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Dirty Blues & Jazz 1920s-40s | Valentine’s Day Special


0 Minute Read

Suzanne & George take you back to the 20s, the 1920s when blues was all the rage, Harlem’s delis sold ‘hooch’ and artists such as Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter and Ethel Water were making the rounds of the vaudeville theatres in both the U.S. and Europe singing songs filled with sexual innuendo that became known as the dirty blues. You’ll be laughing and crying as Suzanne belts out songs about sex, lies & heartache.

AofA People: Any Lucas – Events Ambassador, Riverside Studios


5 Minute Read

Let me introduce you to 59 year old Any Lucas who has recently become Events Ambassador at the newly reopened Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

How old are you?

59

Where do you live?

Hammersmith & Fulham

What do you do?

After 25 years spent in the educational system, I decided last summer that it was time to turn a brand new page. My 17-year-old finished 6th form in June (hence ending my 28 years role as a school mum as there is a 14-year gap with my eldest!) at almost the same time that my resignation letter to my headmaster took effect. In September, instead of preparing to meet new classes and deliver syllabuses, I started in my new role as Events Ambassador at the newly reopened RIVERSIDE STUDIOS in Hammersmith.

How do you feel about being your age?

I absolutely LOVE it! My brain seems to have finally learned to live to its fullest without endangering different aspects of my life. I am so grateful to all the lessons learned in each decade (good ones, hard and bad ones) as no growth would have taken place without these different experiences. Physically, despite some inevitable aches and pain, I am the fittest I have been since my body went through the miracle of birth three times.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

So many things to mention, much better knowledge of myself and others makes a huge difference when perceiving everyday life situations so confidence is definitely high on the list. So much more acceptance of everything in general. A real appreciation of being part of humanity.

How do you feel about sex?

Oh la la! Over the years I have found myself many a time in the midst of conversations with friends where the tone of the exchanges turned far too über explicit for my liking. On each of these occasions, I can always feel the redness and tend to remain rather quiet! Sex is such a powerful expression of intimacy! However, as a mother of 3 daughters, I have tried to make sure that the sexual aspect of their upbringings was always an open dialogue.

And relationships?

My husband Chris and I have been together for over 38 years. It definitely hasn’t been ‘une longue fleuve tranquille’ – far from it! But, despite all the highs and lows, some really humongous ones, he is still my very best friend. We share so many memories! And of course, I could not do without the rich tapestry of people with whom I share an array of different but equally invaluable friendships. 

How free do you feel?

Very free! The freest I have been since my children were born. I value being in charge of achieving the right balance between work/life, wellbeing and I also appreciate the simple joy of life. I feel that today, after years of living in a near state of constant stress I am getting to the balance.

What are you proud of?

As anybody who knows me will testify, I would be a liar if I said anything other than my three smart and talented daughters. Each of them continues to amaze me every day, they are the sunshine of my life for sure. To witness them transforming into confident, super able femi/nist/nine women is the best highlight ever!

What inspires you?

Everything and anything really: family, books, Nature, paintings, skies…To be inspired is to be alive.

When I swim up and down my local pool: it’s my time for making lists, meditating, being aware of strength and physicality or simply the best way to start the day! Cycling along the river as a commute to work and of course at any other time.  Family time.

Where does your creativity go?

Strangely, unlike most of my family and a hefty majority of my friends, there is nothing concrete, visual or audible to touch, see or hear which could be attributed to me. I think most of my creativity is somehow directed in the sphere of my social being. It appears to go into my everyday life and my interactions with my fellow humans. I seem to be able to form connections between disparate people who are often engaged with the creative arts.

What is your philosophy of living?

To really live life. To focus on the positive and let bygones be bygones. Regrets and anger are such destructive and self-centred emotions. To have a permanent sense of curiosity and wonder. To be kind to oneself and others. Acceptance of oneself and others. Someone told me once I was the tree and my daughters were the blossoms and, as it stands I am happy now to be grounded as my blossoming years were somewhat volatile.

And dying?

It should be just like turning another page into the unknown of the next chapter! Unfortunately, it saddens me that in the 21st century too many examples of ‘bad deaths’ are occurring on a scandalous scale. Our modern society needs to have a very serious open debate and to be prepared for some seismic changes at many different levels: law, medicine, care system, costs, attitudes to entitle every individual to a dignified death.

Are you still dreaming?

Oh yes! In all its varied aspects! When I sleep, daydreaming and when completely lucid! Getting the chance of working in the creative arts and joining Riverside Studios, that is a dream come true.

Tell us something outrageous that you’ve done recently.

I find this question confusing. What might appear totally outrageous to one person might not be so to another! For example, recently I was describing to some friends my love of cycling in the dark on the wilder north bank of the Thames between Barnes and Hammersmith Bridge – they described this as being totally outrageous! They mentioned the danger of being alone in the dark. I utterly disagreed (so did some other friends). When you speak of darkness in London, it is a bit of a joke really. In those moments, the reflecting lights on the water, the whooshing sounds of the leaves under my wheels, the complete awareness of sounds in the trees and bushes alive with birds and wildlife mixed with the rush of adrenaline. That isn’t outrageous! That is having fun on my way back home.

AofA People: Kathy Keefe – Artist


3 Minute Read

Kathy Keefe, 63, is a wildly wonderful artist who lives in Kent and can be found often on Colour Walks in London. She makes hats, paints and makes incredible dolls. She also is the carer for her profoundly deaf husband, Derek.

