Gilly Hanna is a founder member of Grand Gesture, a performance company of older dance artists in London. She’s also an advertising copywriter; and in past decades has worked as an aerobics teacher and library assistant.
What is your age? 63
Where do you live?
Central London, in Wapping. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and love this quiet, historic, riverside neighbourhood. Like many older Londoners, I did once consider downsizing to a place by the sea but soon realised I’d miss London too much. No other place is as diverse, multicultural, buzzy, green, fashionable, arty, walkable, villagey, and old, yet always new. I just hope Brexit and the Tory government won’t lead to London’s decline.
What do you do?
I work as a freelance copywriter, on an ad-hoc basis. I was a creative director in advertising for several decades. Sadly, the ad world is notoriously obsessed with youth and I was edged out of full-time employment in my early fifties. Only 6% of people in ad agencies are over 50, yet people in their fifties are the UK’s largest age group! I’m also working on Grand Gesture projects, such as choreography, filming and running our website.
What’s it like to be your age? How do you feel at this age?
I’m starting to settle into the idea of being in my sixties. It’s an interesting time, but rather daunting too when you realise how ageist our society is. In Grand Gesture we’re campaigning to have more age on stage. Older people need to be seen and heard a lot more.
What do you have now that you didn’t at 25?
Wrinkles. Nearly forty more years of experience and memories. Self-acceptance. I always wanted to be an extrovert and was often criticised for being stand-offish or too quiet. Finding out that I’m an INFP, one of the Myers-Briggs personality types, has given me peace of mind that it’s okay to be an introvert!
What about sex?
Hugging, holding hands, touching, being close makes you feel good, I do need physical affection. I’m also into erotic art forms like burlesque, celebrating vintage showgirl glamour and the 1940s pinup. I’d love Grand Gesture to do a fabulously theatrical exotic dance performance one day! I think it’s important to express your sensuality and sassiness as you grow older.
My closest relationship is with my husband who I met in ‘76. He’s a guitarist and we had a band and wrote radio commercials together in the eighties. We recently wrote and recorded a song for Grand Gesture, called We Love Living. As an introvert, I only have a small circle of friends. Being reserved and shy, I find it hard to make new ones.
How free do you feel?
I thrive on structure and routine, so lockdown restrictions didn’t bother me too much. Having a stable routine keeps me grounded and frees my imagination. I’m a minimalist and feel freer with fewer choices.
What are you proud of?
Co-founding Grand Gesture and helping to push boundaries in creatively staging ageing. Having a successful career and winning awards. Learning new things in lockdown, such as cutting my hair, editing videos and baking tasty sugar-free, flour-free cakes!
What keeps you inspired?
Curiosity. Being open to new ideas. I’ve recently discovered Wabi Sabi, the Japanese philosophy which celebrates imperfection and the passing of time. I’m also seeking inspiration from age activists like Gang des Vieux en Colère and Ashton Applewhite; older bloggers like Alyson Walsh (That’s not my age) and dancers like Charlotta Ofverholm. I’ve started exploring elder tales for a Grand Gesture project too.
When are you happiest?
I’m happiest when I’m absorbed in a creative project. But I’m pretty happy most of the time. I don’t like feeling down or negative, and if I do, walking or dancing will usually boost my mood. Motion is lotion!
And where does your creativity go?
A lot of things. Marketing, choreography, writing, the house, the garden. I’ll put my imagination to anything that needs a great idea or a new solution.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
It’s harder to shock or scandalise these days. But in Grand Gesture I’m releasing my inner rebel and rejecting the norms of ageing by having fun and being audacious. It’s time to rewrite the ‘rules’ of what it means to be older. Ageism is unfair and unnecessary; we all need to confront it and laugh at it.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Keep an open mind. Find your passion. Do your best, and that can be good enough – I’m always fighting my perfectionist tendency. Follow the Golden Rule, which is the principle of treating others as you would want to be treated. Appreciate oldness. Stay playful. And remember, you’ve got to be in it, to win it.
Quickly, quietly, painlessly, and feeling content that what I’ve left behind is in good order and in safe hands.
Are you still dreaming?
Yes, it’s never too late to do something great. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.