Lauretta, 101: “You Can’t Shock Older People – We’ve Been Through It”
To celebrate Service95’s 100th issue, we interviewed a group of very special people – all over 100 years old – inviting them to share their wisdom. Here, 101-year-old Lauretta shares her story…
Lauretta has a quick wit and a sharp mind and has lived a thrilling life as a jazz musician. She grew up in London and still lives independently there today. She began playing the piano at age six and went on to star on the West End stage at just 16. Later, she performed alongside some of the biggest stars in music. Throughout World War II Lauretta performed for British troops, visiting battleships, aircraft hangers and ammunition factories. She sang well into her nineties, and still plays the piano today.
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
My 100th birthday was very happy. There were about 23 people, and they all said nice things about me. The previous year I’d had a heart operation, and I was wondering at that time if I’d still be around for my 100th birthday, so it was an extra bonus.
Have you had a lifelong hobby?
Playing the piano isn’t a hobby, it’s part of my life. By the time I was seven, I was playing the piano and singing in public. I was in the musical The Sun Never Sets at the Drury Lane theatre, alongside stars such as Adelaide Hall, Todd Duncan and Stewart Granger. I was the youngest one in the show – I had my 16th birthday on tour. I was performing up to the age of 95. I only stopped because I had problems with my heart, which affected my breathing, so my voice is all raspy now.
What brings you joy on a daily basis?
Still being here, I suppose. I don’t really get depressed – the only thing that annoys me is not being able to do the things that I want to do; I can’t sing anymore.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Show-off, elderly, curious.
Why do you think you’ve reached 100?
I never felt old. When you’re young – up to 50 – you can jump, you can run, you can sit on the floor crossed-legged. The things you could do when you were 15 physically you can’t do anymore, but you’re the same person. By the time you’re 60, you can’t run for a bus, you can’t have too much to drink and get rid of the hangover for the next day, you can’t work hard and then go dancing, you can’t stand for hours in high heels, but you’re the same person. When you’re 80, it’s the same thing, but there’s a lot that you know that you didn’t know when you were young. When you’re 100, there’s so much that you can’t do physically but, mentally, unless you’re ill, you’re the same person. Mentally, I don’t feel old.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve done?
The first time I went on stage alone, just me. I’d sung with bands, but to be in the theatre, with the lights on just me, looking back, that took some guts. But I took it in my stride. I was the resident singer at Churchill’s Club [a nightclub in central London] for 10 years in the 1950s. Everybody came in; Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Dusty Springfield before she was known.
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What do you think is the biggest misconception about ageing?
When I was young, I thought I knew more than my grandmother. Of course, I didn’t. You can’t shock older people, because we’ve been through it. My grandmother used to tell me things when I was little and it used to go in one ear and out the other. If I had only listened and made notes of those things, I would have 150 years of memories.
If you could go back, would you change anything?
I don’t think that works because your own psyche doesn’t allow you to make different decisions. I probably wouldn’t have married so young – at 18 and a half. If I hadn’t married, though, I wouldn’t have had my children – or I might not have married at all because the older you get, the wiser you get, and the more cautious you get.
A Few Of My Favourite Things…
- Favourite Place I lived in Dublin and I really liked it. It was a happy place, a lot of fun and music.
- Favourite Music Clair De Lune, by French composer Claude Debussy.
- Favourite Book I have an inquiring mind, so at different times I read different things. I like silly romances, Alan Bennett, reference books and biographies.
- Favourite Show I used to love to go to all the musicals, but my favourite is Showboat.
- Favourite Drink G&T with ice and lemon.
Every older person has a story. Age UK’s Telephone Friendship Service matches volunteers with older people for a weekly chat. Becoming a Telephone Befriender not only makes an enormous difference to the lives of lonely older people but offers volunteers the chance to make new friends and hear some of these stories. Volunteers need to be over 18, live in the UK, able to provide 30 minutes on the same day each week and commit to at least one year in the role. Find out more here
Laura Potter is a freelance editor, writer and interviewer whose work has appeared in The Observer Magazine, The Guardian’s Saturday magazine, The Times Magazine, Women’s Health and Men’s Health