How old are you?

 63

Where do you live?

I live in a small village in Kent.

What do you do?

I am an artist and also a carer for my husband who is profoundly deaf.

How is this age for you?

 I enjoy being my age and living life to the fullest. I don’t have a mortgage to worry about and I only have myself and my husband to please. We are very compatible.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

 I have more time and patience. I also have more knowledge as I decided to get a degree in Art/Design when I was in my 50s.

What about sex?

Sex is great. I have a very loving and healthy marriage to a wonderful man. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.

And relationships?

I have only ever had one relationship that has lasted 45 years. I met my husband when I was just eighteen. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but we certainly had something that has got us through the ups and downs of married life.

How free do you feel?

My freedom to be creative and sometimes impulsive is very important to me, and I have always been able to be myself. I have never felt the need to have extramarital affairs as I am very happy.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of many things. I am proud of our two beautiful talented daughters, and also our two beautiful granddaughters. My wonderful husband who has had to overcome many difficult and life-threatening health issues. I am also proud of myself for finding the strength to help support him and our children during those difficult times. I’m also proud of becoming a mature student and getting my degree. Plus getting a first for my dissertation when I’m dyslexic.

What inspires you?

Like-minded people. I love to mix with other people who are interested in the arts and fashion. I am a very visual person and I need to be stimulated by colour and good conversation.

When are you happiest?

When I am working on a new project. I love it when I don’t want to stop working on something that I’m creating from scratch.

Where does your creativity go?

Into whatever I’m making or painting. It could be a hat, a drawing, a painting or making one of my dolls or putting items of clothes together to wear. I have curated a couple of fashion shows locally. I would love to do more of those..

What is your philosophy of living?

To live life to the full and have no regrets.

And dying?

I don’t worry about dying, it’s something comes to all of us. That’s why my philosophy of life is to live life to the full.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, I dream about winning the lottery. What I really would like to do is to give most of it away. It must sound boring but I have most things that I need. It would however allow me to organise family holidays and make it a lot easier for my family and friends.

What was the last outrageous thing you did?

OMG I can’t think of anything. I’m much too sensible to do anything remotely outrageous, and if I did, do you think I would tell you?

AofA People: Susan Latchford


1 Minute Read

Susan Latchford, 54, is unemployed in the conventional sense and brimming with ideas around the written word.

Age (in years)

55

Where do you live?

Chigwell Row, Essex, England

What do you do?

Right at this moment, I’m unemployed in the conventional sense I’ve been yearning for something but have never been able to find or admit what that was. After doing a Soul’s Work coaching session with Gitte Lassen, I was finally able to admit that I am a writer. Not a wannabe, not aspire to be but I AM. It’s my essential self, to question, to be curious, to pull on the loose thread, to research, to read, to write to form an opinion, to tell a story. After doing a CV, it became even clearer to me that all my life I’ve been writing: for others, for charity, for nothing. Now I’m going to be writing for myself, starting with a fear-inducing, sphincter clenching blog which launched on Friday 20th September. I have two half-written books on the go and already have an offer of professional help to work on finishing one of them.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

I actually love being my age! I was never too worried about people’s approval anyway, but there’s something very liberating about this time of life. I don’t worry about offending people – in fact everyone is far too easily offended these days. I do feel it’s something that’s easier as we get older and the need for peer approval, belonging to the tribe, fitting in – falls away. There is a parallel with autumn as trees start looking inward and leaves fall. At this time of my life, I’m seeking my bright and shiny self, letting go of things that no longer serve me. I hope I can stand proud of my truth and glory, even if others don’t get it – that’s ok. I don’t owe anyone an explanation or reason for my being. I’m very aware of my health having had two stress-induced heart attacks in 2016 and this has encouraged me to lose weight, take regular exercise and improve my diet. For me, every birthday since October 2016 is one I might never have seen. I’m aware that this isn’t everyone’s experience. One of my oldest and closest friends who are exactly the same age as me is not very well. I was very shocked when I saw him last year at how frail he seemed. I’m so very privileged to get a second chance and be in a position to keep pushing the envelope as much as I can!

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

In terms of material things, I have a home (rented), a husband and a ginger cat companion called Purdy. I have no real lack of anything other than a personal income which I intend to change. I have clarity of purpose, friends I truly value and am valued by, an amazing landscape to inhabit and explore both. The most important thing I have now that I didn’t at 25 is spiritual certainty.

What about sex?

Sex is great! I’ve always been someone with a high libido and find physical intimacy enjoyable and fun. Getting older has had some effects, but as I often say to my friends, I’m older not blind or dead.

And relationships?

Human relationships are important to me, particularly my female friends. As I’ve got older I prefer their company, to that of family, and often my husband. I’m quite happy to spend the majority of each day on my own. I never feel alone.

How free do you feel?

That’s such a loaded question! Am I free of fear and suffering? Do I feel safe and secure? To all intents and purposes ‘yes’. Do I think I live in a democracy in a free country, and exercise free will and free choice? Absolutely not, that’s complete fiction. The only place we have the potential to be truly free is in our mind – even that is fraught with ego and falsehood through the programming of two thousand years of Western society and culture; our childhood, education, peer groups; friends and family and the drip-feed of sometimes poisonous media.

What do you feel proud of?

Throwing my hat in the ring and declaring myself to be a writer.

What keeps you inspired?

