What happened when eight famous women followed in the footsteps of Shirley Valentine, from the 1989 film of the same name starring Pauline Collins, seeking romance and fulfilment in Greece? Three of them reveal all to Radio Times.
59, counsellor and psychotherapist, former presenter and I’m a Celebrity.. contestant
I’m a bit of an empty-nester — my daughter is 31 and my son went to university in September, so I thought, “Gosh, it’s the first time I’ve been away to enjoy myself for years.” My son has special needs and I’m a single parent, so it has been quite a long haul — and opportunities like this for women my age don’t come along very often
I’ve been working as a counsellor and psychotherapist and have my own practice. I love the work but I wasn’t balancing it with anything else. I’d get home tired and just watch TV, eat dinner and go to bed. It’s easy to sit at home watching box sets and lusting after Poldark. It’s harder to try new things, but gosh it’s more rewarding!
There’s a huge cultural gap for people over 50, until you get properly old. We really value youth in this country. Elsewhere, women my age are celebrated, but here we are supposed to disappear, or look after our grandchildren, or keep quiet. I’m from a generation where we were wearing Doc Martens with full gowns, we were working mothers, and it’s not our style to fade away and go invisible. You go from Elle magazine to Saga — there’s nothing in the middle. And there are no TV programmes for our age group. It’s like an abyss, but I’m not ready to give up.
In Greece, we’d do yoga every morning with Aggie [MacKenzie, star of How Clean is Your House?], and we tried all sorts — I had a go at teaching English as a foreign language. We would “mysteriously” bump into single men, and hear they wanted to go on dates with us, which was interesting. I had to go speed dating, which is grotesque — not my thing at all! But I remembered how much I loved dancing; I’ve been twice since I came home.
I might not have found lasting love, but my confidence levels have gone up, and my “don’t care” levels have, too. I watched the final sunset on my own, and during that moment I realised that I keep myself small, because I never want to upset anybody, I don’t want people’s jealousy. I’ve been downplaying myself throughout my life, and it’s silly and pointless and wrong; I decided to let that behaviour go down with the sun. I don’t care what anybody else thinks. I don’t mind looking nice in a dress — I won’t downgrade myself just so nobody hates me for being thin and 59!
Pauline Collins as Shirley Valentine in the 1989 film
60, broadcaster and former weather presenter
When my husband left me just over three years ago, all my friends were brilliant, but my female friends were especially so. My God, if only we could have more female bonding in the world. My divorce confirmed to me that women together are pretty damn unbeatable.
The experience of being on the island changed my take on my marriage ending because it was refreshing to have a more objective point of view from people who didn’t know me and my former husband. They were able to point things out that I had shoved under the carpet. They were able to say, “Siân, your ex-husband — you were his third wife, his third divorce… that’s a bit of a pattern, isn’t it?”, whereas our friends might not have pointed out that I was just one in a string of women.
I learnt a lot on the trip, and from the other women. Nancy [Dell’Olio’s] confidence is supreme — she knows how to say no. We all took a bit of Nancy away with us. Melinda is so wise and full of insights. We all talked about everything from breakfast to children, from lipstick to the meaning of life. I said several times, “Why are these women not on TV more?” We all know how ageist and sexist TV really is — let’s hope a show like this is the beginning of a new attitude towards women like us.
We talked a lot, but we were busy too, often getting up at six in the morning, doing activities, shearing sheep, running a taverna for the night. It was bliss having that feeling of companionship because, being single, that’s what I do miss. This is virtually the only time in my life I’ve not been in a relationship so it was wonderful to realise there were always someone to chat to. This trip was the antithesis of Love Island — I’m open to a relationship but you have to be pretty damn special to interfere with the life I have got at the moment.
The other women and I decided we’re all going to live together in the winter of our lives. I can see it working because open, broad-minded woman with integrity can do so much good and I thought the strength displayed by these women was quite special — as a group even more so.
47, presenter and former model
Living on the island with all the women was wonderful — it was mind-blowing. I thought it might be a struggle, because I like time on my own, but it was lovely. I’ve been studying psychotherapy for the last four years, so I’m always juggling studying with working, and my three teenage children, so life’s pretty busy.
There’s so much less pressure out there, there’s more of an emphasis on family and friends, which I really value. I think most people would benefit from a slower pace of life. It was so nice to calm down and be in nature — you’ve got the ocean, you’ve got mountains, it gets to you in a way that’s hard to explain. It forces you to re-evaluate your time and stresses. It’s always been a bit of a dream to move abroad in the future, and maybe set up a wellbeing centre somewhere. I’ve always had mind blocks telling me, “You couldn’t do that”, or “That would be too difficult”. But now I realise that it’s fear and insecurity that stop you trying things, and maybe I could start a new life somewhere else. Time is the only thing we have that is finite, and this has made me ask myself, “Am I working towards the things that I want in life, am I living the life I was meant to live, or am I just following a pattern?”
All my adult life I’ve been in a relationship, until now. I’m about a year and a half out of a relationship that was quite challenging, and I’ve really valued this time on my own because I’ve never had it before. It’s good to have space, and be able to give time to my kids without any distractions. I was hesitant to go on any dates — I’m date-phobic! — but I’m so glad that I did; it broke a fear barrier. It was so nice to meet somebody without having the expectation that it has to mean something or go somewhere long-term. Really, it’s just getting to know someone.
Our Shirley Valentine Summer airs on Thursday 19th July at 9.30pm on ITV