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Andy Parsons

Meet the inspiring 70-plus Londoners who aren't slowing down

What can the older residents of this city teach us? From tour guides and chefs to dancers and inline skaters, we meet inspiring 70-plus Londoners

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

When was the last time you had a chat with an older Londoner? And no, offering your seat to an elderly person on the tube doesn’t count (though congrats on not being a seat-hogger). We decided to bridge the generation gap by celebrating incredible Londoners aged 70 and beyond who are showing no signs of slowing down. Forget zimmer frames and stairlifts: we chat to dancers, cold-water swimmers and inline skaters.

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The high-speed skaters
Jack Latimer

The high-speed skaters

Edwina Ellis (72) and Peter Braithwaite (73) are part of the Easy Saturday Skate group, which runs weekly inline skating sessions in Battersea Park

When did you start skating?
Peter ‘My wife and I were on holiday and she hurt her ankle and spent the rest of the holiday by the pool, so I found these skating classes. I came home and tried to do it and it was a disaster. Then I had skating lessons and the teacher said to come here to practise. That was about 12 years ago.’
Edwina ‘I’ve been skating for three and a bit years. I was walking and I saw the Sunday Stroll skate go past in Hyde Park. Getting to the point where I could skate in the street was a revelation. Now when I’m going somewhere, I think: Oh, I could skate there! My husband and I went to the Chelsea Physic Garden and I skated there and left my wheels by the gate. I skate every day that the ground is dry or I’ll feel cross.’

What do you like about skating?
Peter ‘Apart from being good exercise, it’s very sociable. And exhilarating. Running or swimming in lanes is boring. Skating uplifts you.’
Edwina ‘Everyone smiles. There’s so much happening with skating that’s totally new for me, like getting off on adrenaline! I went on a group skate to Barcelona and we did a Friday night skate. I couldn’t sleep after! I was totally overexcited.’

Any favourite skating memories?
Edwina ‘All my favourite moments involve speed. You lose yourself when you stop thinking: Where are the hazards? The first time that happened was towards the end of a street skate around Berkeley Square. I went faster than I’d ever been in my life. I was shocked to realise I was a newly developed adrenaline junky. The street skates are so fun.’
Peter ‘There’s a lot of blaring music. It’s like going to a rock concert on wheels.’
Edwina ‘On my eightieth birthday, if there’s a street skate, I’m going to beg them to play some Bach. I think they’ll find it quite boppy!’

What do your families think of you skating?
Peter ‘I think my son is quite proud that I’m still doing something at my age.’
Edwina ‘I’m the mad great aunt! I used to think it would be a disaster if I fell over, it would put me off. But all around me are the most amazing people who just get up!’
Peter ‘We used to have a skull-and-crossbones badge. You got it if you had to go to hospital!’
Edwina ‘And it’s funny having grazed knees in your seventies. When you’re an elderly skater, it’s quite handy knowing how to sew because you can darn your leggings!’

Life lessons: ‘Start skating before you’re 69! If you can do it, go for it and see what happens. I don’t think one starts out thinking: I’m too old to do that.’ Edwina Ellis

Find out more about Easy Saturday Skate.

The chef who salsas
Rob Greig

The chef who salsas

Dolores Sardinas (73) is a chef for Migrateful, which runs cookery classes hosted by immigrants in London 

When did you arrive here?
‘I moved to London in 2004 to live with my daughter.’

What brought you to London?
‘I was part of the Communist Party in Cuba and we weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas. My partner’s family weren’t part of the Communist Party and my brother-in-law asked me to buy two ducks for Christmas dinner. Someone from the Communist Party saw me with them and told me I was in trouble. Everyone turned against me, so I left the party.  I had to leave Cuba because it would have been difficult for me to stay there afterwards. The best decision I ever made was to come to London.’

How did you get involved with running classes for Migrateful?
‘My friend told me about it. She said it helps migrant people. I was very happy to find out about it. I’ve been doing it for nearly two years now. When I first joined I didn’t have any confidence to speak English. Now, in every class I teach, people tell me that my English is good. That encourages me. It’s nice to be able to teach people how to make Cuban dishes too – and it helps me remember my past.’

