Getting older, growing younger Essay


Strangely enough, it was the rebellious Christina, Queen of Sweden
who abdicated and shocked all Europe, who said: “To live and to
die beautifully is the Science of Sciences.’

Everybody has to grow old; that is inevitable, but with modern
Science and modern thinking there are people who, despite their age,
appear to become younger year by year.

The most discerning man in New York, with a very critical eye,
telephoned me two days ago and said he had just seen Lillian Gish and
Claudette Colbert and they both looked “fabulous.’

No older person will ever forget how entrancing Lillian Gish looked
in the film Birth of a Nation. Her sensitivity, her sweetness and
fragility were like a light in the darkness.

And now at 87, she’s still beautiful.

Claudette Colbert, a few years ago, told the secret of her eternal,
spiritual fascination. When a columnist asked her: “What keeps
you looking and feeling so young?’ She answered: “Not
worrying about looking and feeling so young!’

She is now 76 and she also explained why her marriage to an ear,
nose and throat specialist lasted for 32 years.

“A wife,’ she said, “should not bore her husband
with her petty ills. He never knew what picture I was in from one year
to the next.’

Last year I was on Katie Boyle’s “This Is Your Life’
television show. Among her other friends I found Evelyn Laye, whom I
had not seen for ages. At 83 she looked wonderful and was still acting.
How beautiful she was and how brilliantly she sang in Bitter Sweet, both
in New York, where she stopped the show night after night, and later in

Today she still has that charisma which is ageless.

When in 1978 I sang An Album of Love Songs with the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra, I said to my producer Norman Newell: “All
I want is to be able to hear myself when travelling in a very fast

The only two singers I can hear at more than 70 miles an hour are
Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. Their elocution is marvellous and so is
their appearance. At 66 Frank Sinatra has a benign look and his blue
eyes still twinkle beguilingly. While at 71–the seventh son of a
seventh son–Perry Como’s records are both romantic and relaxing.

I have said in my Will that his rendering of I Believe is to be
played at my funeral.

Looking over the world one can find many people whom “age has
not withered.’ When I first visited Jaipur and its Pink Palaces in
1958, the Maharajah and his wife, Ayesha, acknowledged to be the most
beautiful woman in the world, were like two people out of a fairy tale.

Today the Rajmata, at 64, still has a loveliness which is as
haunting and irresistible as the East. Hers is certainly not just a
“pretty face.’ She was the first Maharanee to be elected as a
Member of Parliament and she travelled thousands of miles electioneering
over sun-baked India in a Landrover. She beat her opponent by 750,000

She now helps her son, the present Maharajah, to run the Palaces at
least one of which has become an hotel and to bring the age-old customs
of Jaipur up to date.

In the summer I entertained Queen Farida of Egypt. She has
established herself as an artist, and at 62 she has the same beauty and
fascinating smile which at 16 made the then slim and handsome
18-year-old King Farouk fall madly in love with her. She told me:
“Ours was a passionate love marriage!’ I was so annoyed that I
had not put them in my book, Romantic Royal Marriages.

Queen Farida bore three daughters before the marriage was dissolved
because King Farouk wanted a son. He still loved her so much, however,
that he decreed that she was always to be called “Queen of

“I love like an Englishman, think like a Frenchman, and write
like a Russian,’ says Peter Ustinov. At 62 his looks, like his
wit, have improved with age! It is intriguing to learn that his father
was a chef, and his mother a midwife of the Tzars.

What I am leading up to is: What keeps all these people looking
young and feeling young?

I remember when I was six thinking that my grandmother was very
old. She certainly looked it. Although she was a very handsome woman
she wore in the daytime a purple velvet dress trailing on the floor,
with a collar of real lace.

I now realize that she was 52 at the time, which today we all of us
definitely consider young!

This makes me certain, from my own experience, that age begins in
the brain.

When I was a County Councillor for Hertfordshire for nine years, I
started, in 1955, making a great deal of fuss about Council Homes. At
that particular time, all over England, old people were more or less
neglected. They went into Homes which in many cases were converted
workhouses, and they just sat and waited to die. There was practically
no occupational therapy, no visitors, and of course, very little
television to encourage their brain to remain active. Their only
occupation was to fight fiercely for their favourite chair, holding it
against all comers.

