Creative director: Graphic design, copywriting, and development of websites projects. I'm also a comedian, specialized in the "Alternative World," and I'm writing an "erotic-conscious" novel.
On the other hand, I'm starting to co-create a Conscious Sexuality Movement (sort of tantric), for "normal" people from 30 to 60, with small gatherings and a festival to happen in the UK on 2019.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Madrid and Ibiza
TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?
Interesting and peculiar, as normally I'm surrounded by much younger people.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?
Wisdom, more humour, and taking myself less seriously.
WHAT ABOUT SEX?
Grrrrreat! (quite an expert on the matter, hahaha)
Starting a very fun and sexy relationship at the moment.
HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?
Quite a lot, besides when my nomadic life makes me struggle with money issues.
WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?
My talent as a comedian.
WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?
That something greater than us, and our limited vision.
WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?
When I make people laugh.
AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?
To my writing and performing.
WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?
We are here to shine at our highest potential. Taking life as a hero quest, in which to learn and evolve, avoiding getting attached to drama as much as possible. Let's Be Light!
Dissolving into the Light once again and getting ready for a new incarnation... or not.
ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?
More than ever before!
WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?
Jumping on stage in front of 320 people without knowing what to say and keeping them laughing non-stop for 20 minutes.
The oldest woman alive, who lives on raw eggs and cookies, is celebrating her 117th birthday. Emma Morano, who was born on 29 November, 1899, is believed to be the only person alive who has witnessed three centuries. The brandy-drinking Italian woman, who has credited her old age to being single and getting to bed early, reportedly said “My word, I’m as old as the hills”, when she was crowned the world’s oldest.
It was six years ago, when I was 46 years old, and I was lying in bed and feeling terrible on an island in the Hebrides. I’d come away on holiday to a place I’d always yearned to go to and things weren’t going well. I was there with the man I was going out with (and subsequently married but that’s another story) and we were uncomfortable with each other. We hadn’t known each other long enough to be holed up in a too-small, too-isolated ‘love nest’, far away from other people.
It had been my idea, my dream. I’d always wanted to head off to the Isle of Harris with a rugged bloke and be entwined for days on end. It hadn’t occurred to me that maybe my idea of intimacy was someone else’s idea of hell. And, anyway, he wasn’t in love with me then. He was too wrapped up in a past relationship to really be available to love anyone - not me and certainly not himself either. But I have never been one to let reality ruin my fantasy. Until then.
As I lay there wondering why this man I thought I was in love with plainly wasn’t in love with me, I started thinking about all the times I’d messed up my life. There were so many. I’d been a terrible girlfriend, a messed-up mother, a loose cannon, a wayward lover, a drunk. I had, in the past, sunk way too much and too far and done things I felt deeply ashamed of. I’d hurt and humiliated people I cared for. It didn’t feel good But, more than that, I realised I’d lost all sense of self.
In a vain desire to have some sort of ‘standing’ in the world, I’d sold my soul to journalism. I didn’t even know what integrity was any more. I’d argue on both sides if the money was right. I felt that I’d worked so hard for so long to be successful that I couldn’t possibly turn my back on the industry I’d strived so hard to belong to. I'd become obsessed with money. It had taken me over in a way that was out of kilter.
It wasn’t that I was poor. I’d inherited money from my father but my ex and I (the father of three of my four children) had frittered a worrying amount of it away on such fripperies as outdoor furnishings and club class tickets to exotic locations. So I didn’t seem able to turn paid work down. I was obsessed with the fact we’d run out of money so I found myself saying yes to every job I was offered. I had no filter. I’d write anything for anyone. I wrote about my intimate relationship with my then-partner. I wrote about my family, my dead-dad, my friends, people I knew, people I barely knew. Nothing was off-limits. I wrote article after article and the subjects begun to get increasingly personal Things came to a head when I was asked to write about my children.
At first, I saw nothing wrong with a quickly penned piece on how tricky it was bringing up my much-loved, much-wanted daughter. I didn’t think I’d written anything terrible. I’d just pointed out how much nosier and demanding she was compared to her three older brothers. My first inkling that anything was amiss was when various radio stations and daytime television stations called asking me to go on air and talk about my ‘controversial’ piece. Then the internet went mad and I became the scourge of parents, outraged at my comments. It was a bruising experience and it left me bewildered. Had I really said something that bad?