What have you learned?
‘I’ve got to know countries from all over the world. We have chefs from Asia, Africa, the Middle East – my world has expanded. Being able to try all these different cuisines has been amazing. The Ethiopian chefs cook vegan food which I’ve found fascinating because in Cuba we mainly cook with meat. It’s taught me that vegan food can be nice!’

Have you taught any particularly memorable classes?
‘About a week before one of my classes, I had a heart attack. They said they’d cancel the class, but I said “No! The class is going to get me out of the hospital.” When I got discharged, I got a taxi straight to the class. Everyone knew that I’d come from the hospital. It was a special moment – it felt like they were celebrating my life. I taught everyone salsa and we danced all evening. All my cookery classes involve a salsa lesson.’

Life lessons: ‘Keep moving. I stay fit because I’m always dancing, even when I’m cooking. I used to go to salsa bars but now I just dance at family parties. And in my kitchen!’

Find out more about Migrateful.

The avid dancers
Andy Parsons

The avid dancers

Christopher Dunham (81), Almeric Johnson (79), Sybil Fox (89) and Dahlia Douglas (71) are dancers in the Company of Elders, Sadler’s Wells’s over-60s performance company

How long have you been dancing with the Company of Elders?
Christopher ‘I joined in 2005. I’ve always been a good mover, but I never had any professional dance training.’
Sybil ‘I got involved nearly 25 years ago. I was the baby of the group then, now I’m nearly the oldest!’
Dahlia ‘I’m a newbie. I started last year. I love dance, I like to move my body. I was so excited when I found out I’d got in!’
Almeric ‘I’ve never performed before, so when I auditioned I assumed it was an interview – I was suited and booted. I realised I had to loosen my tie to start performing!’

Which performances stand out for you?
‘One of them was set in a sauna and we only wore towels. We performed it at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. It was fantastic!’
Christopher ‘Shortly after I joined, I was asked if I would go to Lisbon and do a piece with a young Portuguese dancer. The only criteria was I had to appear in the nude, as did the other guy. I had no problem with it. It was very liberating. Once you’ve taken it off, it doesn’t matter. Did you take your towel off in the sauna? I don’t think you did!’
Sybil ‘Well, the pub was packed out. While we were performing they were saying “Take them off!” We didn’t know whether they meant us or the towels!’

Why is dancing important to you?
Sybil ‘Keeping physically and mentally fit. It’s a wonderful way of doing it. And the companionship from the group… it’s tremendous.’
Almeric ‘I’ve improved my memory because I use visualisations to remember the piece – that’s been quite useful for other things as well. I think the important bit is that we have to commit because we have to perform; that gives you motivation.’
Dahlia ‘For me, dance is a passion. It’s something that’s inside of me and I’ve got to express it.’
Almeric ‘We’ve got to watch you! You’re going to be doing backspins, headspins, the lot! We have different choreographers, different styles. The lovely thing is they come in and assume you can and work backwards when they know the bit you can’t do.’

Life lessons: ‘Grab opportunities. The worst thing is to get old and have regrets about the things you never did.’ Christopher Dunham

Company of Elders perform at Sadler’s Wells on Jun 14.

The exercise enthusiast
Andy Parsons

The exercise enthusiast

Edwina Brocklesby (75) is Britain’s oldest female Ironman finisher and runs charity Silverfit, which organises fitness sessions for older Londoners

When did you set up Silverfit?
‘In 2013. We run weekly sessions across eight London boroughs. We’ve had 66,000 attendees since we started. The average age was 68 a year ago; it’s probably 69 now!’

What kinds of classes are they?
‘Nordic walking, Bollywood fitness, walking football, silver cheerleading. Cheerleading is popular. I got sent a video on our cheerleading WhatsApp group where they’re doing a routine to “Don’t Stop Me Now” and I was thinking that sums it all up! It’s not gymnastics, it’s just fun. We did cheerleading at half time at Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. That was brilliant! There were about 3,500 people in the crowd and they were just so supportive.’

