 miles to Jaipur.

For three weeks, they set up at home at a "haveli" (a private mansion), deciding who will tackle which tasks and embracing the local culture.

Will they take to new way of life and consider spending their golden years on the other side of the world? You'll have to tune in to find out, but first, the series' willing stars fill us in on some of the details.


What was the most memorable part of the experience?

I enjoyed the travelling. The Taj Mahal was probably the highlight; it was mind-blowing.

We had dinner one night with a Prince and Princess, and a Maharaja.

We had some jokes going and some sing-songs. I don't think I'll ever be lucky enough to see India at that level again.

What are the major differences between retirement in the UK and India?

First of all, your money goes further in India.

The hospitality, humility and friendliness of the people are to die for. I was humbled. Hiring of staff is not only more accessible, but they are unbelievably brilliant at what they do.


What was your role within the group?

I hoped it was to be, as I often am in a group, the form wag - the class clown.

I really liked my fellow travellers; I marvelled at their talents. Bobby's a remarkable man, Wayne's deeply generous and gifted, Patti's a brilliant singer - and I got to know the others, who shared their private thoughts with me.

I hope to know them all in my life to come.

Tell us about one of your adventures.

In one day, we visited both the slums and the palace of the royal family in Jaipur. The slums were filthy on the outside, stinking and cramped.

But the teeming, smiling, vivid life we saw made it memorable and enjoyable.

And then to the palace - where the dignity of the slum people was mirrored by their social superiors, all infinitely gracious - only the surroundings were different.

What can we learn from Indian culture?

I would hope that we can marvel at the range and sophistication of the various Indian cultures.

It's a complex and majestic country, with many languages, great literature and in the 19th century, a shared history. I can never have enough of India. I long to return.


What surprised you most about the experience?

How happy and friendly all the people of India were.

Indian culture is so different - what really stood out for you?

The fact that even though the poor are so much poorer than the rich, they are contented with their lot.

Also the fact that for Indians, religion is a way of life, whereas in Britain it's more of a hobby.

What can we learn from Indian culture?

Peace of mind and that there is a place for everybody.

Did you get your fellow housemates dancing?

No, because I was far too busy teaching the Indians how to dance. They already have their own way, but they asked me to take them for classes and around the villa.


What did you learn about yourself?

Quite a lot. I realised I haven't got a lot of patience when it comes to making decisions. I found the spiritual side of India extremely moving. I found myself being very drawn to that life, one of calmness and acceptance.

What can we learn from Indian culture?

The attitude towards the elderly. The respect is completely inbred within Indian culture. We could learn so much from this.

How did you find the food out there and, as a cook, what did you find impressive?

We were fortunate to be staying in a proper Indian home, where the food was fantastic.

We had feasts every day, with ingredients that cost very little, and it gave us a taste of the real India.


What did you enjoy most about India?

I enjoyed meeting the people in India. They were very humble and I was amazed at how they did not waste a thing, but made something out of nothing, to sell and live.

How were the rest of the group?

All the group came from different backgrounds, but we had our ages and life experiences in common. We all got on.

Do you see India as somewhere you could live?

We could, but there's a lot of red tape to deal with when buying property in the country - you either have to set up a business in India to buy one, or go in with an Indian co-buyer.

If you returned, what would you like to do more of?

I would love to explore the lakes, go fishing and see different parts of India.

I'd also find out more about the amount of people and children who suffer blindness through cataracts.


What was the most memorable part of the experience?

Visiting the Taj Mahal, sharing a birthday with a Maharaja, and meeting Indian people from various walks of life.

Did the experience allow you time to reflect?

I've done more reflection since I've been back, but what I did think about a great deal was how kind, gentle and respectful the Indian people who we met were.

They appeared to be a lot less materialistic than Westerners and they have respect for religion.

Would you retire in India?

I would seriously consider spending the Indian winter months in India. Much as I love heat, the summer temperatures and humidity are just a trifle too much for me.


What was the highlight of your stay?

Watching a young gypsy man, Danesh, enthusiastically teaching his joyful class of slum children how to read and write English, in his spare bedroom.

Tell us about some of the people you met.

I dined with kings, drank cocktails with Maharajas, but best of all was dancing with puppeteers in the slums of Jaipur.

What was your role in the group?

To raise a smile, and play the spoons.


What was the most memorable part of the experience?

I remember the ready smiles, especially from the children and women, the heat in Jaipur and the hospitality of our hosts, doing yoga for the first time and learning Bollywood dancing.

What did you learn during your time there?

I learned the importance of having faith and respecting each other's chosen spiritual paths.

Spirituality promotes a sense of joy, peace and wellbeing.

Did you feel the older generation were treated differently in India?

Yes. No country is perfect, but on the whole, the older generation had cultivated respect and deserved to be respected.

The Real Marigold Hotel begins on BBC Two on Tuesday, January 26

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