It was then I realized that age was in the mind, and if one
“thought’ old, one became old.

What it really comes down to is keeping your brain active, and
taking an intelligent interest in new ideas, new projects and new
activities. That is the first stage towards keeping young and repelling
the senility of which we all, if we are honest, are afraid.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma used to say to me over and over again:
“I don’t want to live so long that I become useless.’

What I think was at the back of his mind was the haunting horror
that he might one day become like that great and famous man Sir Winston
Churchill in the last years of his life.

I knew Sir Winston first in 1922 when his brain was like a chamois jumping from rock to rock and whenever he was at a party he activated
everybody else. In fact, as I have said of so many different leaders,
when he came into a room, the tempo rose.

All his life, until the last few years, he had the marvellous
facility of making people around him feel more alive as they responded
to his magnetism.

I am completely convinced that the only reason in the end why he
became a poor, fumbling old man not realizing what was happening around
him was that his doctor–as he acknowledged later in his biography–gave
Sir Winston a sleeping pill every night.

When I was in Leningrad in 1978 I went to talk to some scientists,
as I always do when I visit other countries, and I asked: “What
are you working on?’

“The brain,’ they replied.

“So am I!’ I said.

They were very excited because they had women of 90 who were doing
a full day’s work–and I am sure a full day’s work in Russia
is a full day’s work!

At the time they were recommending Vitamin B15 combined with
Ginseng, which they told me was fantastic. I was so impressed I
persuaded the scientists in England to make up the same formula when I
returned home.

I am quite certain that in Russia the women who were being treated
did not receive and could not buy the millions of tranquillizers,
sedatives and sleeping pills which are more or less forced upon the
public in Western countries, including, to a certain extent, America.

Last year we, the tax-payers of Britain, spent 40,000,000 pounds of
the money that went to the National Health Service on diazepam (under
the brand-name Valium) alone. With this figure we could have bought
four jet fighters for our safety and freedom.

I answer 10,000 letters a year from all over the world, and a very
great number of them beg me to tell them how to “get off’ (as
they put it) diazepam, chlordiazepoxide and nitrazepam (marketed in the
U.K. as

Valium, Librium, Mogadon) and a whole range of drugs. These, they
tell me, seem to be making them feel more apathetic, more depressed and
more nervous than when they first started taking them.

This is the terrifying effect of sedatives, and many are also
accumulative and addictive.

I must add one thing: I have never known a doctor tell any patient
that all these drugs ruin and inhibit one’s sex life.

I get pathetic letters from women saying they have been very happy
with their husbands and although they were getting older they were
always able to make love continually and satisfactorily, until suddenly
it has stopped.

I find the alteration invariably comes from the fact that one of
them has been given a tranquillizer of some sort by the doctor.

All tranquillizers and sedatives kill sex!

This, I believe, is something that should be publicized so that
everybody is aware of it.

While I am talking of things that affect the brain, I must mention
that Aspirin, which is so freely publicized on the television, can be
just as dangerous as any tranquillizer. One of our famous Statesmen had
a bleeding ulcer which came from taking too much Aspirin. Overdosage
can also cause a loss of hearing, and undoubtedly encourages kidney

Also women often say to me: “I can’t think what is
happening! My hair is getting so thin, and I have a bald patch on the
top!’ Sure enough, they are taking Aspirin, which in my opinion
seriously affects the amount of Vitamin B and Vitamin C in the system.

Actually, taken in large quantities during pregenancy, Aspirin can
produce a deformed child, and yet very few people are told that!

In just the same way, we have only recently learned that smoking
can affect not only the person who smokes, and give them lung cancer,
but also the people with whom they come in contact–their wives, their
husbands, their children and even those who share an office with them.

This information is now reaching the general public, and women who
smoke while they are pregnant have seen on television the terrible
dangers to the baby’s growth, health, and even life. They should
be aware that 2,000 newborn babies died in Britain last year because,
among other things, their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

All these dangers are something that our brain has to understand
and absorb.

