Dressed in red, her painted nails shimmering in the light and her hair perfectly combed, Mary Pead was ready and rouged to celebrate her 105th birthday.
As the Lady in Red was sang softly in the background, Mary smiled and bobbed away to the music, tapping her fingers on her knees.
‘I’m not too bad for an old girl,’ she smiles.
Born to Adeline and Maryerick Ambrose – the co-owner of the Ambrose Bros. Mineral Water factory – on October 17, 1913, Mary was just one of six children.
As an Essex girl at heart, she attended the Grays Convent Roman Catholic School.
‘That was a lovely time,’ says Mary.
And it wasn’t long before Mary ditched Grays in Essex for the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, with her first job at the once-prestigious DH Evans department store.
But she soon found her true calling in hair and make-up. Always beautified, Mary’s hair and nail routine has been a rigid tradition and even now at 105-years-old, she has a nail appointment once a week.
‘I always wore lipstick, especially a coffee shimmer colour. And I always have my nails done too,’ explains Mary.
‘We’ve never known gran not to have her nails done,’ laughs Luisa, Mary’s oldest granddaughter.
Therefore, Mary left the shining lights of Oxford Street to train as a ladies hairdresser, which she worked as until she retired at 73-years-old.
At 25-years-old, she met the love of her life Raymond Pead.
‘I just bumped into him by chance,’ says Mary.
They met in 1938, just before Raymond was called up for service in the Second World War. But while they were apart, Mary kept herself busy by defying convention as a female driver in the Wrens.
Six years past but the couple’s love for one another was still strong. Upon Raymond’s return in September 1944, they married just two months later at the St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Grays, Essex.
The couple spent many happy years together, with Raymond working as the general manager of Basildon Hospital and Mary continuing to be a hairdresser. And they welcomed their only son Greg Pead into the world in 1946.
After Raymond died, Mary decided at 91-years-old that it was time to leave Essex behind. She was drawn to Old Portsmouth to be nearer to Greg and she lived there happily until she was 100-years-old, before re-locating to the comforts of Willow Tree Lodge Care Home, Fareham.
‘I really liked Portsmouth. Heathfield in Essex was boring for me but I was always busy here.
‘I loved the lunch clubs and meeting new people.’
Sadly, Greg died in December 2017 but celebrating her birthday at her side were her two granddaughters, Luisa Stallard and Daniela Molyneux, who travelled from Essex.
‘She is as tough as old boots,’ says Daniela.
‘It’s possibly that toughness that has got her this far. We’re not built of the same character,’ says Luisa, smiling at her gran in admiration.
‘I feel very lucky to be the age we are and still have a grandparent to live through various chapters of our lives – that feels very special.’
‘They were one of the first families to have a telephone,’ says Daniela, looking at Mary while she nods her head in agreement.
‘And when you think of how long ago that was and how much has changed since then, she’s just amazing,’ says Daniela, squeezing her gran’s hand a little tighter.
To which Mary just smiles and says, ‘it is so lovely seeing you’.
And no-one was going to be hungry any time soon. With three giant slabs of fruit cake, moulded into the numbers of 105, and a fish and chip lunch, Mary couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
‘I just love fish and chips,’ she says.
And Mary’s modesty and manners have not been forgotten – she is very popular among staff and friends alike.
‘I never thought of turning 105.
‘I didn’t think I would make it this far,’ laughs Mary, ‘I just take everyday as it comes.’