From then on, everything got worse. I couldn’t write anything without hoards of online trolls making my life miserable. In the end, I came off all social media but I could see that life, or at least my life as a journalist, had to change.
So there I was, in the Hebrides, moaning on about how sick I was of all of it when my boyfriend said, rather nonchalantly, 'Well, why don’t you do something else then?’. Something else? Jesus. The thought had never occurred to me.
'I dunno. You like finding out what makes people tick. You’re interested in people. I think you’d be a good therapist.'
I sat there feeling somewhat stunned. Then I started googling courses on becoming a psychotherapist and, it seemed, I could do a six-week introductory course and see how it felt. That was six years ago. The six weeks went to a year, then another two years then...somehow four years passed and there I was, a fully paid-up, qualified counsellor. I couldn’t believe I’d done it.
In many ways, I’d turned my life around beyond recognition. Instead of going out I’d studied. I’d stopped partying, misbehaving, being an arsehole. I spent days and nights on end reading and learning and scrutinising myself and crying. Lot and lots of crying. I went in to therapy. I started therapising other people. I felt like an imposter – to myself, to them, to everyone. The first client I had was when I was working at a Youth Counselling Centre. She was 18, had dyed blue hair, many piercings and studs and was covered in tattoos. She was in the waiting room glowering at me as soon as she saw me. Her rather nervous mother kept prodding her as I asked Helen (not her real name) to come with me. “No,” she said scowling. In that moment, I almost turned and ran. What on earth was I doing there?
My course hadn’t prepared me for this. But I stood my ground, told her she was coming with me and somewhat frog marched her up the stairs. As we sat silently staring at each other, I noticed she had a picture of a rat on her mobile phone. 'Is that your pet?', I asked her. Suddenly this angry hurt teenager started smiling. It was the beginning of a very fruitful relationship. I have learned so many things; teenagers are difficult to counsel but, once they trust you, they really are magnificent in their ability to grasp therapy and run with it.
Adults take more time. We’re far more set in our ways and we’re scared. Therapy is work. It takes a form of bravery to walk through the door. It has to involve trust and interest and something between the therapist and client that has some ‘juice’. People ask me if I get bored. How could I? I’ve heard so many different stories from so many different lives.
I now know how to shoplift and how to remove security tags. I know where to buy any sort of drugs from. I’ve seen the scars from those who self-harm and I always consider that an honour. I’ve been to the backstreets of Faro via Google Earth where one of my youngest and saddest clients grew up. She was a little homesick girl who just wanted to show me the life she had before her mother died and her father came to the UK for work.
I’ve met some truly fascinating people. I’ve met people who believe they have done terrible things. Sometimes I’m not sure if I am friend or foe. Therapy goes like that. I look like I’m listening. I am listening. But I’m also thinking - what’s going on here? Who am I for this person? I notice the minute - a change of dress, the body language, the defenses, the endless defenses we all use to avoid the things we don’t like about ourselves.
I’ve seen jealous women clad in green and scarlet women wearing scarlet yet neither of them realising it. I’ve had a man who couldn’t grieve develop huge styes in his eyes without connecting it to his inability to cry. I have seen people in desperate pain. But I’ve also seen people heal. I’ve been wept on, shouted at, flirted with, denigrated, exalted, insulted, complemented. And I just sit there. I sit there because that’s my job. And I love it. It feels serious and proper and kind and caring. I delve into places I’d been terrified of going to before I chose this work. I learn as much, if not more, from my clients as they do from me. I still do. Every time I meet a client I feel a sense of wonderment. 'What journey will we go on here?', I think.
It will never stop, this learning. That’s what I love about it. There’s so much to know. When I tell people – people I used to know – that I’m now a therapist, they look momentarily confused. Most struggle to believe that I would give up a seemingly successful public career for something that sounds so different. But I point out that they are not that far removed.
Therapists are interested in people, in why people do the things they do. We’re interested in theory and practice and relationships and the past and the here and now. What might appear to some to be quite simple – I sit in this chair, you sit in that chair, is far more complicated than that. As my clients tell me their stories, I am working hard concentrating, filtering, alighting like a butterfly on one piece of information, gathering a bit of pollen from it, then flitting off to the next bit.
It’s a quieter life held in some sort of suspended animation as myself and my clients sit together. No one but us knows what goes on in that room and, sometimes, we’re probably not all that sure what actually has gone on. There is something mysterious about the therapeutic relationship that leaves people baffled and intrigued.
