Shirley-Anne Field, Anita Harris and Anne Charleston have been familiar faces on our TV screens and are now touring together as they appear on stage in The Cemetery Club. I caught up with all three ladies to ask them about how they have embraced the second half of their lives. All three have incredibly positive, but very different outlooks regarding life after 50. They talk about how their lives have been transformed since turning 50, from relocating half-way round the world , embracing the freedom of emptynesting and taking to the stage as an actress, three lovely, inspirational ladies share their thoughts and philosophy on life after 50.
Shirley-Anne Field talks about her life after 50
How has life changed for you since turning 50?
I found turning 50 quite liberating. As a mother, and breadwinner I had an overwhelming responsibility to manage my acting career while ensuring my daughter was always well looked after – not easy to juggle when you are actress on tour or location. Once I had turned 50 and my daughter had left home I had the freedom to focus on my career. My relationship with my daughter is also better- she was always an adorable little girl but our relationship has not always been easy. You can only learn by watching. I never give my daughter advice, but hopefully I can show by example. I thoroughly enjoy my grandchildren and have many joyful moments with them. You don’t have the same overriding sense of responsibility with grandchildren as you have with your own children.
I am very lucky that I don’t put on weight. I don’t feel the need to constantly wear make-up when I’m not on stage – although when I went to watch the flotilla during the jubilee weekend I went bare faced – I caught sight of myself in a mirror later in the day and looked like a drowned rat and as white as a sheet- so perhaps a little make up would have been good for my morale!
Have you set yourself any new challenges since turning 50?
Well, one day I might mature and grow up! The only real goal I have set myself is to not turn grumpy as I age- as long as you have good health you have everything.
It would be nice to be able to choose only roles that I really want to do, as opposed to taking parts that pay the bills. A price I am now paying for my spendthrift ways earlier in life, but I was always the breadwinner so there was little opportunity to save. I was part of the 1950’s generation who expected a knight on a white charger to come along and take care of me- it never happened! I didn’t plan my finances well, but I have wonderful adventures to look back on which I would not swap.
What were your career highlights before and after 50?
I had an early start in film so for my early career I would have to say The Entertainer, or perhaps the War Lover with Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner. Around the time of turning 50 I was in Hear in My Song, where I could play all the things I liked best as a woman!
I love the fact that the Cemetery Club lets me use the Californian accent of an American I met in California when I was 22- her voice is still in my head and it’s great to ‘switch it on’.
I want to continue to make as many good films and be in as many good theatre productions as possible. I found The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel inspiring. It was lovely to see so many of my friends and contemporaries play wonderful parts. I would love to change perceptions about ageing!
The greatest impact for me in my 50s was losing both parents. I had a wonderful childhood and my parents were a key part of my life, as were my two great brothers. I miss my parents every day.
I also transitioned my career into acting. I spent one year at the Hampshire School of Drama in my youth and still meet up with fellow students, but it is lovely to benefit from the learning curve started when young. They were lovely people at the school and we had good teachers. I have been lucky throughout my life to work with people you can love. Working with Harry Secombe was like taking a master class in how to be a human being.
As a child I was always skating and dancing so exercise has always been a part of my life. Today my exercise is more gentle! I stretch every day, limber up – it keeps me flexible. It helps when travelling to have 20 minutes of yoga before a long drive.
I was never academic when young, so I see acting today as my intellectual challenge. I research for each play, understanding how the writer sees the play, the characters and what makes it work. Every night I have a responsibility to my fellow actors not to let them down.
I still sing- last Friday I was singing with the BBC concert orchestra.
Career Highlight before and after 50?
I was appearing on Top of the Pops and Dusty Springfield was appearing on the same show. She heard me sing and suggested I meet her brother as she thought he had a song which would suit my voice- it was Just Loving You and that song became the turning point of my career. I will always be grateful to Dusty.
I have a wonderful life. I love the adrenalin that kicks in 2 hours before going on stage. At the moment I’m in a wonderful play with a great cast and we’re staying together in a lovely place.
I think we all need daily challenges. I’m lucky that my theatre work provides me with the structure to go out every day. If I didn’t have this I would have to create the environment to meet people every day, even if just for a coffee.
I shall cherish the past but look forward. You can’t dwell on the past. My husband and I would have loved to have children, but we were not blessed with that gift- but we have many other things in our lives to be thankful for.
For me the time around my 50th birthday was a watershed. I had been brought up on stories about Ireland from my grandparents and fell in love with the west of Ireland when I visited. I decided to buy a cottage and left Neighbours. It was liberating to make a new start. My son was 20 and was planning to move to London at some stage. I decided that if I was going to face an emptynest I might as well create my own adventure.
I had offers of work in the UK and I decided I wanted to make my 300 year old cottage in Ireland my home. I have always wanted to live out in the country, but with a snake phobia the Australian countryside wasn’t quite the right place to do that!
My grandparents did things the other way round. They emigrated to Australia from Ireland – they never had the chance to return home. I’m lucky, I get to go back to Australia at least once a year.
Highlights over 50
My grandson gets top billing followed by my work, house and garden.
It’s more difficult to find well written roles, like the parts in the Cemetery Club. The theatre has a lot of interaction with the audience, unlike TV and film. The pressures are different. Touring with theatre productions taking all your around the country luggage with you can also be tiring.
I loved visiting Paris. Next year, once I’ve finished panto, I’m planning to go and stay there for 3 months. I want to live like a local, improve my French and pop into the local boulangerie. When in Paris live like the French!
Life on this planet is short so you have to enjoy every moment and make the very most of it. Here is no reason to be unhappy- you have to learn to laugh!
Many thanks to Shirley-Anne, Anita and Anne for talking to Fab after Fifty about life after 50. I felt as though I’d made three new friends after our chat and wished I was on tour with them!
Shirley-Anne, Anita and Anne are all appearing in The Cemetery Club, which opens at the Theatre Royal Windsor on July 16th. All images are from the Cemetery Club production