Jun 15, 2015

what's the secret to looking this good at 81? Nina Snelling thinks it's because she's never got married!

Nina Snelling (pictured) is 81 but says people frequently think she's in her fifties, she says she likes to use her surprising age to make conversationNina (pictured in 2014) says barely a day goes past when someone doesn't balk at her age

How old do you think I look? Go on, be honest. I’m used to people refusing to believe me when I tell them, so take a good long look.

I’ll let you in on a few vital statistics. I’m 5ft 4in, a tidy size 12 and not only is that long blonde hair you see all mine, but you won’t find a grey hair in it. I haven’t grown one yet.

I’ve also never had plastic surgery, Botox, fillers or tooth whitening.

I am, however, the proud mother of one daughter, who is grown up now — my figure snapped back after giving birth.My slight, Bambie-esque ankles are prizewinning, as is the rest of my body — I’ve entered beauty pageants in the not-so-distant past — and my eyes are the same clear blue as when I was a teenager.

My body is in full working order and I’m as lithe and limber as I’ve ever been, with no health complaints or problems to speak of. And yet I’m 81: one year older than Judi Dench, three years older than Vanessa Redgrave and old enough to be a great-grandmother ten times over.

I’ve been able to collect my pension and enjoy a free bus pass for over two decades and, two years into my ninth decade, I’m older than many trees in the village where I live near Woodbridge in Suffolk, and most of the houses, too.

If you still won’t believe me, you are one of many. I have spent much of my life appearing decades younger than my age.

Most people assume I am in my 50s. Some (in bright sunlight) put me at 60, but no one gets much closer than a couple of decades south of the truth.
Nina (pictured in 1953) says her body is still in full working order and she is as lithe and limber as she has ever been with no health complaints or problemsNina (pictured) first noticed she was 'missing the ageing gene' three years after having her daughter, age 31, when she was entering beauty pageants and passing for a woman in her early twenties

Barely a day goes by when someone doesn’t balk at my age. It happens everywhere: in supermarkets, out clothes shopping, at the doctor’s.

It took an eternity to persuade a stand-in doctor at my local surgery not long ago that I was who it said I was on his notes. He looked baffled and told me I had the blood pressure of a 24-year-old and looked not more than twice that.

If I slip into a dull conversation with someone at a party, or who I have just met, I just ask them to guess my age. No one has a clue and, I must confess, I love to shock.

Better yet, men still pay me considerable attention. I was in a food hall recently when one man who was, I’d guess, in his 50s came up to me and asked me whether I came here often and would I like to go on a date with him. I said no, but it was flattering to be asked.

While my contemporaries hobble around with walking sticks, Zimmer frames and deep lines, I prance along, a youthful colt in comparison. In fact, the only part of me that has changed with time is my stomach (now thicker) and a few wrinkles on my arms but those are easy enough to cover up.

So what’s my secret?

I’ve turned this question over and over again. While I have considered the idea that I might have a ‘youth gene’ — only the other day scientists said they’d found one that gives you great skin — that can’t be the whole story.

My father, William, an ex-telephone operator, died aged 94 and was an incredible man. My piercing blue eyes come from him. He had a brilliant brain and was incredibly attractive and people say I am just like him. But that’s just one side of the family. Sadly, my mother, Hilda Jane, died suddenly at just 54.

But if my family history can’t explain my youthfulness, what can?

I always arrive at the same answer: my marital status.

Despite five marriage proposals and my fair share of boyfriends, I have never said yes or even been tempted to stick with one person for life. Put simply, I am happy being single.

Bypassing the stress of living with a man or being married to the wrong one is what I think has kept me looking young.

I see friends racked with worry about what they should or shouldn’t do, always having to ‘check-in’ and ask for permission to do things, but I’ve never had to deal with any of that.

I eat when I like, get up when I choose, buy what and I want and speak to whoever and go wherever I like.

I refuse to be a slave to routine and can spend seven hours in the garden of my little Ipswich home without anyone telling me I should be anywhere else. It’s blissful.

Stress ages you. Women are the most stressed they’ve ever been, juggling careers, families and home life all at once. I’ve never been tied down and I’ve always known I could walk away from a relationship at any moment.

