Rolling back the years

| Care and Support

Our 84 year-old Edmonton resident Joan Rowley talks Zumba classes, marriage proposals and a date with the Rolling Stones

older person

Coffee and Cream had just finished a gig at Camden’s Black Cap pub when the man from the record company approached.

He wanted the band’s two singers, Joan and Lynne, to be on the cover of The Rolling Stones’ next single. The year was 1969, the Stones were in their swaggering pomp and the song – which went on to be a UK and US chart topper – was Honky Tonk Women.

They were flattered – at first. “Then we were told that ‘honky tonk women’ were hookers,” confides Joan Rowley – now 84 and a Metropolitan resident for the past 17 years. “But Lynne said it didn’t matter. We both knew we were respectable women and, besides, we’d get well paid and it would do our career the world of good.”

Dressed in her customary stage gear – fishnets, suspenders and micro mini – Joan was collected by a fancy car on the day of the photo shoot and taken to a central London location.

The duo was introduced to the so-called ‘bad boys of rock’. “They were lovely guys,” Joan reflects. “I was a bit shy, but drummer Charlie Watts took me under his wing and made sure I was comfortable with everything.”

Once the record was released, Coffee and Cream enjoyed their own taste of celebrity. With their faces plastered over giant advertising hoardings all over Europe, they found themselves being stopped in the street, bibbed by lorry drivers and even asked for autographs.

More importantly, the country’s pubs and clubs couldn’t get enough of them. “We got so many bookings,” remembers Joan,” who worked in a bookmakers by day and entertained on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, as well as Sunday mornings. “The pubs were packed solid. We even performed in Ireland and got seven marriage proposals each from the Irish farmers.”

It had been at a wedding where Joan and Lynne first linked up. Joan was singing in her husky contralto and Lynne chimed in with some harmonies. The guests loved it and the pair went on to sing together for 25 years. “Lynne passed away four years ago,” says Joan. “I do miss her. We had some good times.”

There were periods when Joan sang solo, while Lynne raised her family. Under the stage name ‘Dusky Doll’, she played the working men’s club circuit in the north of England. One night in Blackpool, she saved the day when the star singer walked out.

“The speaker didn’t work,” she recalls. “I said I’d fill in. I didn’t need a speaker; I could just get up and sing. I got £300 for doing that, which was a lot of money at the time.”

She still needs little encouragement to get up and sing – whether it’s auditioning for The Voice, singing in church or belting out a tune at a get-together.

“Metropolitan used to hire a hall and hold a bit of a party for residents,” says Joan, who lives in North London’s Edmonton. “I’d always get up to sing and dance. Anything they put on, I go to. I like Metropolitan.”

When she’s not exercising her vocal chords, she’s putting her body through its paces. “A lot of the other residents don’t like exercise,” she muses. “I love it. I do yoga twice a week, Zumba – I’m half-Brazilian, after all – and aqua aerobics. I’ve already signed up for some new fitness classes that Tottenham Hotspur are running.”

And whenever there’s an opportunity for residents to raise issues with Metropolitan, she urges them to seize it. “I tell them not to stay in their flats and moan but come and talk to the people who can make a difference,” says the woman who retired from the bookies at 65 and then worked as a cleaner until she had a knee replacement operation at 82.

That didn’t stop her doing the Cancer Research Race for Life for the seventh time last year. “I do loads of charity work,” says Joan – or Rena, as some know her. “I’ve walked every bridge and park in London to raise money. I’m an Aries – I like a challenge.”