The enormous mysterious beauty of Creation, not just on this little backwater planet, but our entire solar system and galaxy. Beyond that, it’s just too mind-blowing and vast to get to grips with.

When are you happiest?

When I’m deep in the forest, on my own, in the early morning, watching the comings and goings of all the creatures.

Where does your creativity go?

Over the years it’s gone into painting, drawing, crafting, wood-burning, photography, and mosaics but always comes back to writing, writing writing!

What’s your philosophy of living?

Life should be defined by joy. It’s just too short to do anything else.

And dying?

Well, I have been on the cusp of that and during a Shamanic journey had a spontaneous dismemberment experience. It’s often been said that it’s a doorway, a transition, another part of the journey. Dying is inevitable and certain. I no longer view it with trepidation, but at the same time I love being alive on this gorgeous planet. I’ll be sad to leave it.

Are you still dreaming?

Of course! I currently dream of spending the night in a desert so I can see an amazing sunset, experience the dramatic heat turning to cold and see the Milky Way Galaxy across the starry medicine bowl of the sky without light pollution. And of course, making a complete photo journal of it all.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

It all depends on how you define outrageous. If it’s bucking the social norm and trend of the average 54-year-old, then I must be perpetually outrageous! I did recently have an altercation with a young mum in the post office. Her rather weak parting shot was ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’. I just laughed in her face and said – ‘don’t let my shame hit you on the arse on the way out’. Or maybe that was just rude?

 https://thewoodp3cker.wordpress.com

How My Wife and I Persuaded Sir Karl Jenkins To Play At Our Village Church


1 Minute Read

Peter Harrison, 81, tells the story of how he and his wife, Vivien, 78, set up a fantastically successful series of classical music concerts. In their local village church. Sir Karl Jenkins, the classical composer is bringing the world premiere of his new work there on November 29th.

This is the story of an unexpected later-life vocation that has transformed my life. Alongside my wife Vivien, I am the co-founder of registered charity Grayshott Concerts, a classical music concert series established in 2004. I have no musical qualifications, but the sheer joy of sharing live classical music with others and creating a legacy for my community has culminated this year in bringing the world premiere of the new work by Sir Karl Jenkins, the world’s most-performed living composer, to a small village on the Hampshire-Surrey borders.

In 2003, our daughter married at our local village church, St Luke’s in Grayshott. We wanted a choir to perform during the service and lead the singing, not least as St Luke’s is a relatively large church and a big space to fill. I had been a chorister at school and university, and evidently had more important duties to perform on the day as the father of the bride, but we successfully recruited a host of singing locals and the ceremony was beautiful.

The following year, the church was appealing for funds and we rallied the same choir to put on a paid performance. The result? £3,500 raised for the church and much local acclaim which prompted people to ask us when the next concert would be, and so Grayshott Concerts was born.

The marketeer in me could see that there was clearly an appetite for high-quality classical performance in the very local area, but my musical knowledge and education are limited. I had sung in amateur choirs since my school days and have always enjoyed listening to classical music but have never played an instrument or performed myself, nor has my wife. We are however great believers in the power of positivity and take an “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” approach to most challenges.

Having decided to create an ongoing programme of classical concerts, we needed to find performers to fit the bill. As a starting point, Vivien and I compiled a wish list of our personal favourites. And then went about tracking them down to ask them to forego more familiar venues like the Royal Albert Hall to instead come and perform at our village church!

Amazingly, several of them said yes! Along came London Mozart Players, Chloe Hanslip, Howard Shelley, Tasmin Little, Alison Balsom, Nicola Benedetti, The Sixteen Choir and others. Sir Karl Jenkins had been on our list for some time, so when we learned that he would be visiting the area one particular weekend, we engineered a meeting where we could quickly tell him about our concerts and ask him to get involved.

He also said yes! In 2007 he became our Patron and since then we have commissioned him to write several works including The Healer: A Cantata for St Luke to celebrate our tenth anniversary in 2014. He has also composed a shorter piece for Shoshanah Sievers, a young and very talented local violinist that we have supported since the age of six with opportunities to give public performances.

From two performances that first year, the programme has grown to include five or six every year, and every event has been a sell-out. This has encouraged us to stage bigger concerts with major works including symphonies, oratorios and operas. We have also invested in staging and a permanent lighting rig and screen systems in the church. But of course, none of that comes cheap so, alongside the visible activity of promoting the concerts, Vivien and I have invested a huge amount of time in securing additional funding from individual and corporate sponsors and grants.

Unsurprisingly, by 2009 Grayshott Concerts was taking up so much of our time that we decided to wind up our business in order to concentrate fully on it. In 2011, Grayshott Concerts became a registered charity so we now work with a board of trustees, which has enabled us to benefit not only from a wider pool of volunteers to manage the programme but also claim tax benefits through Gift Aid. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to bring the local community of all ages more closely together through the joy of music.

We have invited children from the local primary school to sing at several concerts (including the Karl Jenkins compositions), and members of our house orchestra, the London Mozart Players, regularly visit the local care home to entertain residents in between rehearsals. We’ve also extended the social aspect of the concerts by adding on pre-concert suppers, hosted at a nearby restaurant which has always sponsored every event.

This year we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of Grayshott Concerts. Quite a milestone, and one that we are tremendously excited to be marking with the world premiere of Sir Karl’s newest work, Miserere: Songs of Mercy and Redemption, on 29th November. We have managed to recreate the exact line-up of performers featured on the newly-released CD including Polyphony Choir, Britten Sinfonia Orchestra, international counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, cellist Abel Selaocoe, former Royal Harpist Catrin Finch and percussionist Zands Duggan, conducted by Stephen Layton.

