Rita Gilmore runs The First & Last, a restaurant on Alderney in the Channel Islands. When she’s not running up and down the stairs serving customers, she sings in a choir and models for her local dress shop.
“I was born and bred in dear old Devon but I ended up here in Alderney after they bought the breathaliser test to the mainland. Overnight, the pub I was running with Morris, my husband-to-be, collapsed as nobody could reach us without a car. Eventually, we found a pub for sale here – it was a broken down old dump but it was cheap, so we made the move and luckily it was a success. I was only about 35 at the time. Since then, we bought this property and created the First & Last restaurant – and here I am, still running it, aged 84.
Morris had a massive heart attack at 74, even though he was as fit as a fiddle. When you lose your partner, there’s a big void and you have to make the decision to start a new life for yourself. We got along extremely well, even though I hated the sight of him at the beginning! He was short and stocky and I was taller than him, especially in my heels, but kindness and a sense of humour are far more important and he had both of those in spades. He absolutely loved life. I still believe the secret to a happy marriage is lots of sex, but I look at older men today and think good grief, I couldn’t dream of dating again!
I still believe the secret to a happy marriage is lots of sex!
After Morris died, I chose to carry on the restaurant and I think it has been good for me. I work here every day. People know who I am and there’s a real family feeling. The stairs here have kept me physically fit, too. There are 16 of them and I am up and down them every five minutes. I’ve kept trim because of that although I’ve always looked after myself. I am not a drinker and I don’t smoke. I used to when I was young, mind you – I’m not a stick in the mud! I still love a glass of bubbly, but in the restaurant business you can’t afford to get drunk out of your mind. I also add up all the bills longhand – I don’t use a calculator, as I want to keep my brain active.
I actively choose to enjoy being 84 as I realize how lucky I am to be fit – lots of my friends are dropping off the perch, which is sad. I know I have to make the most of my remaining time. My restaurant is very important to me, but my second-in-command who’s been with me for 40 years, is moving back to the mainland this year so I think perhaps I’ll throw in the towel. I’ll find something else to do though – I’m not going to become a doddery old fool. I belong to a choir on the island and it’s super – we’ve just been to Guernsey for the weekend to sing, which was great fun. I’ve also got friends in their 30s and 40s too who invite me for Sunday lunches and things – it’s good to mix with younger people. I think they like me for the stories I tell.
I think people admire me for still doing what I do and looking the way I look.
I think people admire me for still doing what I do and looking the way I look. I am not a pretty woman by any means but I make the most of what I’ve got and I dress accordingly. You can’t let yourself go when you’re older. I often look at people younger than me and think how much better I could make them look! I have my hair done every week, I wear makeup every day and I even do modelling for the local dress shop.
I’ve never regretted anything as I’ve had lots of fun and I’ve crammed everything in. Lots of bad things have happened of course, but I’ve tried hard and changed my luck. You’ve got to make the most of life, no matter what it throws at you. If you’re miserable nobody wants you; you really have to make up your mind to have a bit of a laugh and be happy otherwise you become a strain on people.
My life motto? Never feel sorry for yourself and never give in.