Celebrity Style

A tribute to inspirational women

By Hannah Swerling

Many of you have told us how much you’ve enjoyed reading My Other Mother, our tribute to grandmothers in the December issue, on sale now.

Here, last year’s ELLE Talent Contest winner, Charlotte Barrow remembers her grandmother Belle. Read on for ELLE’s stories about how their grandmother’s have shaped their lives.

‘When I wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life, I remember Grandma Belle. At 15, Isabelle Thomson sailed unaccompanied to Canada from Stirling, Scotland.

Her mother had died a few years earlier, and her father left six months before Belle to set up as a carpenter in Calgary.

When she arrived, Belle studied secretarial skills and dated a baseball player until a cousin of her father’s arranged a blind date with Colin Mackenzie, the man who would eventually become my grandpa.

According to the custom of the day, Grandpa Colin did not think his wife should work, so Belle, despite her skills and intelligence, stayed at home while her businessman husband took frequently to the road.

She was unable to conceive, and when her constant companion, a Scottish Terrier called Scottie, was killed by a car, Belle was inconsolable. Her stern mother-in-law commented, ‘Oh Belle, it’s only a dog.’

Perhaps because of her loneliness, Belle was an excellent hostess. Her husband’s business profile meant they often entertained, and my favourite story is of Grandma Belle dressed in pink taffeta, up on a table dancing for Calgary’s Rotary Club wives. She never drank more than a thimbleful of sherry at a time.

When she finally conceived my mother, Gail, Belle was over the moon. Although she was suffering from dementia by the time I knew her, my mother’s stories made Grandma Belle alive and beautiful.

I wonder how much her sense of adventure has influenced my own choice to make her journey in reverse, and leave Canada for the UK.

I know how lonely living in a new country can be. On a recent visit to Canada, I went through old photos with my mother. There was tiny Grandma Belle, beaming into the camera like she was on top of the world.

Next time I’m feeling unhappy in an unfamiliar place, I vowed, bring on the pink taffeta.’

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Sophie Gridley, Junior Sub-Editor

Nanna Betty is small, blue-eyed, delicate. She collects ceramic owls and pictures of poppies and wears pink cardigans. But she's strong. So strong.

She has brought up four children and lost two, suffered serious illness herself and yet still she trills, 'You just have to rise above it.'

Why? Because her priority has never been herself and always been her family. And because of that unfailing promise to put others first – through everything and despite anything – she will forever be my idol.

Natalie Wansbrough-Jones, senior fashion editor

My grandmother, Granny Gubbins/Eileen/Mrs. Hay took great care of herself. Even at the end of her life her hair was always perfect and she loved pampering treatments - she was definitely very proud of her appearance.

She always flirted with the men when we went for lunch at the golf club, even when she was pushing 70. She was into things like Reiki and reflexology 20 years ago before it was even cool.

Julia Shutenko, Fashion intern

My grandmother Ella always was and still is my best friend. She is supportive of all my ideas and I sometimes feel more comfortable sharing with her than with my parents.

Since the beginning of my school years she was the one to make sure I'd done all my homework well and on time. She taught me to be organised and never leave important tasks for the evening.

She is one person from back home in Lithuania who I miss the most.

Ivy Storvik, Chief Sub-Editor/Production Editor

I always called my granny by her first name, Vera; she felt too young to be a grandmother when I was born, so we stuck to first-name terms.

She was a wonderfully warm woman, sociable, well travelled and a believer in doing things properly – such as having impeccable table manners, saying 'lavatory' instead of 'toilet' and keeping her beloved family together.

When she passed away in 2010, I had just discovered I was pregnant with my son, and although they never met, I know she would have been the proudest great-grandmother in the world.

Andrew Falconer, Managing Editor

My Grandma Betty is the queen of thrift and has a very no nonsense approach to life.

It's thanks to her tough love that I am never wasteful and always grateful for what I have.

Joely Walker, Beauty intern

There are lots of fond memories that come to mind when I think of my Grams Kath. She has a great enthusiasm for life and loves to sing in public and act like no one is watching.

We used to go for long walks at the weekend, when I was little, and each spring the bluebells would come out and paint the woods near my house a beautiful lilac-blue colour.

One day, when I was about five, she told me that bluebells were her favourite flowers as they brightened up the woods after winter. From that day on she called me Bluey and it has always made me feel special.

Alice Watt, Fashion assistant

My grandmother filled my life with joy and love. Which is all you need in life, and something I hope to pass onto my grandchildren.

Whenever I think about my grandmother, tears stream down my face while I beam widly.

The finest cherry bun baker with the wickedest of laughs, my grandmother was the epitome of a family woman.

On the day of my grandfather's funeral, my grandmother leant over and whispered, 'If you can find a man like that, you've found a man for life'. Her words will continue to inspire me.

Now that she’s gone too, all I want is one more hug. I will always miss her.

Rebecca Lowthorpe, Fashion Features Director

My dad's mum was so stoic, that's what I remember most – never complained, never moaned, just got on with it.

Even when they had to remove her foot; her other leg had already been amputated under the knee.

She definitely shaped my dad. She brought him up on her own plus two other children when her husband died young.

When it comes to important life changing things, I hope I've got a fraction of her in me.

Susan Ward Davies, Travel Editor

My elegant granny, Tryphena, was tall and slim with long, artistic fingers always occupied with an impossibly complicated network of flashing knitting needles.

Her specialty was fine-as– gossamer, intricate matinee jackets and beautiful patchwork blankets, some of which still grace our beds today.

She knitted almost a whole one of these on my tenth birthday, as I kicked off my sudden ambition to swim the channel with a ten-mile swim in the local pool. She patiently kept count of the lengths, hour after hour, as the blanket got longer and longer.

She was very hardy, walked everywhere, and refused to have central heating, despite our protestations, even when she was in her nineties.

Being a voracious reader, she would retire early to bed in her sub-zero bedroom, pull the covers up to her chin and read for hours.

She was eventually diagnosed with frostbite on the end of her nose, but she still never gave in.

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