As with all of our concerts and events, it’s a sell-out – in fact, it’s our fastest selling performance to date with all tickets selling out in just two days. And that will take some beating.

The Bolder Interview – Dominique Afacan and Helen Cathcart


5 Minute Read

Writer, Dominique Afacan and photographer, Helen Cathcart are both in their late 30s, in 2015 they launched the website be-bolder.com which featured inspiring people Over-70. Their mission is to change perceptions around growing older and they’ve spent the last few years interviewing funky, interesting Over-70s. Recently, they published a book – Bolder – Life Lessons from People Older & Wiser Than You.

So you and Helen are in your late 30s – how did you think of this idea re Bolder, your website?

The honest answer is that, despite our relatively young age, we were both scared of ageing. The message from society was that time was running out – we were constantly being reminded of our biological clocks, we were sold creams and potions that promised to ‘turn back the clock,’ and the conversations we had about growing old tended to be shrouded in negativity. Somewhere, deep down, we knew our fear was wrong. We met interesting and inspiring older people all the time! So we decided to do something about it – and Bolder was born.

Do people think it’s a little strange for you both at 30 to be engaging with age?

Not at all. Having interviewed 50 people over the age of 70 for the website and the book, it is clear that we are far more concerned about getting older than the people we speak to. There’s a lot of fear about the future at our age, whereas most of the people we speak to for Bolder are having the time of their lives and have let go of a lot of the worries and panics that we have every day.

What is the concept around Bolder?

The idea is that we interview a collection of stereotype-shattering people over the age of 70 and feature their stories on the site together with a beautiful portrait. We both normally go along and meet each person together as we get such a lot from these meetings. We’ll often stick around a lot longer than we planned – we sat drinking Guinness with Eve Branson in her garden after her interview!

Why is it important to you? And how do younger people respond?

We really want to show the positives of getting older and change the narrative around what it means to age. Ageing is a privilege after all and we are all lucky to be doing it every hour, every day – if we’re lucky.

How did you decide to make it for Over-70s?

When we started, we decided that 70 was the age we both felt was officially ‘old.’ We’ve since seen the error of our ways and know better than to stereotype or categorise by age at all, but that’s the truth!

And what about the book? How did that come about? Of course, Helen is a photographer which is handy?

We always suspected that the interviews and beautiful photos would come across well in print. We were lucky enough that Hardie Grant (our publisher) spotted that potential too!

Why is the idea that older people are educating younger ones? 

The reason we chose that strapline (life lessons from people older and wiser than you) is because we learnt so much from our subjects along the way. Alongside all the interviews in the book, we provide commentary on what the two of us have learnt about everything from love and health to success and regrets through the project. We really wanted to share that wisdom with our peers.

How did you go about finding these fabulous people over 70?

It was surprisingly easy! There are plenty of inspiring older people out there, it’s just that so often nobody is listening to them or giving them space in the media. Even the famous people we included were happy to take part – Michel Roux even invited us to his villa in the south of France and gave us an afternoon of his time – followed by a bottle of Bollinger in his garden!

I’d like to hear about Sue Plumtree, 72, who is a Over-50s Love Coach?

Sue was great. After decades in an unhappy marriage she found the strength to leave and start over. She’s a fantastic example of what it means to be ‘bolder.’ As she says, many people over a certain age just submit to being unhappy in a happy marriage because they can’t bear to face up to the years they have already wasted. But being brave really paid off for her; she not only found true love, but has started a new career and has a new enthusiasm for life.

And Eddy Diget the 73 year old personal trainer?

We met Eddy in the gym where he works and he ended up giving me a training session! He was far fitter than me! When we started Bolder we wanted to find people who drank gallons of wine or smoked 50 fags and were still going strong. But the reality is that most of the people we met looked after themselves, both mentally and physically. I think some of that has rubbed off on us.

Which story and person were you personally moved by?

I don’t think I can pick one! But our cover star Muffie Grieve always resonates with us as we met her over in New Zealand when we were at the wedding of our friend who designed Bolder (both the website and the book) for us. So it felt like this brilliant serendipity of what happens when three friends come together on a creative project. Muffie is a force of nature; at 87 she’s just got remarried, she’s learning Spanish and she plays championship tennis!

Are you carrying on finding people for more books?

Absolutely! We are always looking for more people! This project is by no means a one-off or a book project that is now and dusted. It is a passion project that breathes life into us and I can’t imagine either of us wanting to stop doing it.

AofA People: Julie Williams – Dog Groomer, Reiki Master, Coach


9 Minute Read

Julie Williams, 61, runs a mobile dog grooming business called Gentle Friends, is a Reiki Master teacher and the founder of Active Connection, a series of Soul Coaching sessions.

Age (in years)  

61

Where do you live? 

Stockport, Greater Manchester

What do you do?

I run a mobile dog grooming business called Gentle Friends with my partner Steve. We cover our local area. I’m also a Reiki Master Teacher, combining the Reiki with basic animal communication, I’ve developed a new modality for rehabilitating groom-phobic dogs that’s proving quite successful.

I’m the founder of Active Connection, a series of Soul Coaching sessions to collaborate with clients to find a connection to the wonder and fabulousness of the soul that they came here with.

