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Shirlie Kemp talks about her artwork and Life after 50…

Interview by Ceri Wheeldon

Shirlie Kemp talks to Fabafterfifty about her life and reinvention in her 50s.

I fell in love with Shirlie’s artwork and asked so asked her to share with Fabafterfifty how her new career came about!

Shirlie is no stranger to reinvention having had to change career track very early on. Known as being part of pop duo Pepsi and Shirlie, and Wham! surprisingly Shirlie didn’t set out to have a musical career – in fact Shirlie had wanted to work with horses and was training to be a riding instructor when at the age of 17 she developed terrible hayfever- putting an end to her equestrian dreams. But as one door closed another opened…as Shirlie explains:

A change of career direction

“ Just as was having to rethink what I could do for a living my two friends George (Michael) and Andrew (Ridgely) were just starting to get serious about their music. Before I knew it I was part of Wham! It was all about timing and happened quite naturally.  As a child I always used to think I would love to be part of Pans People, but I never really thought I would be performing on Top of the Pops! It was all a whirlwind, and travelling the world with Wham! was the best experience. It was one of those opportunities that comes to you in life – but I don’t think I fully appreciated it until much later. None of us had any idea that Wham! Would be quite so huge!

After I while I was keen to get married . When the kids were small I had a passion for photos and was always getting them to dress up and pose as Victorian children in the woods, adding wings to their outfits to create magical photos – of course as they got older they were less keen to oblige! I stopped taking photographs and so let go of my creative side.

As the children got older I felt there was a hole in my life. I started to explore more spiritual things in my 40s such as shamanism and rebirthing. I have always been a strong visualiser and could see that I needed to be creative again. I started to create collage dream boards with a friend. Armed with my glue gun I started to create beautiful collages. I then started to create bags from vintage fabric and lace for friends birthdays . Creativity fed part of me as I was needed less by my children.

It was about this time that we built a studio in the garden for me to work from. It enabled me to create my own magical world. I found creating exhilarating and nurturing. I loved achieving something.

Fame does not lead to inner fulfilment.

I create the sort of artwork I would like to buy

I started to take photos of my creations, this time and ‘processed’ them so that the photos became more like paintings. I write about my creations and photos on my blog.  A friend suggested that I put them on canvass and sell them. It is rewarding to see my artwork now exhibited and sold in a gallery. I create the sorts of things I would like to buy. Some I can’t part with- and I would love to see my designs on a range of homeware- perhaps shower curtains and bedding – my style is romantic vintage- just in case anyone from Debenhams wants to get in touch!

I have an overactive imagination! When I was part of Pepsi and Shirlie we had our own range of clothes in Top Shop – we had no idea what a big deal that was at the time- I wish now that I had been a little more business minded and stayed with clothes design!

What advice would you give other women approaching,  or already in their 50s?

Tiny steps are so important

Take everything in around you. Tiny steps are so important. I know that my collages helped stave off depression when I was at a crossroads. Have hobbies. Boredom was my biggest fear. If you get bored you also become uninteresting.  We moved to the country – there are always new places to find and explore. Be inspired by new places around you. Look on the internet. Don’t be put off going to the gym – you need to look after yourself ! Keep your self esteem high. Don’t dress badly- have less but wear more.

If there is one book I would suggest every woman should read, it’s You Can  Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. A friend gave it to me to read when my husband Martin was ill will a brain tumour. I had 2 small children and I was terrified. You Can Heal Your Life really helped to look at my life differently and cope mentally.

I have a saying which reflects my philosophy in life: “Aspire to Inspire or Expire”.

A ‘fab’ philosophy to have !

You can find out more about Shirlie’s artwork and designs at Shirlie’s blog




Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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