‘Youthful looks don’t equate to a long life – but I’m blessed to be ageing slowly’

Susan and her sister inherited their "slow-ageing" genes from their father. Source: Getty.

My two sisters and I have been lucky to inherit slow-ageing genes from our father. Our poor mother started to age naturally in her late fifties, not so our father, he retained a youthful, mid-forties look and friends of theirs started to joke that he looked like he was her ‘toy boy’.

It seemed to be in our forties and fifties that my sisters and I began to age more slowly too. My sister, Gillian, besides earning money through her sewing skills, did photography modelling. It had started at art school when students modelled their designs at the end of year shows and when the photography students found she was photogenic; they used her as their photography model. Later she trained in modelling at Lucy Clayton’s Model School and when they started up a dress design class, they asked Gillian to attend free of charge to be a ‘model’ pupil because she had learned how to measure up and cut out patterns. She carried on with the odd modelling job and was featured in the Evening standard as ‘the Face of tomorrow’.

Her career in tailoring (she had taken a further art college course in tailoring) and in theatre costume making took priority and so it wasn’t until she was in her fifties she seriously took up photography modelling again. Her youthful appearance stood her in good stead, one of the jobs she landed was on a Weetabix packet posing as a mother with a 12 year old son – by then she was a grandmother! However that youthful appearance went against her when she was booked to be photographed as a 54 year old woman on a book cover, the boss of the project questioned her suitability saying she was too young, the photographer assured him she was 54, the same age of the heroine in the novel, in the end a compromise was reached, she was asked to lie with her head to one side on a pillow so that her cheek was pushed up to make wrinkles around the eye on view.

Gillian’s career has been pretty chequered as she also did film extra work. This involved getting up in the early hours of the morning to go to pick-up points where coaches drove the extras to the locations of the film shoots. Beforehand she was told the type of clothes the extras had to wear and in some cases she wore outfits she had designed and made herself.

Back in the early 1980s Gillian told me that she was at a party that her son was also attending, “Nick who was a grown man at the time said something to me, calling me ‘Mummy’ and a lady nearby said, ‘Did he call you mummy?’ When I said, ‘Yes,’ she expressed her amazement that I had a grown up son.”

When I was running my small hotel in France, an English couple in their mid forties came to stay and in conversation I spoke of something my daughter had said or done when she was a little girl and the lady said, “How old is she now?” I replied, “Oh, let’s see, I was 22 when she was born,” I did some rapid maths in my head. “So she must be 32.”

”Well, I never,” the lady exclaimed. “I thought you were about that age!”

When I was 65, I missed out three years running on invites to the village free festive Christmas lunches for the over 65s because the entertainments’ committee didn’t realise I qualified, thinking I was the same age as my partner 9 years younger than I was. Now I’m in my 70s, people still look surprised when they discover I’m nearer 80 than the early 70s.

My older sister, an artist who also loves being out in the open air gardening, always has looked young for her age, more so than me, but then, that’s because I smoke, but, I hasten to add, no more than 4 or 5 thin ‘rollies’ a day, nevertheless, it’s enough to affect the quality of my skin, thus proving that even gifted with slow-ageing genes, a person does need to follow a healthy lifestyle, not overdoing the booze and tobacco! I also ration myself with the former, I hasten to add.

Even though we look younger than our age, we still have had the usual ailments and surgical operations for one reason or another, too numerous to explain. My father died of pneumonia at 89 years of age having a full head of brown hair with only grey sideburns and a matching grey moustache. So looking younger does not mean living an exceptionally long life. Although Vera Lyn’s 103 years does give me the incentive to do all I can to stay healthy.

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