I do Shamanic journeying, talk to trees, worship the moon, connect in ritual and gifting with Mother Earth daily, where I receive “downloads” of wisdom.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

It’s great. I feel so much more confident and brave to be myself, to dare to do new things, than I did when I was younger.

I had a hysterectomy at 43, so I went on the menopause, closely followed by a couple of bereavements,  redundancy and a relationship breakup, culminating at 44 with burnout from the corporate world. At that point, I realised that self care and genuine happiness was more important than ambition, acquisition and consumerism.

I got rid of everything that cost money to run and took four months off to recover. I took an evening job so I could go out in the sun, a dog and a bike. I read and read and read, philosophy, self-help books, spirituality, and basically self-healed.

I met my partner eight years ago, we set up a business together. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do any of that when I was younger.

I embarked on a series of therapy sessions at the age of 60 and regret I didn’t do it earlier. I had been on a spiritual path for 20 years prior to that, and I think the three things together – reaching 60, therapy and the spiritual journey – all clicked at the right time. Before that, I was scared to put my head above the parapet, to be vulnerable and authentic, so I wore my mask of “everything’s fine”, when often it wasn’t.

So what’s it like to be my age? It’s fabulous.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Much more happiness and laughter for sure. Wisdom and courage too.

I have my loving partner, the first relationship I’ve had where I believe we are both really equal.

I have in my life my three beautiful grandchildren who are teenagers now as well as two beautiful step grandchildren, three gorgeous stepdaughters, three lovely terriers, the business, the grooming modality, the new coaching business, lovely silver streaks in my hair and a much more solid sense of self-love and joyful entrepreneurship, leading to personal satisfaction.

I also have The Silver Tent. This is an international online community for women over 50, started three years by the visionary Francesca Cassini. There are nearly 7000 women in the group, and it’s a veritable cauldron of wisdom, creativity, projects and collaborations between women from all over the world. I’ve made some amazing friendships there and learned so much.

What about sex?

Yes, it’s great, really caring and nurturing. Not as often as when I was younger, as I might have had a somatic response to historical trauma during therapy. This diminishes as time goes by, and I’m getting back to my enthusiasm for sex.

And relationships?

I’m happily co-habiting with my life and business partner of eight years, Steve.

I reconnected four years ago with my dad from whom I was estranged for about 25 years. It went great at first, then “stuff” came up, therapy helped, and dad has been really supportive, compassionate and open. I’ve only just recently tentatively reconnected with my mum, our estrangement wasn’t total, yet our relationship was always difficult. She’s recently become quite poorly, and I’m starting to visit again. My own ability to respond rather than react, learned with the benefit of aged wisdom is softening our interactions. I’m hoping we can continue to see each other regularly.

My relationship with my 40-year-old son is, for me, a deep and open one. We have discussed issues arising from his childhood, my healing as he was growing up wasn’t that fast, and there were times where my inappropriate behaviours impacted on him. I have apologised and acknowledged my part, and he is very compassionate, intelligent and able to understand and forgive. He is an excellent father to his three children and a devoted partner to their mum. I’m very proud of him.

My relationship with my teenage grandchildren is as it is whilst they are discovering themselves. Contact isn’t as often as when they were younger, and I do miss them a little. I support their lives 100% and cherish the time when we can get together.

I have made some beautiful treasured friendships through the Silver Tent, which I hope will go from strength to strength, to even include working collaborations. There have been a few physical meetups that have been wonderful, online is great but face to face is far better. My partner and I recently met socially with one woman and her husband, we had a great time. This is a new experience for us.

How free do you feel?

In my heart I’m totally free and I enjoy my newly found self-sovereignty. I’m enjoying being free from a lot of the negative emotional burden I used to carry. I really do feel free to be me, I’m blessed to be loved enough to experiment and try new things too.

Yet I’m a Capricorn and ruled by earthy Saturn, so I do nod to the need to have an income, a roof over my head and security. Consideration of those things doesn’t mean the opposite of freedom to me, it means I’m free to recognise my needs and own them.  

What are you proud of?

I’m proud that I’ve learned to truly love myself, to do the inner work, which will continue until I’m no longer on this earthly plane. Also I’ve learned to stay strong in my own vision, a big one, as I used to put other people’s needs first to the detriment of my own.

I my really proud of my son and daughter in law and their family. Things were difficult for my son from the start as his father abandoned us when I was pregnant at 21, I married someone else, and that didn’t work out, my dad wasn’t around, so my son has never really had a male role model to learn from. Yet he has worked so hard to be a great and balanced partner and father to his three children, and he is amazing.

I’m proud of my relationship with my partner. We have learned to consciously co-create, both of us coming together in later life with a lot of personal baggage. We work through the difficulties of being together all the time, at home and at work, we work hard at it, and we make mistakes: we laugh and love a lot too.

I’m proud to have had the courage to start our grooming business and make a success of it. And I’m proud that I’ve brought together my skills that I love doing, my abilities and drive to create two new modalities that I’m bringing into being.

I’m proud of never giving up.

What keeps you inspired?

I’m inspired by the beauty and sheer joy of love and life, believing that there are so many wonderful experiences and discoveries yet to come for me and my loved ones in this life.

I’m inspired to be a strong role model for my grandchildren, this is very, very important. I’d like to say that my legacy will be to tell them to grasp the nettle and just do it, yet more importantly, it’s to show them the example that they are magnificent, very much loved, and perfect just as they are.

