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


Ageing, ageism, photography, stories

7th February 2017

Frances Dunscombe, 83

Frances was snapped up by Grey Model Agency aged 82 and has already appeared on the catwalk at London Fashion Week and in a photo shoot for Rankin’s Hunger magazine. In June, she will appear on ITV’s ‘Secrets of Growing Old.’

“I was born in Streatham, the fifth of six children, and we were quite poor, but respectable. I say this because London evacuees were always portrayed as dirty and scruffy. This certainly didn’t apply to us. We were always spruced up; my Mother used to make our dresses as well as my Auntie Florrie producing beautiful clothes from her second hand shop which was in Blackheath.

I wish only perhaps that I’d realised I was capable of more sooner in life.

We children were evacuated during the war and I eventually ended up in Llanelly, South Wales. Although my sister, Roma, was asked to stay with me, we were soon parted – she to one billet and I to another. So off I went on my own. Before evacuation, I’d been quite the entertainer; I used to stand on the kitchen table and imitate Shirley Temple! But separation from my parents deprived me of any source of encouragement, and, apart from being given large parts in school plays, there was nobody to recognise or nurture any possible talent.

My lack of qualifications left few options open to me when I left school at the age of 15, and I ended up working as a typist in the Midland Bank, Old Broad Street. We used to go out for morning coffee and it was in The Long Room, a coffee house, that I met Ralph who was a member of the London Stock Exchange. I didn’t realise it at the time but he had not long been out of the army where he had been captain and involved at ’D’ Day in Normandy.

Poor Ralph, I kept him waiting about five years until I agreed on a date to marry him. I only just made it in time – there were a few others waiting to step into my shoes. Ralph was a great character with a fine sense of humour and quick wit, which is what attracted me to him in the first place, although he couldn’t dance for nuts. He would sit smiling to himself as I twirled around in the kitchen even when he was in his 70s. Sadly, he suffered from vascular dementia for about seven years and died five years ago. He would be so pleased for me if he could see what I was doing today.

My only beauty regime is to wash my face in the mornings and cleanse at night. I never use soap – just water.

Grey Model Agency is doing a great thing for ageism. They are helping to bring older people out of the shadows and are showing us off. There’s sometimes an attitude towards older people who don’t conform of, ‘who does she think she is?’ For instance, when I first wore tight jeans, I received some strange glances from the locals. However, the fashion eventually caught on! Grey is helping to show that you don’t have to have one foot in the grave at a certain age.

I’d say I am still energetic. I mowed the lawn and played squash into my 70s and I still try to walk a lot. I eat plenty of fruit and veg and have half a glass of wine at lunchtime every day. I can’t sleep if I have it too soon before bed. My only beauty regime is to wash my face in the mornings and cleanse at night. I never use soap – just water.

I do have regrets – so I can’t really sing along with the Edith Piaf song – but then again, everything has worked out so well. My three grandchildren have given me the happiest days of my life. I wish only perhaps that I’d realised I was capable of more sooner in life. I heard Dame Carol Black saying something similar on Desert Island Discs the other day. There are so many avenues I could have taken.

My life motto is be positive.

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