Barbara Taylor Bradford was 39 when her debut novel, “A Woman of Substance,” became a runaway success. Now 85, she’s just published her 33rd book – the first in a planned trilogy set in Victorian England – and has no plans to retire. “I work because I love it,” she tells Senior Planet. “What would I do all day if I didn’t? I am young at heart and with it mentally. I have a lot of energy.”
Her 86-year-old movie producer husband Robert Bradford still goes into his office on week days, while she works from her photograph-filled office at their Park Avenue, Manhattan, apartment. “I won’t let Bob retire. For one, I don’t want him under my feet all day…and people who retire die. They get lazy and don’t go out,” she says. “Most of my friends work. We don’t shop and lunch. I am not a lady who lunches. I eat at my desk or stand in my kitchen.”
Bradford makes few concessions to aging, except when it comes to shoes. The high heels have been replaced with designer flats or kitten heels. “I think younger women look great in very high heels but when I see an older woman tottering around in them I think, no,” she says. “I try to dress appropriately and look nice but without trying to look younger.”
Bradford freely admits to having cosmetic surgery, and is happy to share her own beauty tips and short cuts. “I sleep on a silk pillow because it keeps my hair set,” she says. “I don’t put make up on during the day time, I can’t be bothered, so if I am going to the hairdressers or out on a nothing trip I wear dark glasses and lipstick.” She has weekly facials along with manicures and pedicures and goes to the hairdresser twice a week.
She also believes in investing in good clothes and has closets overflowing with designer outfits. “I have some going back decades that have been worn hundreds of times, yet look like they were made for me yesterday. If you save up and buy something expensive it will last,” she says. “If someone says ‘you wore that dress two years ago.’ I wouldn’t care. I’m like the British royal family, recycling my outfits.”
Bradford’s own upbringing was solidly British working class…but in a twist worthy of one of her novels, a few years ago she discovered her mother was probably the illegitimate daughter of the Marquess of Ripon, a Yorkshire aristocrat. When presented with the evidence, Bradford was shocked to the core but refuses to take a DNA test. “Why? It doesn’t matter. It was 100 years ago,” she says. She’s far prouder of her own achievements, including being honored by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 2007 for her contribution to literature.
Bradford used to love hosting dinner parties for friends at home but after selling her old 13-room apartment to actress Uma Thurman in 2013, she nixed plans for a dining room at their new home. “I’ve done enough entertaining to last a lifetime,” she says, as she shows off her spacious but cosy sitting room. “I could seat eight around the table here at a push but why bother? Now we have people up for champagne and then we can walk to many good restaurants nearby.”
Despite her age, Bradford shows no signs of slowing down and when asked what aging with attitude means to her, she points to her work ethic. “I married a successful man. I didn’t have to work but I wanted to. I was a journalist and then a novelist. I don’t know what I would do every morning if I had no purpose in life,” she says. “I don’t feel 85, I feel 45.”
Bradford’s latest book “Master of His Fate” is published by St. Martin’s Press
PHOTO CREDIT Dan Callister