I had my daughter Virginia during the Sixties (she’s now 53), when it was a terrible thing to fall pregnant outside of wedlock. Her father wasn’t the right man for me so I raised her myself. We juggled along, I brought her up strictly and now I couldn’t be more proud of her.

I don’t pretend that life is easy for single mothers, and I know the stability of a happy marriage can give your children a great start in life. But I think I’m proof that single mums can do a terrific job too — there’s more than one way to raise a child.

Even when I was seeing a handsome, wealthy Army captain in 1982 when I was 48, with a 20 year-old daughter living at home to look after, didn’t want to settle down, despite his best efforts and pleading.

Of course, there are a million admirable reasons to get married, and most couples are very contented, but I have found I am happiest on my own. That happiness shows in my looks.

And don’t think I’m the kind of single woman who spends all her life in beauty salons.

I am living proof that money isn’t necessary to look younger. My pension, after years working in admin for a government organisation, covers the basics but little more. I don’t have spare cash to pour into beauty therapists’, nail technicians’ or a facialists’ pockets.

I visit the hairdresser once a year for a cut and highlights. They have yet to find a grey hair, which must be down to good genes.

My skin routine is simple but strict — I never use tap water on my face. The water where I live is hard, which means it has a high mineral content and dries my skin out quickly. Instead, I use Boots No.7 cream cleanser, wiped on cotton wool around my face and neck, and a toner afterwards by the same brand.

I have breakfast and give my pores a chance to breathe before using L’Oreal Age Perfect moisturiser an hour later. I cleanse again before bed.

Make-up is a simple affair too; I don’t need much. Coating on eye shadow and blusher when you are past a certain age doesn’t peel back the years, in fact, it can make you look older and, more often than not, mascara is enough. The only product I splash out on is a Dior Capture Totale foundation, which matches my skin tone perfectly and costs £62.

This might come as bad news, but I don’t drink or smoke and never have. I pour a glass or two of wine at Christmas and that’s all. I find the smell of smoke vile and drinking has always made me quiet and subdued, something I am not naturally. Most people drink to be sociable but I am only sociable if I don’t drink. Perhaps that has something to do with it to.

I walk to stay fit, at least eight miles a week, and am constantly busy, shopping, visiting friends or gardening. I’ve never needed to diet but I don’t eat yeast because I worry that too much can interfere with digestion. That means, buying a £5.50 loaf of spelt bread and lots of oat and spelt cakes. It works for me and I’ve never suffered with stomach problems.

The first time I noticed I was missing the ageing gene was three years after having my daughter, Virginia when I was 31. I saw local beauty pageants advertised around our then home in Kent and decided to enter for fun.

I had a natural flair for it but everyone else was in their late teens or early twenties so I started knocking OFF ten years on my applications. No one batted an eyelid. It taught me how to stand, pose and be photographed too, something that has never left me.

I walked around in one-pieces for ‘Girl of the Year’ competitions, came first in a calf and ankle contest, where entrants had to stand behind a board and judges could only see us from the knee down, and did my fair share of modelling.

I still entered the odd beauty competition in my 50s, pretending I was in my thirties. Miraculously, no one said anything.

Nowadays, choosing the right clothing is a vital weapon against looking elderly. I reuse and rewear everything I can from my younger years. At home I have three bedrooms bulging with outfits, fur coats and long dresses.

People shouldn’t feel they have to dress as others expect and being over 60 doesn’t mean obligatory pleated midi skirts and slippers. I still wear tight denim trousers, small T-shirts and beautiful bras. How you dress mirrors how you feel, and women should have fun with what they put on. I would love to still be modelling and doing something like Twiggy does at Marks & Spencer — I’m just waiting to be discovered again.

Aged 81, I have more than earned the right to dress and be how I want and it’s depressing that long before women reach middle age, they are sidelined by popular culture, ad campaigns and the fashion industry.

While I’m grateful I don’t look my age, I’m aware of the intense pressure to look young. All women are programmed to care deeply about aging and every year that goes by, I worry more and more about lines, wrinkles and getting older. How much longer I will look like this? They say age is just a number but, more importantly, it is your mindset.

If that’s the case, I will hang on to my optimism for far longer than my long blonde hair.