Jennifer has achieved three Guinness World Records in aviation, including being the first woman to circumnavigate the globe solo in a helicopter, having only learned to fly age 54. She has written three books about her experiences, and is also the illustrator of her daughter’s book ‘Just a bit Confucius.’
“I took up helicopter piloting in my 50s. My darling husband bought a half share in a helicopter which I thought was extraordinary given that neither of us were pilots! Never having had a thought in the world of being a pilot, off I went for my first lesson. I found out pretty quickly that it was quite chauvinistic which was a bit of red rag! Only 2% of pilots are women so I wanted to do something for the ladies but of course I was also going for the huge adventure. Three years after getting my license I headed off around the world with my instructor. And then three years later I went solo.
A lot of staying young is in your mind.
The best place I’ve flown has to be Antarctica – it hits all the highs and lows. Its so far from anywhere and the forces of nature are so huge – it’s a spiritual place really. The worst moment I had was when we crashed there. The helicopter was a write off – it was down to a series of miracles that we survived. Looking at the damage to the helicopter, It was hard to believe our frail human bodies came out of it. It put paid to that expedition – but then we did it again and succeeded. What had happened was so awful, it really was a healing process to start planning again. And I’m an optimist! That can be my best and worst trait.
A lot of staying young is in your mind. Obviously fitness and having horizons and projects all matter. Most of the stuff I do in aviation is with younger people which is stimulating. We’re all victims of our own personalities too and so much of that is in our genes – I just happen to be the type that never sits still.
We do live in ageist society – it’s all about youth really, isn’t it? Every so often people say ‘let me do that’ which makes me feel old. I’ve had to say enough is enough when it comes to doing desert marathons and things – but I shall keep on flying until I fail my medical, though I’ve got the big one out of my system. I’m still looking at some half marathons too. It’s always good to have something like that – it gets you out there.
Definitely now is the best age of my life. It would be very sad if it wasn’t. Other than one’s body letting one down a bit – I couldn’t be enjoying myself more. It’s a happy time when your children are grown up, you have extra time and the freedom to do some independent things.
Too often people dream of doing something but they don’t get on with it. So I would say the greatest thing I could pass on is to tell people to live their dreams and help other people live theirs.
You haven’t failed at anything until you’ve stopped trying.”