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In Conversation

We talk to older people in Leeds and Yorkshire who have made a difference and are continuing to make an impact in the area. Artists, politicians, activists; older leaders in areas as diverse as sports, TV and pantomime. A selection of interesting, funny and inspiring older people, all of whom have something to say.

"For me, the important thing is that I'm an artist. The way in which people may know me is through poetry. 

Khadijah Ibrahiim

Khadijah Ibrahiim’s grandparents came from Jamaica to the UK in the 1950s and she was born and raised in Leeds. She’s spent the last 30 years creating poems, performances, visual art, photographs, outfits – and lots more artistic work. 


“People say you don’t need accolades - I am a grafter and I do it because I love it - but when someone recognises your work, you’re very pleased.

Sharon Watson

When she was 15, Sharon Watson knew she wanted to dance professionally. She achieved that ambition at a remarkably young age and went on to form part of the prestigious Phoenix Dance company.


“When I’m on stage, it’s a wonderful experience. It’s what I live for. The audience is my extended family.”

Berwick  Kaler

Berwick Kaler has been playing the Dame in York for over 40 years: he’s a Yorkshire institution. We go behind the scenes to ask him about how he started in showbusiness, the origins of panto and why he came out of retirement.


“I want to be part of changing how this country works for black people and others who are marginalised. You’ve got to be in it to change it.”

Deputy Mayor of West Yorkshire

Alison Lowe was appointed to her role by Mayor Tracy Brabin in 2020. Alison has fought for equality and inclusion all her life and brings this passion to her role in the mayoral team.


“I visualise the ageing body in lots of different ways. We are like clay.”


Garry Barker is an artist who lives in Chapeltown in Leeds. Over the last few years, Garry has become interested in the process of ageing and how it can be depicted through art. He makes drawings, sculptures and “votives” around the subject of getting older. Garry shares some of his process and explains why making art is something anyone can do.


“There’s always a charm and a beauty about pantomime. It’s a wonderful family experience.”

Comedian and panto-star

Billy Pearce started his career as a song-and-dance man in the Working Men’s Clubs of Leeds and he’s gone on to huge success on TV and in the theatre. As well as being a much-loved stand-up comic, Billy appears every year in panto: he’s graced the stage of the Bradford Alhambra for over two decades. 


“We all have a responsibility to play our part, to make it better. That is part of the purpose of life.”


Hilary Benn has been MP for Leeds Central since 1999. He is from a political family: his father Tony Benn was an influential Labout MP in the 1970s and 1980s; and his niece Emily is a local councillor. Hilary shares his story of how he became politically active and why he thinks we can change the world.


“Older actors bring so much to the screen. It is a joy to cast somebody of that age.”

Writer 1951-2022

Kay Mellor was a writer who lived in Leeds all her life. She found fame on ITV as the author of Band of Gold, which was set amongst sex-workers in Bradford. Kay went on to pen many more series’ and TV films, including Fat Friends and her latest BBC drama The Syndicate. Kay died suddenly in 2022 and is much-missed.


“Writing is really hard. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as reading something smart that I’ve written.”

Activist and author


Ashton Applewhite became interested in age as she was approaching her 60s. It’s her goal to reveal the inherent ageism in society – and within ourselves. Ashton inspired some of the work of the Leeds Older People’s Forum, which led to an Age Proud campaign in the city. Ashton explains where her passion come from and what she’s doing to combat ageism.


“When I was a little boy, I was always drawing. Drawing was my go-to thing, it was part of my language.”

Artist & performer


Mik Artistik is a local legend. He’s been drawing strangers’ portraits on paper bags in Leeds since the 1980s. He’s is also well-known for his music and the surreal songs he performs with his band, Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip. Iggy Pop is one of his biggest fans. Mik remembers how he started as an artist and shares how making a living drawing pictures gave him the “keys to the kingdom.”


“Strong women are more interesting to write about than wimps!”


Frances Brody’s most notable crime novels are set in 1920s Yorkshire and feature amateur detective Kate Shackleton. Recently Frances has started another set of mysteries, set in a women’s prison in the 1960s. Frances tells us the story of how she became a writer, reveals the inspiration for some of her much-loved characters and explains why she loves to write about strong, inspirational women.


“Rugby has changed for the better. Our mantra is to use sport to change lives!”

CEO, Leeds Rhinos

Gary Hetherington steered Leeds Rhinos from the relative doldrums to enormous success, gathering countless trophies and awards over 25 years. The club don’t just play the sport, they are a vital part of the Leeds community. The Leeds Rhinos Foundation support people of all ages to play sport. Gary grew up in Castleford, had a significant playing career and, as he approaches 70, has no plans to retire!


“Our slogan was, “Women unite, reclaim the night!” We were very, very angry.”

Councillor and campaigner


Al Garthwaite lived in Leeds in the 1970s and was appalled at how unfair life was for women. She was part of the original team who set up “Reclaim the Night” marches, which demanded women’s safety. Al continues to fight for women’s rights as a local councillor and activist.


“Football grounds are machismo-filled aggressive places. There’s not a single “out” gay player in Europe!”


 Mick Ward spent his career working in Adult Social Care in Leeds; he was instrumental in creating Time to Shine, which supported thousands of isolated older people in the city. Now retired, Mick focuses his energy on campaigning. He’s part of Marching On Together and he explains how the group is working to make football a more gay-friendly sport.


“If there was another life, I think I’d like to come back as an olive.”

Journalist & agony aunt

Virginia Ironside’s writing has appeared in most national newspapers: she wrote a rock column for the Mail on Sunday and was an Agony Aunt for Today. Her book series about the irascible grannie Marie Sharp is enormously popular – and very funny. Virginia shares her no-nonsense opinions and explains what prompted her to write her 2009 book The Virginia Monologues – Why Growing Old Is Great.


"I’ve always regarded presenting Look North as a privilege.”

HARRY GRATION - 1950 - 1922

Harry Gration presented BBC Look North for nearly 40 years. Born in Bradford, Harry always had a deep affection for Yorkshire, which is reflected in his desire to work and live in the area. Harry died in 2022, just a few months after retiring as a TV presenter. 

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