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Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

7th February 2017

Alan Grieve, 87

Alan, a former lawyer, is the co-founder and chairman of the Jerwood Foundation, a philanthropic organisation supporting the arts and education.

“My age doesn’t bother me. I treat everybody equally and expect the same in return. I never play the age card. We are all living longer because of medical innovation – and as that happens, there are more ailments. We’re all going to have some weakness eventually, so I don’t dwell on it. At 87, I’m very happy – I have a great working life and I hope I make a contribution to society.

The one quality you want in life – whether you’re a woman or man, aged 20 or 90, is good judgment.

John Jerwood was a client of mine when I was a senior partner at a London law firm.  I worked with him for a number of decades and in 1974 he gave me power of attorney over his assets; three years later we formed the Jerwood Foundation together. During his life John supported theatres and music in particular, so after he died I took the view that we could expand the education and arts interest he had into a wider sphere. We’ve given over £95m to education and the arts since we began.

Having been a commercial lawyer and a director of companies for many years, one of the things I wanted to do was to bring business discipline to sponsorship and charitable giving. When we saved the Royal Court from going bust, they said, ‘Jerwood gives you a hard time before you get the money, but once you get it, they let you run.’ That’s still the case now. With the lottery-funded Arts Council, they do their diligence before giving you any money but then they control you. For this reason, I ended up sending back a grant from them a few years back. I thought I might get into the Guinness Book of Records for returning money!

My father was a successful jute merchant and my mother was an aesthete, she was a bit unworldly. She lost a child before me so I was an only child, which I didn’t like. I was sent away to school aged eight, then Dunkirk came along in 1940 and we were evacuated so I ended up at Aldenham. I’d have liked to go somewhere bigger, I really enjoyed wide horizons.

I went to Cambridge University, which still amazes me. I don’t know how I got in. Most of the men there had been fighting in the war – they were very serious and didn’t do nonsense. In retrospect, I worked too hard at university and sometimes wish I’d had a bit of a wider lens there.  Cambridge offered much more than I took.

I was 28 when I first got married and we both should have known better. We were great friends but we were not right in marriage, though we had three great children together. My second wife is 17 years younger than me, so she was very generous in taking me on with all my baggage. I actually met her at a dinner with my ex-wife and it was a coup de foudre.  We had two children together and lived within a mile of my first family in Primrose Hill. It was known as the NW1 set back then. Even now, they are all friends and share things together.

Today, we live in Shropshire. Our house is in the hills and I run a small holding of a few acres and woods.  I love the countryside. The first swallow that arrives in the spring, for me, says everything. It’s new life, it’s nature. When I see the swallow on our weather vane – well, life is worth living.

As far as looking after myself goes, I eat healthily and swim and do exercises every morning. I also walk our dog – we have a lovely big Belgian Shepherd. I like routine, too. The law taught me to be organised. I know exactly what I have planned every day and I can’t bear any change of plan committees.

The one quality you want in life – whether you’re a woman or man, aged 20 or 90, is good judgment. Life involves risk, whether you like it or not, even if you’re just crossing the road, and good judgment gets you places.

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