People always ask if I enjoy what I do. I always answer that enjoy isn’t the word. I am sort of completed by it – by doing good, by being intellectually stimulated, by meeting so many different people letting me in to their complicated but fascinating lives. I’ve met a more full range of people than I ever did as a journalist and now I am not forced by put-upon editors to find a headline.
I am strangely changed and yet unchanged – as Winnicott said, the worse breakdown we fear is the breakdown that has already happened. I feared losing my status, my income, my social standing but really that fear was about getting to know myself and that’s been around for a long time. I draw back the veil every day by an infinitesimal amount.
And, of course, dear reader, I did marry the man from the Hebrides. But it would never have happened if I hadn’t chosen a different path for my life. Becoming a therapist has helped me see relationships in such a different light. I am far more tolerant, kinder, more giving and more forgiving than I ever thought I would be. There is some sort of innate blind trust that enters the room when a client walks in.
It’s a form of love. You take a leap. You trust the leap. It can all go a bit wobbly but if you do the work, feel the trust, love and support, you get there in the end. I could have walked away from this, from him, from my training. I could have jacked it all in and there were many times I nearly did.
I moved to Canterbury in 2000 to take up the post of Head of Culture with the City Council. When I was interviewed, I knew with absolute certainty that this was where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and who I would become. I got the job and I loved it with a passion. I learned over time that I was an enabler. I had good ideas, I could bring people together, I could develop projects and find investment for them, I could write policy and strategy, drive change and influence decisions. I could make things happen. The job changed and grew and so did I. It became who I was and vice versa. I lived and breathed it. It was work and play. It was everything. Until it was deleted and I was made redundant.
In March of this year, I celebrated my 59th birthday. Nearly a decade earlier I’d reached fifty filled with anticipation, excitement and threw an extravagant party. Five years later I greeted fifty-five with a sense of satisfaction and optimism after a period of big achievements at work. But from the moment I turned fifty-eight, I dreaded being fifty-nine. I saw it as an unwelcome milestone, a drum roll sent to dramatically reveal the big 60, glittering on the suddenly not-so-distant horizon. And I was very scared of being sixty.
It’s not that surprising. A year ago I was tired, jaded and close to burn out. I felt I was on the brink of sliding non-stop into old age with a shorter temper, thinner hair and diminishing energy. I was juggling a demanding job with caring for my increasingly frail parents. My husband, Andrew, had recently lost his father. His mum, who lived 100 miles away, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He himself lived with the after effects of late- diagnosed Lyme disease. Anxious, stressed and pulled in several directions, I was feeling less and less equipped to balance my personal life with my professional life and I could only imagine it getting more difficult. I was sure something would break and thought it would probably be me
Then both our mothers died, sooner than we’d expected and within half a year of each other. These two foundation-shaking events were devastating and eclipsed everything else for me and Andrew. They stopped our world and put it on pause for a while, but as we moved on and began to move forward, a new clarity emerged. Priorities shifted. The order of things began to fall into place. I started to move with the flow rather than resisting it and my eyes were opened to opportunity and change, though I can’t explain exactly how this happened. I’d been seeing a counsellor for a few months, and she had certainly helped me to reconsider my identity and to ask myself some starkly honest questions about me, my work, my relationships and my future. When mum died, the loss helped me answer those questions and put things in perspective. I’m sure it set off a chain reaction, because from that moment, my life changed.
There had been talk of a senior management restructure at work for months. All of us on the team knew there were big cuts to be made. I thought about it a lot. There were days when I desperately wanted to be in the firing line, other days when I hoped I’d dodge the bullet. Looking back, the very fact I was having those thoughts at all was an indication that it might be time for me to go, but I didn’t fully recognise it.
Then, one chilly October morning, just three days after my mother’s funeral, I walked into my boss’s office for a meeting about the proposed changes, fearing the worst, and I was right. Yet despite the news that my post would be deleted in the new structure, our conversation was positive and upbeat (all credit to my boss for that) and I walked out filled with a sense of liberation.
When you face redundancy at this stage of your life it can be devastating. For some, like me, what you do is who are - your identify is completely wrapped up with your work and status, a key to how you see yourself and how other people perceive you and behave towards you. Removing that piece of you is major surgery, and it’s life-changing.
