Joan Bakewell: ‘Life is short, so get your values sorted’

The journalist and television presenter will be appearing at Archway With Words festival to talk about her new book, Stop The Clocks, finds Alex Bellotti.

At 82-years-old, Joan Bakewell admits she is now one of the oldest people she knows. “Imagine what it’s like when most of the world is younger. It’s really strange,” she laughs, yet there are some perks to being able to peer back over history’s shoulder.

Living in Primrose Hill – her home for over 50 years – the journalist and television presenter recalls the days when steam trains would roll out of Euston, and how the resultant fog would paint houses a particularly sooty shade of grey. Reminiscence on a broader scale is the basis of her upcoming book, Stop The Clocks, and on October 16, she will be in conversation about it with the Guardian’s Michele Hanson for Archway With Words.

A meditation on age and the many changes she has seen over the years, the book is in part auto-biographical, but mostly it charts the development of society since the 1930s – whether that concerns sweeping movements in educational reform or the evolving etiquette for making the bed.

“It’s interesting to see how many things have improved in life,” Bakewell says. “That’s one of the nice things about being old in this day and age: medicine’s so much better, education is better, relationships are better, people are more honest and less hypocritical than they were, there’s less secrecy and shame about the body or sex and what you feel. People don’t feel ashamed of their emotions or guilty, so there’s lots that’s got a lot better.”

As a Labour Party peer, there are of course qualifications. “I obviously deplore the way this government’s treating the country and things are going wrong, deliberately wrong,” she says, adding of Jeremy Corbyn: “I’m quite impressed by how he speaks and what he has to say. I think he’s got a lot of difficulties in the future and I’m intrigued to see how it goes. There’s far too much judgement going on; it’s far, far too early to judge.”

In 2008, Bakewell was given her own role in the government as an official voice for older people. While initially hesitant to discuss her age, the appointment made her reconsider her position and “come out, as you might say, when I was 70”.

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“It’s too late now, it’s too late to worry!” she says. “There was no way I could disguise the age I am and nor did I want to, as I was speaking up for people my age who don’t have as much of a voice. I changed my sense of direction entirely.”

Soon to appear as a presenter on Landscape Artist of the Year alongside Frank Skinner and with Stop The Clocks soon to be released, Bakewell says she is making the most of living for the moment.

While suggesting it makes her feel “slightly benign” to be the oldest person person she knows, it has conversely given her a greater appreciation of time and how to best use it.

“I’ve lived through fantastic decades of change and at my age you begin to wonder where the future might go because things are changing so fast, not least the technology revolution which I grapple with every day.

“Life is very short and you need to get your values sorted out and make the right choices, because there’s no time to waste. You can’t regret the past, but you have to make the most of the present, because there’s not much more of the future.”

Joan Bakewell will be in conversation with Michele Hanson at Archway With Words on October 16.