'˜It's incredible what's happened to me' - Joan reveals her astonishing life story
Everybody faces the highs and lows of the rollercoaster that life brings us.
But few are likely to have lived a life as dramatic as Joan Smee.
The 85-year-old great-grandmother from Warren Avenue in Southsea, had a very rough childhood and went on to struggle with poverty and abuse in her first marriage.
But through it all, it is her love of art that has kept her going.
Even now, she sits upstairs in her home and paints. Now, she has had a book published about her life and how it has made her stronger.
‘I grew up with a pencil in my hand,’ she says. ‘I started drawing at the age of about four. I drew anything that came to my mind. It’s been my art that has kept me going.’
Joan’s life was turned upside down when her dad committed suicide when she was just three and a half years old. She found her dad’s body and it’s an image that has stayed with her forever.
Unfortunately, Joan, who grew up in the industrial northern town of Scunthorpe, didn’t have the relationship with her mother that she craved and her mum favoured her brother instead.
‘My dad dying changed my life,’ she adds.
‘I was the first one to find him. I knew then that I would be on my own because it was my dad who looked after me for as long as I can remember.
‘My mum never did anything. My brother was her favourite. She never cuddled me or anything.
‘I used to be frightened of being alone in the house. It seemed a bit creepy to a small child.
‘So I used to sit outside and draw.
‘After that, as I grew up in senior school, I did painting in my last year. The teachers were so amazed about how I could paint that they would send me to an empty classroom to paint.’
During the war, Joan has memories of hiding from the bombs with her brother and then getting up and going to school again the next day.
When she was 14 she got a job working as a nanny and carrying out housework.
But it turns out that the woman who employed her was working as a prostitute and was trying to lure Joan in as well.
Several men from the home had tried to entice her but when she realised what was going on, she fled the house.
‘I got out of the house as quickly as I could after that,’ she adds.
‘The next morning my mother got up early and went to the house where I had been staying.
‘When she got back she was screaming and shouting at me.’
What followed was a chaotic turn of events which saw Joan homeless after her mother kicked her out of the family home after thinking she was involved in prostitution.
She was moved into a home for young people.
Eventually, she decided to join the army and she moved to Guildford. She met another girl there whose family lived in Portsmouth.
It was there that she met her first husband and the father of her seven children.
‘She took me to the house she lived in and that’s where I met her brother,’ Joan adds.
‘We started going out together and that was it.’
Joan married Ray Jones when she was 20.
‘I was beginning to think that I had a home and I belonged somewhere after all those years,’ she says.
‘But in the end it wasn’t a very good marriage.’
Joan dealt with violence and severe poverty during her marriage as their money was often spent down the pub.
They ended up moving several times because they were unable to pay the rent.
She left but eventually she had to return to him because she didn’t have anywhere else to go.
‘I had seven children with him. He was working when I married him and everything seemed to be alright. But he started playing up and not going to work.
‘He had lots of different jobs. He was always getting into trouble with the local authority.
‘In the end he became ill and he died on Christmas Day, leaving me with seven kids.’
Ray died in 1973. Several years later, Joan met her second husband Andy.
‘I had a friend and we used to go dancing. Every time we went dancing he was there.
‘We started going out on a regular basis. I took him home and introduced him to all my kids.
‘We ended up getting married. He was just a clean, loving man.’
Now, however, Andy suffers from Parkinson’s disease and lives in a care home in Waterlooville.
‘That’s why I have kept to my art because it’s the only thing that makes me forget,’ Joan says.
‘Once I put my mind on it, I can forget everything else.’
Joan agreed to publish a book, after her friend Viv Clarke offered to write it for her.
She met Viv through a psychic group she is a part of.
In recent years, Joan has trained to become a psychic and uses her artistic skills to paint psychic portraits of people’s lives.
This all forms part of the book called Just a Simple Life…?
‘I had been asked lots of times if I would write a book and I just dismissed it,’ she says.
‘I didn’t know what to say.
‘But the time was right. It seems as though this may be the last time I get asked and I was well enough to do it.
‘Everybody who heard my story said I should write it and that everybody would be overwhelmed by it and it would help them if they had been in a similar situation.
‘I love it. Obviously my story is unique. People have found it incredible what’s happened to me.’