There is in fact so much for the average person to remember in
their efforts to keep young and healthy in a world that has been
polluted by chemicals, that it is quite difficult to realize the dangers
we all of us run every day.

Thank goodness Preventive Medicine has suddenly come to the fore.
When Prince Charles praised it in a speech the other day I was so
thrilled because to me it has been a personal fight. At last people are
beginning to realize the difference Preventive Medicine can make to the
ordinary person who wants to keep well.

None of us really wants to live to be over a hundred, but we do
want to “live young,’ and that is possible if, to start with,
we “think’ right.

Scientists have been telling us for years that we use only ten per
cent of our brain, and it is possible to make one’s brain improve
and enlarge every year that one lives. For the brain to be active, the
body must be active too, and this is where the old-fashioned idea that
“Granny likes to sit by the fire knitting,’ or that “old
people need peace and quiet,’ is a lot of nonsense.

What old people need are interests, and it is fatal to let them
think they are out-of-date, unwanted and an encumbrance.

In Italy and other European countries the family is a unit. It has
always interested me when I travel through France to see that on Sunday,
in every restaurant, even the most expensive kind, you will see the
family having their weekly outing. There are father, mother and
children of all ages, and the grandmother and grandfather are there too!
But it is not only on Sundays that they are an inseparable part of the
family. They live and work together, and they are united by love.

In England it is the opposite. Granny and Grandpa are pushed to
one side, and it is not only the old men and women who sit in Council
homes who are seldom visited or not at all. It is the same throughout
our society.

If a son inherits an ancestral mansion, his widowed mother is
consigned to the Dower House, or today more often to a small cottage,
and is more or less forgotten.

It is so difficult to alter traditions and therefore all I can say
to those who have grown older is: “Think about yourself and make a
life of your own by finding a niche where you are wanted and will be

When I look around at the enormous number of people I know all over
the world, I find it is not those who are rich who are happy, it is
those who are working.

The busiest people have always been those who seem to radiate a joy
of life, which the French call joie de vivre and which is something
which is not confined to the young but to those who have developed their

Joie de vivre comes from the brain, and of course, the heart. It
is a capacity for enjoying everything, big or small, around you; it is
an appreciation of beauty and, I think too, a gratitude for being alive.

So few of us, when we thank God for the big or small mercies that
have been accorded us, remember to thank for Life itself–and what could
be a more wonderful gift?

When some people look up at the stars and think that each one may
have other planets like our own, it makes them feel small and
insignificant. But I think actually that if there are billions and
billions of other people living in an enormous hemisphere, then it is a
privilege and a delight to think that I am one of them, and we share one
thing in common: the Life Force that can never die.

There is no such thing as death! How can there be? It is only the
shedding of a worn out “suit of clothes’ which we call a body,
and the life within us goes on to find another one.

I believe in reincarnation for the simple reason that it is the
only thing that can possibly justify the continuing existence of life,
and that in nature nothing is lost.

The most wonderful and the most valuable thing we possess is the
body. It is only through the body that we learn and advance both
spiritually and mentally.

The body is the most intricate, the most fantastic and the most
ingenious machine ever created. And yet how badly we treat it! It is
extraordinary to me how little care people take of their bodies.

I do not mean going up in an unsafe aeroplane, fighting in wars, or
drinking before driving a car, but in ordinary everyday life people
treat their bodies far worse than they would treat any vehicle they

And yet, knowing its value, knowing how much it means to each one
of us personally, we take no trouble to learn about the workings of the
body and its needs, but just take for granted that it is there!

The body is, of course, activated by the brain: the most important
part of us.

And so we get back to what I have been saying:–that the brain is
the first thing we must consider, study and understand if we wish to
keep young.

We should not say someone is “young in heart,’ but
“young in mind,’ for that is what counts.

Photo: When she’s not writing romantic novels, 82-years-young
Barbara Cartland travels the world and preaches her sermon of
“living young, looking young and being beautiful both inside and


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