The oldest woman in London has celebrated her 108th birthday in style after Covid disrupted the occasion last year.
Betty Spear was joined by four generations of loved ones as she opened dozens of cards and presents at St Judes Nursing Home in Sutton, south London.
The former nurse, born in Ireland in 1913, said the secret to her long life was ‘hard work and a tipple of whisky once a week.’
She also said her 108 years was down to ‘keeping active and drinking a good strong cup of tea…not the watery stuff’.
Although the pandemic has meant she couldn’t see her grandchildren or great grandchildren last year, she said it was ‘nothing compared to World War One.’
Betty, who was still doing the Irish jig aged 103, moved to London aged just 18 to become a nurse and went on to practice in the south London suburb of Carshalton.
There she met and married George Spear in 1947 before giving birth to their ‘beautiful daughter’ Anne, both of whom have now died.
Asked if Covid-19 was the worst event of the past 100 years, she said: ‘Oh no, not really.
‘The First World War was the worst thing, Covid is nothing in comparison.
‘I came over from Ireland to become a nurse when I was just a teenager.
‘I don’t think the NHS have coped very well during Covid. People are not so friendly any more.’
Her granddaughter Jane Welch, 50, said: ‘You couldn’t stop her if you tried, bless her.
‘She loved to do the Irish jig, all the way up until she was about 103.
She’s been through a lot, you know, because she lost her daughter. She stopped working at 90 and then quit smoking when her daughter – my mum, passed.
‘Two years later she fell down a flight of stairs from top to bottom and broke her hip – she’s a tough nut.
‘She’s been through the wars and always comes out fighting – and I’m very proud to have her as my grandmother.’
Among the 25 cards Betty received was a letter from the Queen wishing her a happy 108th birthday.
Her son in-law Ken Bridgeman, 75, a former sales engineer, said: ‘She’s been here at St Judes for two years, but before that she was living in a flat in Sutton.
‘And she was still cooking and taking care of herself until about four years ago. Generally she did it all herself, although sometimes friends would help out.
‘It’s fantastic. I was lucky to be here last year on my own…She’s obviously deteriorated since then, but has the will to survive. Her secret is having a little drop of Scottish whisky every now and then.’
The family marked the birthday by getting Betty a cake with candles spelling 108 and hiring an entertainer to play some of her favourite tunes.
Half a dozen doves were also released at the home, in front of all the residents.
Betty’s grandson Paul Bridgeman added: “When she reached 100 she still wanted to live her life with a smile.
‘There’s a league table online of the oldest people in Britain and I think she’s now moved up to 57th or something.
‘For me, she taught me the value of hard work and being kind to people, and having a bit of fun along the way.’
St Judes Nursing home is one of the few homes in the region to remain Covid-free throughout the pandemic.
Betty’s great granddaughter Ella, 16, who has just finished her GCSEs, said: ‘I think it’s absolutely amazing.
‘It’s crazy to think that she’s still here with us and after two world wars.
‘I’m really proud because she’s the same as I’ve always remembered her to be.
‘She’s very strong willed, so I think that’s probably what got her here, not the whisky.’
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