My first reaction to the news was fear. Of course it was. Suddenly you find yourself on a cliff edge and you have to go forwards - to fly or fall. But that acute anxiety lasted only seconds, then something else - excitable, unsure, but full of anticipation - bubbled up. I wanted to physically jump for joy, right there in the Chief Executive’s office. He could see it happening in front of his eyes. My boss had given me the opportunity to take my life back, and a few months later, two days before my 59th birthday, I left my job of eighteen years and walked out into a brave new world - scared, energised and ready for a fresh start.
My professional and personal passion is culture and the arts. I absolutely believe that it is a transformational force. Culture can empower or enlighten a life at a deeply personal level, or sweep in on a spectacularly grand scale, making and changing places for a moment or forever. My work in this sector has been the motivating force in my life for 35 years, so how could leaving it all behind excite me, thrill me, reboot me?
My early jobs, straight out of university, were in bookselling and the BBC. I loved those jobs and knew I was privileged to have them, but I wasn’t ambitious in either. They were, I suppose, moving me along a route to somewhere else, but I had no idea where that might be and I didn’t really care. I remember the day that all changed, when a colleague told me that a wonderful old cinema in Leeds, the second oldest in the country, was having to close down. We hatched a plan to save it by organising a weekend festival to build public support and raise money. The idea took root and started to grow - soon it had turned into a week - long event, then two weeks. The council gave us £20k and persuaded a sponsor to match it. That was a lot of money back in 1985 and expectations were high. Thankfully the festival was a great success and the next year I left the BBC to run it full time. I thrived in that role for eight years, nurturing the Leeds International Film Festival as though it were my child. I suppose in many ways it was. It broke my heart to leave, but new opportunities beckoned, leading an organisation in Glasgow that supported and developed young Scottish filmmakers.
After that I moved back to my alma mater city, Manchester, to head up the northern branch of BAFTA. My next job, working for the Arts Council in Newcastle, was a dream - running the film, photography and literature department in an organisation that was helping drive massive change through culture-led regeneration. Hundreds of million pounds of investment transformed the Newcastle-Gateshead quayside; artist-led initiatives sprang up and flourished; talent across all the art forms was nurtured, supported and given a local, regional, national and international platform. They were exciting times and I witnessed, for the first time, the power of the public sector, working with partners, to reimagine, redefine and transform a city. I was completely inspired by this and wanted to spread the word, to do the same, somewhere else.
Which was when I became Head of Culture at Canterbury City Council. We bid to be European Capital of Culture, but quite rightly lost out to my home town, Liverpool. The bid, however, created ambition and momentum and over the next ten years we attracted millions of pounds of investment to the district. Culture transformed Canterbury, not least with a fabulous new theatre and a restored, extended, art museum in the heart of the city. Organisations thrived, festivals grew and new ones sprang up. Culture was placed right at the heart of the council’s vision, and that was reflected in my changing role. For a while I led on corporate communications alongside culture, and then a new department was set up bringing economic development, tourism and culture together - a powerful mix that was a catalyst for more change and investment. They were heady days, when anything seemed possible.
But times change and so do politics. A new government brought austerity. Local councils were portrayed as profligate and inefficient and made scapegoats for all of the world’s ills. My job changed again and again. My focus now was saving money as our budgets were cut, then cut again. And again. Investment in culture fell out of favour. This cycle is a normal part of life in the public sector, but it took me further and further from the things I loved. And those things - art, heritage, creative education, cultural industries, - needed fighting for more than ever. Add my growing frustration to the fact that I was tired, genuinely burning out, and it’s obvious why my redundancy turned into more of a silver lining than a cloud. I know it isn’t like this for everybody. I’m in a fortunate position. Being over 55, my local government pension was released when I was made redundant and even though it's much less than if I’d paid into it up to retirement age, it gives me a cushion and the means to live.
Many people facing a major life change like redundancy don’t have that, so I’ve a lot to be thankful for. I do still need to work, but I can think about doing it differently now. Maybe part time, maybe freelance. In that sense I’m lucky.
I feel in my gut that it’s time to go back to the cultural coal face, but though I’m full of energy and ideas, I worry that my age will count against me and I won’t be as interesting proposition as a younger person, hungry, ambitious and determined to make a mark. Me, thirty-five years ago. I still am that person of course, with the advantage of a lifetime of experience, but will others see that or just see an ageing facade? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I’ll be finding out pretty soon.