What do people get out of Silverfit?
‘When couples get to retirement age they often haven’t done things together. We’ve got quite a lot of couples who come and are enjoying something together. Also, it’s amazing to see the support when someone is ill, perhaps seriously ill. It creates new friendships and that’s incredibly satisfying to see.’

Have you always been active?
‘No. I didn’t start until I was 50. I watched a friend do a half-marathon and told my husband that I’d quite like to do it, and he said “Well, you couldn’t even do two or three miles.” And that was true!’

How many triathlons have you done?
‘Oh, hundreds! I’ve done Ironman ten times, which is the really long-distance one. I’m training for three events over the summer: the Long Distance Triathlon World Championships; Nove Colli, which is a nine-hill bike ride; and then the big one, the Race Across America bike ride starting in California. It’s a relay. For eight hours, two of you do one hour on, one hour off, then the other two take over.’

Do you think being active is important as you get older?
‘It’s essential. It solves a lot of issues if you can stay more active. It’s sociable too. Even if you have physical problems, you can come and have fun. Sometimes people will come along and say “I can’t do cheerleading today, but I can sit on the side and have a cup of tea after.” ’

Life lessons: ‘Smile at people. They’ll always smile back. On one of my triathlons it was my objective to smile at every policeman on the route – and it worked!’

Find out more about Silverfit.

The cold-water swimmers
Andy Parsons

The cold-water swimmers

Chris Ruocco (74), Richard Pendrill (71) and Dave Brooks (71) are all members of the Highgate Lifebuoys

How long have you been coming to swim at the Highgate Men’s Pond?
Chris ‘I’ve been swimming here since I was ten. I used to bunk off school and come up here when it was sunny.’
Dave ‘My dad used to come here years ago, before the Second World War. I’ve been coming since I was about ten too.’
Richard ‘I used to live around here until I went to college. I moved back in the ’80s and got back into it. I was a lifeguard here in 1987 and I’ve been coming regularly ever since.’

What do you like about coming here?
Chris ‘Everything. Seeing all these lovely people. Seeing all the trees.’
Dave ‘The camaraderie. The cold water. It’s bracing, you keep fit.’
Richard ‘The isolation, getting away from the noise of the traffic.’

Is it important for you to be active?
Dave ‘Very important. If you’re fit physically, you’re all right upstairs. I think diving in that pond should be on the National Health Service. It would save them millions.’

Do you ever dread getting in?
All ‘All the time!’
Chris ‘It’s all in the mind, that’s what I tell people.’
Dave ‘If you think about it then you wouldn’t go in. I’ve bottled it a couple of times when there’s been a blizzard and nobody there. Not often, though.’

How long has Highgate Lifebuoys been going?
Chris ‘The Highgate Lifebuoys started more than a hundred years ago. I know the guy whose grandfather started it. We do regular races and a Christmas morning swim. That’s a big one.’
Dave ‘I’ve consistently come last every time for the past 20 years.’
Richard ‘Because of the handicaps!’
Chris ‘I try to make it so somebody who hasn’t won it wins – that’s why I do handicaps.’

What do you like about living in London?
Richard ‘I’m into dancing, so a lot of the time in the afternoons I’ll go to a tea dance. I go with my wife – we do ballroom, Latin, Argentine tango. That’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed in London.’
Dave ‘It’s nice that you can go out [for dinner] and have Turkish, Italian or Chinese. I’d miss that if I wasn’t in London. But it’s expensive. That’s the beauty of coming here: it doesn’t cost anything. But there’s no bar!’

Life lessons: ‘Get a trade. If you’re an electrician, plumber or anything in the service industry, you’ll always make a few bob. And keep off the drugs!’ Dave Brooks

Highgate Lifebuoys meets at Highgate Men’s Pond, off Millfield Lane. Gospel Oak Overground.

The tour guide
Andy Parsons

The tour guide

Andrew Lumsden (77) is a guide for Queer Tours of London

When did you join Queer Tours of London?
‘I was involved with [Queer Tours of London founder] Dan Glass and other people in an effort to publicise the lack of a museum of LGBT history in London. That was two years ago. We painted some filing cabinets pink and took them to public places; when people asked what we were doing, we explained to them: our history is locked away in filing cabinets. Out of that, Dan started Queer Tours of London.’