I’m inspired to share my story, to show that someone who had hidden, felt isolated and buried themselves under traumatic memories, can learn to balance the light and dark, and to love those two equally. For all our  experiences are what makes us our unique and wonderful selves.

And I’m inspired by the Silver Tent. I’m a passionate supporter of it. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying that Western women will change the world if so, those of us over 50 in the Tent are making a really good attempt at it.

When are you happiest?

It’s difficult to single out one thing.

I love seeing my family happy and I’m happy working, laughing and loving with my partner. I’m happy when I meet up with loved ones and friends, laughing and hugging.

I’m happy walking in nature with my dogs, particularly communing with trees. I’m happy when I do my daily practice, an earth based ritual and offering, I receive from it such wisdom.

I’m happy working with dogs, I love Reiki and connecting to energy, particularly when dogs respond to the energy.

I’m happy when I create something that others enjoy. I’m happy when I coach someone and they benefit from my service.

I’m happy connecting with the women in the Tent and seeing new projects happen, friendships forming, new skills being taught and shared.

If I had to choose a when I’m happiest, I’d say very early in a morning when I sit quietly with my coffee thinking about my daily gratitude practice. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on my blessings, which are many.

And where does your creativity go?

I write – poems – and I’ve tentatively started writing a book. I’m restarting my blog that’s been neglected for a while. When I was a child, I loved reading and I wrote short stories. This was abandoned due to other distractions, career and so on, and I’ve recently returned to it.

I’d love to paint abstract pieces. That’s on my list for when I slow down a little.

I’ve also created the service modalities, so I suspect work and play overlap in my life. Work as play, play as work.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Connecting to my inner spirit and doing what brings me joy. Being kind rather than right.

Remembering that everyone has a beautiful soul inside, no matter how deeply they bury it. And remembering that it’s all about love.

And dying?

It’s a journey beyond the veil.

I’ll sign up for another incarnation please.

The Culture Interview: Lucy O’Brien – Writer & Academic


11 Minute Read

Lucy O’Brien, 58, is a writer and academic. She has written for NME and City Limits as well as the Guardian etc. She has published various books including Madonna: Like an Icon. She has just updated and re-released her biography of Dusty Springfield – Dusty.

What attracted you to writing this biography of Dusty in the first place in the late 80s?

I interviewed Dusty in 1988 when Phonogram released The Silver Collection, a sumptuous greatest hits album. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians and artists and she stood out – for her Goonish humour and her original responses. She didn’t trot out a PR spiel, and she thought carefully about each question I asked. I think that summed up her approach to life and music. She never sang the obvious, and she made each song her own. The angle I took with the piece was that Dusty was ‘Queen of the Mods’. She had a cool mod sensibility, and was a regular on the 60s pop show Ready Steady Go!

I did the interview for City Limits magazine, and shortly after it was published an editor at Sidgwick & Jackson wrote to me saying, ‘Would you like to do a biography of Dusty?’ I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t published a book at that point, and it was a great opportunity.

Can you tell us something about that initial undertaking and the process around it?

Ooh, it felt arduous at first. I’d never written a book before…but then I realised that it was like a string of articles put together as chapters, with a linking theme. The next challenge was tracking down interviewees, people who knew her and had worked with her. In the late 80s there was no internet, so I had to use a lot of snail mail, do a lot of phone calls and face-to-face interviews. I also spent time in the US, travelling to New York, Memphis, Nashville and LA, interviewing friends and musicians she had worked with. There was a mystery around her at that point, because she moved to America in 1970 and disappeared from the scene. No one really knew what had happened to her…and I had to somehow piece the story together. All I had to go on was a trickle of articles in back issues of NME, and some press around the time she visited the UK for a ‘comeback’ tour in 1978. It was like doing detective work.

How has Dusty’s image changed now in this LBGTQ-aware era? 

She has become an LGBTQ icon. She was in the closet as a lesbian in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Being out and gay on the pop scene was tantamount to commercial suicide (and to an extent it still is). She had to invent boyfriends and live a life in public that felt artificial. In private she had a very active love life and used to go to lesbian clubs like Gateways, and had a legion of gay male admirers, some of whom used to enjoy dressing up in her gowns!

What did you find challenging about the writing of it?

The main challenge in the late 80s was what I couldn’t put into the book. It was read by lawyers, and I couldn’t write about Dusty’s lesbianism. I could only hint that she was bisexual, because she had said once or twice during interviews ‘I’m just as easily swayed by a woman as a man.’

I loved writing about her music, her childhood, the 1960s pop scene, and all her soulful influences. But I had to be careful when discussing her mental health issues and her drug use – she hadn’t talked about these things in our interview, and they were not in the public domain.

Would it have been different writing it now with the internet?

Writing a biography now is a very different process – it takes half the time. You can get in touch with people much more quickly via the internet, you can do Skype interviews, and there is SO much more information at your fingertips. However, you still have to fact check. And there is no substitute for physically travelling to a place and breathing in the air and absorbing the atmosphere, and talking to people face to face. Old-fashioned physical research gives you much more emotional information about a person’s life. The internet is very flat, gossipy and superficial. For instance, I learned so much about Dusty’s experience recording Dusty in Memphis when I actually went to the rundown studio in Memphis where she recorded it. And feeling the close-knit cameraderie of the Nashville music scene, or, by contrast, the alienation of those sun-baked LA freeways.