In the meantime, I’ve enrolled on a twelve-month photography course. It’s been my ‘hobby’ since I was given a Nikon for my 21st birthday, but over the years (and several cameras later), it’s been pushed into a mentally locked cupboard, waiting for a moment when I ‘have more time’ - and now I do. I also get to spend more time with Andrew, with my dad, and with my lovely bearded collies, Bella and Alice.
In terms of my professional life, I’m being proactive. I’ve accepted an invitation to join the board of The Marlowe Theatre. I led the project to rebuild it and it’s been an important part of my world for many years now, so I’m over the moon to be moving forward with it. To test my freelance wings I’ve taken on a couple of pieces of pro bono work for small cultural organisations. It’s a whole new way of working for me and though I’m not being paid, doing this will help my CV, while I’m helping them. And - most exciting of all - I recently managed a multimedia launch for my husband’s novel, Anatomised. It brought together some things I’m passionate about - literature, promoting creativity, being an advocate for art that has
something important to say. The buzz of producing a successful public event is hard to beat, particularly when it’s for something you’re so invested in. Afterwards, I felt the seed of an idea that’s not quite ready to bloom ...but I think that it might. For now, it’s just germinating, while I decide if it’s real or just wishful thinking. Again, I’ll find out if it’s got legs soon enough.
I’ve also talked to friends and colleagues who have ideas about possible future projects and opportunities, and I’m hoping one or two of them will bear fruit. If they don’t, I think there will be others because I’m full of optimism again and for the first time in a long time, my mind is completely open to opportunity and I’m excited to see where my road will lead next. I’m also realistic enough to know that it might lead nowhere, and then I’ll return to that germinating idea and try to build something right here.
Whatever happens - even if nothing happens - I can see now that over time, I lost myself in my job. Losing it has helped me find myself again, and no matter what comes next, that has to be a good thing.
Alfie Thomas plays the accordion and keyboards, sings backing vocals, and composes. Alfie was born in Middlesbrough to Belgian and Cockney parentage. He is a Soho resident and is part of the Society of Imaginary Friends.
What is your age?
Where do you live?
What do you do?
I am half of a creative partnership called the Society of Imaginary Friends, we write, record and perform music together, we write music for film and we hold two Soirees a month in Ealing and WoodGreen featuring the extraordinary talent of London's population our Ealing Soiree is held at the office where I work as a support worker for disabled people and their carers it is fully inclusive and inspiring. I have a boat on the river Thames which I escape too when my central London life gets too much.
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
It is a mixture of feeling more relaxed and more urgent. I feel very involved in the current state of our city and country and world and try to reflect this in everything I do. I am starting to discover new things about myself that were hidden or lost and this is very exciting but quite challenging.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
A history!... An understanding of human nature and a healthy scepticism but a relaxed love of the moment.
What about sex?
Sex is getting better all the time.
I am blessed with a gorgeous, intelligent, talented Goddess as my girlfriend, I don't know what I have done to deserve this but it's brilliant and she never ceases to surprise and amaze me.
How free do you feel?
It depends what time of day or what time of year it is but generally because I feel closer to understanding myself I feel freer than I have ever felt before.
What are you proud of?
Proud of my music, I am proud of my children's and my girlfriend's resilience to the challenges of this world and our capacity to stay true to ourselves.
What keeps you inspired?
Humanity, my extraordinary clients... carers who have given everything to look after a family member completely selflessly. Beethoven and Shostakovich.
When are you happiest?
On stage, by the sea, composing. Walking the streets of Clerkenwell with Louise.
And where does your creativity go?
Into the ether.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Be kind to each other, be truthful, live adventurously but don't be naive.
When I die there are a number of people that I am really looking forward to meeting and seeing again and others that I am going to be having some firm words with, generally I think it's going to be a fantastic party over the other side these words will come back to haunt me!!
Are you still dreaming?
Of course I am, my girlfriend and I always discuss our dreams her dreams are more lucid than mine, I can usually tell my psychological state by what I have dreamt the night before so it's a handy indicator.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Putting my middle finger up at a motorcade as they passed my car which I presumed to be our Prime minister but was later told by a police motorcyclist that it was the president of China and he was very upset! The policeman let me off with a caution as he was unhappy with our Prime minister as well..
The novelist, 56, on the health benefits of eating less and walking more When I was a child and my parents separated, I went on walking holidays with my dad. My rubric’s always been to walk from home – I’m not a rambler. It’s about a sense of being and place and engagement with the environment around me...