Watching former newsreader and mother of one Jan Leeming complain of loneliness proves once again that loneliness in old age can strike anyone

By Nina Steele 

The Real Marigold hotel, the BBC 2 programme that Jan Leeming took part in, along with 7 other celebrities was a delight to watch (I still have the final instalment left to watch). The show follows the said celebrities, all of retirement age, on a trip to India, as they consider whether or not it would be a good place for them to retire. The programme is based on the acclaimed film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’.

I stumbled upon the show by chance and as I watched it, I could not help focusing on Jan Leeming, because she came across as very sad. After the first episode, I decided to do a google search on her, and discovered that others had felt her sadness too. The show was discussed on Mumsnet, and all those who commented on Jan specifically, did agree that she came across as very sad and lonely.

At first, as you would expect from a well-known celebrity, Jan didn’t want to admit that she was lonely. She kept saying that although she would like to have someone in her life for companionship, she was ok on her own. All this changed when she decided that she wanted to know what the future holds for her, and was taken to see a fortune teller. The reading was quite brutal and honest, and the guru told her in no uncertain terms that she was very lonely. She made no attempts to contradict him and finally admitted openly that she was indeed lonely. I think most people watching had already guessed it by then.

We learn that she has lived on her own for 12 years, and that she has an only son, who lives in Australia. We also learn that holidays have become a thing of the past, because she does not like the idea of going away on her own. She admits to longing for someone to do things with, including going on holiday.

As someone who used to work for an old people’s charity, I was already familiar with her type of story. People with children, yet who are deeply lonely. One of the main reasons is that people often get a false sense of security when they have children, believing that they will be there for them in old age. As a result, many fail to plan for old age. A couple of years ago, I wrote about another woman, in a similar situation. She too had an only son, and he too went to live abroad. Just like Jan she too was single and deeply unhappy and lonely.

Times have changed, and having children makes little or no difference when you get old, particularly in the West. That’s because they are generally either too busy with their own lives or have moved to different parts of the country or live abroad all together.

As I keep saying, being lonely in old age can strike anyone regardless of whether you have children or not. Often, those who avoid loneliness do so because they live with a partner or they are part of a social network that ensures that loneliness is kept at bay. That social network can be in the form of friends, neighbours, social places such as day centres, or just carers. People who end up with a live in carer for example, have someone always there to do things with.

With that in mind, we should all plan for old age. As previously mentioned, those who are lucky enough to grow old with their partner have a greater chance of avoiding being lonely in old age. But of course life is unpredictable, and people do separate or end up living alone, for one reason or another. Whatever life throws at us, being prepared is what will ultimately make a difference to whether we end our days lonely or not.

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