— On a mission to change perceptions about growing older. Starring inspirational people over 70 —


Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

7th February 2017

Bobby Gill, 76

Bobby has taught at the London College of Printing and the Royal College of Art, where she was elected an Honorary Fellow in 2004. She now teaches from her own studio and continues to paint and exhibit in her own time.

“I’m very aware of how lucky I am to enjoy what I do. I notice people around me who are desperate to retire – especially people who come to my classes, they practically run in here from their day jobs! If you still love what you do, it’s easy to stay young. What creates the magic for me is the people who come through the door – their excitement and appreciation feeds your energy, which is what you can run out of as you get older. I’ll certainly go on working until I can’t any longer.

My best trait is perhaps a sense of humour, which helps one get through a lot of stuff.

Patience and a sense of humour help in teaching. In painting, I think just grinding on and not giving up is the secret. Painting is a rollercoaster. It is a very solitary occupation so it’s nice to balance it out with the teaching as I am quite gregarious – I enjoy other people a lot. On my teaching days I teach from 10am to 10pm so it’s quite full on! Essentially I am running my own business – I do everything from the finances to the cleaning!

Twice a year I also go away to paint for about five weeks at a time. I have a shack in the West Indies, and I really do mean a shack! It’s a little wooden structure with an outdoor toilet and an outside hose for a shower. When I come back I really appreciate a hot bath! I bought it back in the 80s. I’d gone out to Barbados on holiday and become ill so I stayed longer than planned and began to meet people. Gradually, I became part of the community, so it sort of evolved like that.

The rest of the time I live in London, in Notting Hill Gate – but it’s become so bloody trendy! I’m surrounded by bankers! When I first came in the 60s, it was great, with a wonderful mix of people and a certain element of danger. I don’t have much family other than my brother down in Devon so I have a lot of friends close by – many of whom are much younger than me.

I’ve enjoyed the last 25 years of my life the most – I feel like being self-employed and building something without being dependent on contracts or management has made me feel very strong and much happier as a consequence. I wasted years having acute anorexia. It took away a lot of the time when I should have been enjoying myself in my 20s and 30s. I wish I’d been able to find a way out of it more quickly. Thankfully I no longer have that burden which is perhaps why I am so enjoying later life. I still feel huge relief when I am faced with a plate of food that I can actually eat! I eat what I want, when I want. I also do absolutely no exercise, I don’t have the time!

My best trait is perhaps a sense of humour, which helps one get through a lot of stuff. My worst is self doubt – and unfortunately it has never gone away. When I was a student, I worked my arse off as I didn’t think I was good enough to be there. When I was top of the year I went along to the office and told them they must have made a mistake. And I did exactly the same more recently when I got an honorary fellowship at the Royal College.

We do live in an ageist society but I don’t really come across it in my life. My age doesn’t make a difference in my teaching or how I am treated. I feel I am doing as well as I ever did.

Perhaps the best piece of advice I could pass on would be not to wait for anything. Seize the moment and get on with it.

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