Advice for a long and stylish life, by Margot, 101

This black pendant was handed down to me by my Granny, Margot, years ago. It is one of my favourite and most worn pieces of jewellery. She has great style, which is just one of many remarkable things about her. Margot recently turned 101. Not only that, she is still fit and sharp and active at 101. Perhaps this makes perfect sense? You need to be in good shape to top a century on this mortal coil.

When I tell people about her they often joke ‘ask her what her secret is’. So I have tried to. These are just some snippets from a recent conversation we had. I could write a book about her, but we’ll start here…

Margot Neill OBE on her 101st birthday
Celebrating turning 101

Not a biography, but a bit of history

Margot’s a Londoner and was born in January 1917. After leaving school, she worked at Heals (the legendary interiors store on Tottenham Court Road), and then at John Lewis on Oxford Street. This was her job when World War 2 broke out. She was a manager in the lighting department, which she says was “enormous” and stocked grand chandeliers. But in September 1940s she arrived for work one morning to find that the shop had been bombed and destroyed by fire. Not long after that, she joined the WAAF, the women’s air force. This took her first to Wales, and then to Northern Ireland where she worked in Fighter Command. They sent Spitfires out over the Atlantic to escort boats safely into our waters. While she was there she met my Grandad and settled in Belfast.

A portrait of Margot Neill OBE when she joined the Women's Air Force during WW2
A portrait of Margot during WW2

Even with a young family, she says that she was always “selfish” and pursued her own interests. She worked in business and then in her 60s chaired the Equal Opportunities Commission in Northern Ireland, trying to implement the first equal pay laws. Her retirement has lasted almost as long as I have been alive, which is mind-blowing.

What’s your secret Margot?

When I told Granny that some friends were keen to hear her advice on how to live a long and healthy life, her off the cuff response is to “pick good ancestors”. Good news for me.

She paused for a moment, before offering a few more ideas.

“I really don’t know, I really don’t. You don’t set out in life to live this long. Well maybe some people do, but I’ve never been a health fanatic if you know what I mean. I’ve got other things to think about”.

“I’ve not abused myself, I’ve never been a big drinker, I had the odd party now and again, but I have never consumed a lot of alcohol which is a good thing”.

She also advises steering clear of milk, but I think that we can put that down to the eccentricities of old age. “I don’t know what they put in milk” was the only explanation. Noted Granny.

A life lived in moderation

Margot’s always been very social and involved in the world around her, but you would not call her a party animal. “I’m not a person where any form of frivolity has ever ruled my life in any way. Some people live for going out, but I wasn’t born in a time where people did that, we just went out for special occasions”.

If I live to be anywhere near 100 years old, I plan to chuck out the rule book and start eating chocolate and kettle chips for breakfast. Granny on the other hand, still watches what she eats, “I’ve been through the years where we had very little food. Wartime, and then after the war. We had food rationing, your generation would not believe what we ate. It informed my eating habits for the rest of my life”.

“We used to walk too. A tremendous amount. All of my life. It’s all exercise”. But she doesn’t believe in running (like her granddaughter).

Margot Neill OBE on her 101st birthday
Cheers Granny, I think that your 101st birthday qualifies as a special occasion

Self Care pioneer

I have many of my own theories as to why Granny is what she is. For example, she would not have the remotest notion what Self Love or Self Care is but I think she’s always followed its principles. Just in her own pragmatic, utterly non-fluffy way.

She would never apologise for taking time for herself. Back the day, Sunday mornings were always her own. She would disappear into the bathroom and spend time on beauty maintenance. Doing her nails, a face mask, having a soak.

Another great quality she has for keeping herself sane? Never, ever overcommitting. While I run around every single bloody day trying to fit in six tasks too many, Granny would just say no. Perhaps she had an inkling she’d have a hundred years to get everything done?

Read about my first 3 months in the blogging business

A century in style

Margot is so chic. She looks impeccable, always. Even nowadays each outfit she wears will be set off by a piece of statement jewellery. I would have loved to get her to talk more about her style secrets, but she wouldn’t be drawn other than to say “I’m a great believer in dressing for the occasion”. Looking messy, she says earnestly, is “not good news”.

A 3 string pearl necklace, photographed by Helen Perry
Always in fashion, a stylish heirloom

Another little tip? She absolutely swears by Boot No7. They should take her on as a brand ambassador.

I hope to bring you more Margot Moments in future. Let me know if there is anything that you would like me to ask her.

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14 Comments

  • What a lovely piece and what a fantastic character! I’d like to hear lots more from Margot. What does she like about the modern world? How does she feel women’s lives have changed since she was a young woman?

    • Hi Mandy, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it. I’m not sure I could even begin to do her justice here but thank you so much for reading, I enjoyed writing it. And have taken note of your questions for when I next see her 😉 Helen xx

  • Hi
    I’ve absolutely loved reading about Margot.
    I’m always intrigued by the wonderful ways and views of ladies who’ve reached just fabulous ages.

    Simplicity seems to be key and taking time out for yourself and saying no !
    We all know we should do this … but rarely do.
    I’m totally with her on the milk front ✌🏾

    Thanks for sharing this ❤

    • Hi Gemma, thanks so much for reading I’m glad that you enjoyed it. I loved taking some time to ask her a few big questions, another thing we rarely do. She’s a legend. I’m keeping my milk though 😉 Hxx

  • Awww I absolutely love this post Helen! What a fantastic and fascinating account of Margot’s life. I love the attitude of her generation, in fact, it reminds me of something I read literally yesterday, which I will try to send you, as it really rings true with what Margot said about moderation and not being frivolous. Such a lovely post 😊
    Xxx Sam

    • Hey Sam, thanks for the lovely comment and your support as always. Whenever I have a conversation with Granny it always leaves me with lots to think about. She has always had great judgement. Thank you for passing on the article, just going to read it now. Lots of love, Hxx

  • Aww, this has been both inspirational and heartfelt to read! My nan lived until she was 100 years old and some of the advice that your Granny Margot has given here is very similar to that of my nan – such as not drinking alcohol to excess and walking everywhere – my nan never learned to drive so she walked everywhere or got the bus!! It would be great to see Margot Moments feature on your blog again in the future, I am sure we can all learn something from her many years of life experience!

    • Hi Juliana, Granny mentioned buses too :). I love to walk but sometimes jump in the car just to save time (see; over-committing myself!). Aren’t we lucky to have had them around for so long? Good ancestors. Hx

  • Such a thoroughly heartwarming piece. I really enjoyed reading that. I think every woman could take something very positive from Margot’s advice and from her life. She sounds like a very strong woman. I think strength goes a long way. Being a woman means you are often pulled in many directions. It takes a great deal of strength to remain true to who you are and try to carry out all your other responsibilities as well.

    • Thanks Jools, always lovely to see one of your comments here :). Granny is unwavering, which is a natural quality she possesses, but I think she could teach us all a thing or two. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed reading it, I enjoyed writing it very much. Lots of love, Hx

    • Hi Victoria, thanks for stopping by always love to see one of your comments :). Late 90’s is a grand old age indeed, hard to imagine really isn’t it? All of the changes they lived through…Hx

  • Lovely article … I note Margot was born in January…. if I were prone to believing in starsigns I might mention that Capricorns are the “mountain goats” of the zodiac – tenacious, hard working, ambitious, organised and often live very long lives…. if I were prone…

    • Hello Loz, I blummin’ love you. We may mock, but your (the stars) assessment is spot on. Thanks for stopping by :0 H xxxx

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