Guyana Diaspora

'89 percent of Guyana 's graduate population live and work in the 30 relatively rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) -"Fruit that falls far from the tree",
The Economist, 03 November 2005'

It is estimated that there are as many Guyanese living overseas as they are in Guyana
They are spread out far and wide to almost every country on the planet
This blog was created to chronicle the news and and stories of the Diaspora

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wrinkled or Wonderful?

96 year old Irene Sinclair (known to her friends as Renee) is an animated, cheerful and vivacious woman who looks at least twenty years younger than her age, born in Guyana in 1908, she taught history in her native country before arriving in Hornsey, England in 1957 to help look after her daughter’s young children.

Irene Sinclair’s serene, smiling image gazes from billboards, advertising hoardings, magazines, buses and tube walls across the USA and Europe. She has also been the subject of magazine and newspaper articles throughout the world, and recently she has been featured on 30-metre-high adverts in Times Square, Wall Street and on an external wall of Milan Cathedral

However, this particular model is not your average, spoilt-brat catwalk queen and could not be more different from the likes of Jodie Kidd or Kate Moss. She is, in fact, a great-grandmother and a 96-year-old woman, who remains both astonished and delighted by her sudden, unexpected global celebrity.

Irene (known to her friends as Renee) is an animated, cheerful and vivacious woman who looks at least twenty years younger than her age. She sits, straight-backed, in her chair and tells about her experiences. She was born in Guyana in 1908, taught history (‘the Elizabethan period was my speciality’) in her native country and arrived in Hornsey, England in 1957 to help look after her daughter’s young children. She moved to Stoke Newington on her retirement in 1971 and settled in Filey Road and then Yorkshire Close. ‘Stoke Newington was so dull and uninteresting then. I didn’t like it at all.’ How do you feel about it now? ‘Oh, it’s a different place. I’m very happy here. Church Street is like a little Paris.’

Renee’s big adventure

Dove soap – part of Unilever – had dreamt up an advertising campaign designed to challenge stereotyped versions of female beauty. A casting director arrived at Renee’s sheltered accommodation in Yoakley Road looking for a suitable woman, between 70 and 80 years old, to illustrate old age.

When informed by the block’s manager Andy about Renee, she knocked at her door and, confused by Renee’s apparent youth, asked her if Renee’s mother was in the flat. One thing led to another and she was soon in the studio of top photographer Rankin – cofounder of Dazed and Confused and snapper of the Queen – who spent four hours and took six hundred pictures to find the perfect image for the ad.

The ad launch was held in September last year in New York, and Renee was selected as the only British model out of the seven in the campaign to attend. Naturally, she was flown over first class by American Airlines, accompanied by a Dove representative, and booked into a suite at the $500 per night Lee Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. She spent four days enjoying photo shoots, television and radio interviews and champagne dinners, and revelling in her sudden change of circumstance. ‘It was marvellous. I never felt beautiful in my life but I feel I am now".

The London launch was held in January this year at the Dorchester, and Renee was again guest of honour. Since then, she has flown (again, first class) to other launches in Madrid, Milan and Paris, and she has nothing but praise for the people from Dove for their friendship and support. On her return to Stoke Newington she was contacted by an aide to Oprah Winfrey and asked to appear on the top-rated, coast-to-coast TV show. A tired Renee declined. The flabbergasted aide told her that no-one turns down Oprah. ‘Tell her I’m indisposed at the moment’, said Renee.

Life has quietened down a bit now, and Renee has had time to reflect on her brush with fame. When asked if this is the start of a modelling career she said ‘Well, it’s been a good laugh’ she replied, ‘but my feet are firmly on the ground. I wouldn’t do it again but I’m glad I did it’.

Obviously, she was paid by Dove but she has already given some of the money away to charity and intends to do the same with the rest of it, having collected only expenses for her efforts – ‘I had to pay for my own clothes and make-up’. She is now back in her old routine – attending St Mary’s Church, collecting her pension at the Post Office, shopping at the supermarket and doing the Daily Mirror crossword, a prosaic but probably welcome change from what must now seem a crazy dream.

In the Dove ad featuring Renee, the reader has to tick one of two boxes – ‘Wrinkled’ or ‘Wonderful’. The latter has to date vastly exceeded the former, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting with and talking to someone as charming and remarkable as this Stoke Newington supermodel.

From n16mag online

Related stories:

At 96, grandma becomes a beauty model NZ Herald

Wrinkles of 96-year-old are new line in beauty Times online

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