What kinds of tours do you do?
‘We did one early on that was about places where the Gay Liberation Front demonstrated nearly 50 years ago. Since some of us were present for those demonstrations, people could talk to us about what happened. We did a “Gay Liberation Front in Soho” tour recently and I pointed out the flat where I used to live to bring things to life a bit. It’s still there.’

What kinds of people come on the tours?
‘It’s fascinating to have people join the tours who come from different backgrounds. There were two young Brazilians the other day who told us how it is for them in their country. Another time we were talking about the Gateways lesbian club, which was on the King’s Road, and two women said “Oh, we used to go there!” So everyone on the tour wanted to hear all about it.’

How do you think London has changed over the years?
‘There are far fewer queer spaces now than then. Rent was a smaller part of your income in the 1960s. Artists’ spaces were easy to find and squats were legal. On the other hand, everyone smoked everywhere, buildings were black with soot from WWII and dentistry was more painful.’

Life lessons: ‘If London’s trying to look down on you, maybe go to Richmond Park or Hampstead Heath and look down on London’

Find out more about Queer Tours of London.

The party people
Andy Parsons

The party people

Mabelyn Dick (74), Gloria Omotoso (80), Angela Roach (71), Cyrlene Power (73) and Barbara Layne (73) are all regular guests at The Posh Club, a weekly party for ‘swanky senior citizens, elegant elders and glamorous golden girls’ set up by club night Duckie

What keeps you coming back to The Posh Club?
‘Before The Posh Club, life seemed so dull. Even if you’ve got an ache or pain, for those couple of hours you’re here, you forget it.’
Angela ‘You go away feeling good. I do get a bit hot and bothered, like today, depending on what the entertainment is!’
Gloria ‘The guy could have had a bikini wax, couldn’t he?!’ [drag star Rhys’ Pieces performed]
Angela ‘Our table’s got a reputation – we’re the naughty table.’
Mabelyn ‘We’re always at the front!’
Angela ‘We’re like “Take it off!” “Put it on!” ’

Are you all Londoners?
Gloria ‘I’m from Guyana and came to London in 1967. I didn’t know anything about detached or semi-detached houses. At home, the soldiers and policemen lived in rows of houses. I thought: Why does everybody live in barracks? When I moved to Tottenham, my aunt said “Why do you live in half a house? Can’t you afford a whole house?” ’
Cyrlene ‘What I didn’t understand was a bedsit. I thought: This is weird; your bedroom and sitting room should be separate!’

How do you think London has changed?
Gloria ‘It’s changed so much. When I came to London, we couldn’t find anywhere to live. It was “no blacks, no Irish”. I didn’t even know I was black until I came to London. A boy spat at me; he was about seven. I was like: Oh yeah, I’m black.’
Barbara ‘There’s all this crime now. Seventeen-year-olds are joining gangs. I don’t know where it’s coming from.’

What do you like about living in London?
Gloria ‘We’re at this wonderful age where we don’t have to pay for anything! I tell people that I have a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. What they don’t realise is that the engines in buses and trains are made by Mercedes.’
Mabelyn ‘I love the fact that I can jump on a train or bus. When you can get up and go, you should. I volunteer too. Every Friday, I ring people who can’t get out.’
Gloria ‘Don’t you ring my mum?’
Barbara ‘No, I do! She’s one of my long-time ladies. We always keep in touch.’

How old are the people you speak to?
Mabelyn ‘It varies. Some of them are nearly 100.’
Gloria ‘My mum is 110! Irene. She comes to The Posh Club sometimes.’
Cyrlene ‘I called a cab for Irene one night and they said they didn’t have any. Irene said, “Call them back and tell them I’m 100 years old.” So I did. Well, you would have thought the cab was already outside. The power of age! She always looks immaculate. There’s another woman who comes to The Posh Club who is 105. She’s so sharp.’

Are they an inspiration to you?
All ‘Yes!’
Angela ‘Well, I’m only 25… so I have a long way to go.’

Find out more about The Posh Club.

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