Tell us something about the interviews you did? For instance, with Pat Rhodes her longstanding assistant? Or others that stand out? 

I loved meeting her 1960s manager Vic Billings – he was a camp impresario of the old school, a real gent, and hilariously funny. Also her Philips producer Ivor Raymonde, (whose son Simon was part of that amazing post-punk band Cocteau Twins). Ivor was dashing, dedicated, and very good at explaining why Dusty stood out from the other 1960s beat girls like Lulu and Cilla Black.

I also remember interviewing the Dusty In Memphis producers – Jerry Wexler (so articulate, yet a little exasperated with Dusty), Arif Mardin (he drove me through Manhattan in his enormous station wagon and talked about Dusty’s instinct for soul music), and Tom Dowd (who gave me funny anecdotes about her tottering into the studio with her beehive and gown ‘made up like a Southern lady’). Sadly, all of those wonderful people have passed away, so I’m thankful I was able to capture their words and memories.

Dusty’s assistant Pat Rhodes was also helpful, giving me insight into Dusty’s childhood – her vivacious, slightly unhinged Irish mother, her shy, lumbering father, and brother Tom, who formed folk act the Springfields with Dusty in the late 1950s. Pat was a constant in Dusty’s life, and she has been really supportive of the book, at each stage.

This publication is updated – could you tell us something about that?

What’s good with this publication is I have been able to use some of the interview material that was out of bounds in the first edition. I can be much more frank about her lesbian relationships, and her struggles with mental health and addiction. It’s enabled me to go into her story in greater depth, and really explore the full impact of her legacy. I was able to interview her former lover Julie Felix, who told me a lot about the tensions of their secret relationship in the 1960s. I also talked to Pat, and Dusty’s close friend, the singer Simon Bell, about the last five years of Dusty’s life after she got the cancer diagnosis. They both spent a lot of time caring for her, staying at her house in Henley. It was reassuring to know that Dusty’s dry wit and humour stayed with her to the end.

And I interviewed playwright and TV scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey, who wrote the recent Dusty musical. He gave me a fresh perspective on her music, her psychological struggles, and her legacy as a gay icon.

Was there anything that shocked you when researching Dusty or Mary O’Brien’s life? 

I never forget talking to Brooks Arthur, producer of Dusty’s ill-fated, unreleased 1973 album Longing. ‘She wasn’t handling her New York trip very well. Something had begun to tumble,’ he said to me in an interview for the first edition of my book. He was hushed and close to tears when he talked about how she attempted suicide. He had to take her to hospital, and was devastated that he couldn’t take ‘good enough care of her.’ I was also shocked when talking to her US manager Howard Portugais, about how she tumbled so badly through drink and drug use, that she ended up with no money, living in a ‘halfway house’ in LA. I had no idea things had got that bad. I felt enormous sympathy for her, and realised then what a fragile character she was.

Did you understand Dusty’s mental health problems any better at the end of this research? 

Yes…that she was a bit like Amy Winehouse in the way she had to fight personal demons just to sing. She was her own worst critic, and had such a harsh opinion of herself. Yet she created such vulnerable, beautiful music. So much more is understood now about mental health. Many musicians struggle with it, and the music industry, with its punishing schedules of touring and promotion, can make someone’s mental health much worse. Dusty suffered from having to hide her true sexuality, and she battled anxiety and depression. However, as Jonathan Harvey says, what’s so inspiring about Dusty’s story is how in the end she made a brilliantly successful comeback with the Pet Shop Boys. And although she died young at 59, she found happiness and peace of mind at the end of her life.

I hadn’t realised what happened to her in South Africa and how she took that stand that made her controversial at the time, she wouldn’t play to segregated audiences in 1964? Good on her. Max Bygraves wasn’t too pleased!

Yes, Dusty was close friends with the Motown crew, particularly Martha Reeves. She was a huge supporter of the civil rights struggle, and was utterly opposed to playing to segregated audiences. However, Dusty really paid for that – many of her peers (like Max Bygraves) criticised her, saying she shouldn’t mix politics with showbusiness. A question was even raised in Parliament, asking whether a pop star should get involved and speak out against apartheid. Times really have changed.

And what about that beehive? What did it represent for her?

Dusty modelled her look on drag queens. She was never particularly comfortable being a typical girl, so she created a style that was hyper-feminine and over-the-top, with the panda-eye make up and the huge beehive. The queens loved it. I explore this in the book, how there was a split between the real-life Mary O’Brien and the stage persona Dusty Springfield. After a while, though, this split triggered a psychological crisis, and Dusty felt dominated by the alter ego she had created.

And the Lady? Her reputation wasn’t always great with musicians? And she was known to throw things around in her dressing room?

Dusty had a fiery temper. She had a ‘difficult reputation’, but many argue in the book that she had this reputation just because she was a woman making demands in the studio, and not accepting second best from the musicians she worked with. She was a hard taskmaster…and she fell out with a few musicians – notably jazz drummer Buddy Rich. They got into an argument and she whacked him round the head, sending his toupe flying.

She also liked to release tension by throwing food and crockery around her dressing room. She says that she always cleared it up!

Why did she disappear in the 70s in the US?

Dusty adored US soul music, and wanted to perform and record in America. She was also fascinated by American culture and Hollywood films, so moving to the US in the 70s was like the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Unfortunately it was also her undoing. The US music industry then was still very segregated, and they couldn’t understand or market a white English woman singing soul music. Also, as her backing singer Doris Troy said, there was a lot of cocaine around – ‘the devil’s dandruff was rulin’.’

