That granny was da best she rocked da show for her age lol
That’s a Facebook comment from a fan of Ann Wilson, who despite – or perhaps because of – her advanced age, stole the SA’s Got Talent show. The Got Talent reality TV show bills itself as the “World’s Biggest Talent Show… Any Act, Any Age”. So Mrs Wilson didn’t worry about being 3 times older than most of the other contestants.
I’m a sucker for the Got Talent franchise. I have helped clock up YouTube hits for that frumpy Scottish lady and the homeless South Korean boy and most recently an 8-year-old on Arabs’ Got Talent (that’s the show’s name, with that odd apostrophe). The Syrian boy told the judges that he had to switch to playing organ because his piano, along with his house, were destroyed in the Homs bombings.
So I was paying attention when this confident mature woman strode onto the South African talent show’s stage and announced that she was going to sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” The song is about the same age as she is and has been covered by singers from Al Jolson to Elvis. But her interpretation of this ballad about unrequited love so moved the judges that one got up and joined her on stage. Which could have destabilized this senior solo singer, and her chances of winning the big cash prize. But she kept her composure and carried on singing, incorporating judge Ian von Memerty into her act.
My New Old Self launched a search for this inspiring older woman, armed only with the title on the TV screen: “Anne Wilson, 84, Plumstead, Cape Town”. There are many Wilsons in the Cape Town phone book and several in her suburb, but just one whose address is a retirement complex.
I thought I’d found the right Mrs Wilson but the phone just rang and rang. That’s because she was at Pick ‘n Pay buying milk and being mobbed by friends and admirers who’d seen her show-stealing on TV the night before.
Eventually Mrs Wilson returned my call, and was happy to do an interview. To get a few details out of the way, she’s 83, turning 84 only later this year, and she’s Ann, not Anne.
“I’m not a particularly shy person,” Ann told me. “The only thing I feared about going on the show was that there’d be a voice from the audience asking, ‘Who’s the old bag?’ Because when you get to old age, you’re no longer considered entertainment value.”
Ann did some broadcasting in her home town of Durban, a bit of opera when she moved to Cape Town, married and raised a family, but never sang professionally. She was too busy working as a “comptometrist”.
You learn a few things when you chat with octogenarians. The comptometer was a mechanical calculator developed in the late 19th century for typing invoice data for auditors. Which Ann operated “until computers came out”.
In recent years Ann has gone back to entertaining. She’s an enthusiastic member of The Companions, a group of performers – average age 70 – who do free weekly shows at nursing homes. And she appears in advertisements. She says there’s one on TV now where she’s in a blue car with blue hair, but she can’t remember what kind of petrol it’s advertising.
Her family of 10 children seems to have good genes for longevity. Only two of her siblings have died, one at over 90 and the other at 89. This is the point in such stories on super-geriatrics where you’re supposed to ask about the secret of a long and happy life. So listen up for some tips from Gogo Ann, as she’s been nicknamed, from the Zulu word for grandmother. As in the Tweet: “Got charmed hook, line and sinker by Gogo Ann.”
“I walk the 34 steps in my complex 4 to 5 times a day,” she reported. “When my nephew came to visit he said, ‘You know what Auntie Ann did? She ran up the stairs!’ I love skipping. I still swim, I play tennis, and I still go with the kids on the scooter.”
“I still tap dance, I still have my shoes,” Ann boasted. “And if you give me a good ballroom dancer I can jive him under the table.”
She says the only reason she stopped going to ballroom dancing is because there are never any men to be her partner. “If only I could find a man who could dance,” she sighed. “But only for dancing.”
As exhilarating as it’s been to win fame for her TV audition, Ann isn’t pinning her hopes on winning the talent show.
“They asked me where I think I’ll be in 10 years time,” she laughed. “They want to nurture new blood, but they can’t really invest in me. I don’t think I’ll get there but it’s been fun trying.”
My New Old Self wishes Ann a Happy International Day of Older Persons!