And did she ever find a good gay relationship or was her family Catholicism always at play in the background? 

Dusty was inhibited by her Catholic upbringing, and found it hard to form lasting relationships. However, she had a long-term lover in the 1960s, artist-singer Norma Tanega. And she lived with a number of lovely women in LA. Pat says that towards the end of her life Dusty was single, and more devoted to her cats. It was simpler that way.

How was your interview with her in the late 80s?

I really enjoyed talking to Dusty. She was an original thinker with a nice turn-of-phrase. I always remember her talking about how being a female performer involved ‘such a lot of upkeep. All those hair extensions…’ And she enthused about Sinead O’Connor saying, ‘Where were women like her in my day? She’s young, Irish and so talented.’ She was analytical, and she KNEW her music. I would love to have known her as a friend, and to have her perspective on pop music now.

Dusty: The Classic Biography, by Lucy O’Brien is out on August 22nd

* Lucy is featured with writer Julie Hammil at The Rock N Roll Book Club event ‘Madonna and Dusty: Icons of Song’, London Dublin Castle, on September 4th. For tickets and info: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/476707

On Reading


4 Minute Read

Mish Aminoff Moon, 61, is a photographer and a member of AoA. Here she describes what she does. She was born in London into a tight-knit Persian Jewish Community and brought up in a multilingual household which alternated between English, Farsi and Hebrew.

‘When I’m walking around a city and suddenly notice something that sparks my interest, I feel a combination of freedom, concentration, stimulation and harmony. There’s a choice be made, to take a photograph of this image regardless of whether or not I think it will work. That is part of the freedom: the experimenting.  My eye and approach are influenced by a love of art history and painting. Prior to studying Photographic Theory & Practice at The University of Westminster, I graduated in History of Art at Sussex University but my interest  – as evidenced in my old diaries – started much earlier. As a young teenager going to art galleries and museums was a gateway into an exciting world. I now believe I can experience the exciting, the beautiful, and ultimately my quest for seeing art on my everyday wanderings.’

This project is about reading. She found a photo of her maternal grandfather reading after work on his balcony in Tel Aviv and the project progressed from there.

Looking through old photos from before I was born I found another informal photograph of family members reading newspapers.  Here are Matt and Pauline reading their papers in the back garden  in Stamford Hill, circa early 1950s:

However, the tendency was that reading matter was used as props in formal studio portraiture. Below, my father in 1930:

Another relative – my father’s cousin Haji-Ben who was based in Milan – with an open book as a prop. His direct gaze and grown-up cross-legged position contribute to the quasi adult composure of the portrait:

And below another studio portrait of my aunt Hannah, this time hand-coloured, with a large open picture book as a prop. I can’t make out the illustration, but it seems like a grand scale documentary image, not what I’d expect from the context!

A posed photograph of me in my bedroom when i was about 3 or 4, taken by my father. This was part of a series of photos he took of me in my room; one at my dressing table, another chatting on a toy phone.  I find it interesting that the bookshelf in my room is filled with his old Penguin paperbacks, possibly deemed unsuitable for display in any other part of the house?

When my own children were born I took lots of photographs documenting their everyday experiences and family life; I was interested in capturing moments that I considered significant. The photograph below was taken in 1990 after a particularly sleepless night; Rafi finally asleep on his father’s right thigh and an open book in Josh’s left hand:

And one from the mid-90s of Josh reading one of his old Tintin books to the boys:

Dan occupying himself reading the Zelda manual on our regular Sunday morning brunch outings to Bar Italia in Soho

Some more from Bar Italia – my mother used to say that I always had a book on me everywhere I went. Nowadays it tends to be a Kindle, but here’s proof that it was a habit that continued into adulthood.  A portrait of me framed on the mirrored wall, part of a semi-permanent wall display of “regulars” at Bar Italia. I don’t remember the name of the photographer but I remember posing for her back in 2009. Here I am taking a photo of the portrait of me with my book, sitting at the bar counter:

The photo below was taken outside Bar Italia; I like it because if you look carefully you can see a luminous image of a man with long white hair – looking like a biblical representation of God in sunglasses. It happens to be the Brazilian musical Hermeto Pascoal, who is rather amazing, and definitely a jazz master if not a god!

Travelling further afield, here’s another café reader, taken the other week in a February sun-drenched Campo Santo Stefano in Venice:

And at this Tel Aviv café back in 2014,  a Hebrew newspaper is used to block out the bright February sun:

On the first day of my first trip to Japan in 2006 I was excited to snap a detail of my Manga-reading fellow passenger on the Tokyo Metro:

I took that trip with my younger son Dan who was 13 at the time. The photo below was taken one night  by Dan –  I’m reading a book by Haruki Murakami, in my new Japanese glasses:

I like the parallel activity of these bespectacled book browsers in a Parisian gallery shop:

Next up are a couple of images taken on London Underground. I loved the intimacy of this elderly couple sharing their art magazine:

This dapper gentleman in a corduroy suit and coordinating tan accessories was reading a book called The Tao of Physics:

Next a couple of diary-like images, the first documenting my ora dell’aperitivo ritual, complete with Campari, pistachio nuts and tapas like snacks and obscure Kyrgyz-translated book:

And on a relaxed Saturday morning my husband Stephen gets some tips on power from GQ magazine:

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