Kiwi grandmother Fay Rose Tudor’s ‘gold card tattoo’


Scared what her mother might think all those years ago, Fay put off her inking – but now she’s happy for all to see

When bubbly Waikanae grandmother Fay Rose Tudor isn’t browsing shops for the latest fashion trends, learning to dance the Floss, riding her e-bike or stretching into poses during a Pilates class, the retired psychotherapist might be found showing off her tattoo in a swimsuit at a local river.

Although the mum-of-three is turning 80 this year, she believes there’s no age limit when it comes to having fun!

“I’ve always been a bit of a show-off and I’m an extrovert, so that’s not going to change just because I’m in my seventies,” says Fay, who pierced her ears for the first time at 45 because her beloved parents could no longer tell her off.

On her 21st with mum Liesbeth and dad Ivan.

“I like to be active and up to date with things because I don’t want to feel like an old lady. My children had their kids late in life and so I’m a late grandmother. I want to keep young for them.”

When Fay grew up in London, her parents discouraged her from cutting her hair, piercing her ears or wearing make-up, but the former actress experimented with ’60s-style white lipstick and dark eye make-up anyway. At 65, after her German mother Liesbeth and British father Ivan had passed away, Fay had a dainty Tudor rose inked on her right thigh. The famous British emblem represents her name and English history.

“In England when I was growing up, tattoos weren’t like nowadays and were usually only on soldiers or sailors,” tells Fay, who co-founded Circa Theatre in Wellington with a group of others, including her late ex-husband Grant Tilly, a well-known television actor. “I think my mother would’ve laughed about me getting one. Well, I hope!”

Fay’s sons (from left) Miles, Torben and Bryn think Mum’s a good laugh.

When Fay told her sons Bryn, 53, Torben, 49, and Miles, 46, about her innovative tattoo idea, they thought it was hilarious. Fay’s current partner Alan Upton also supported her plan to go under the needle, since it was her fun and outgoing personality that he fell for after they met through a blind-dating agency over 27 years ago.

“It was about the time my third son left home in Wellington that I decided to have a tattoo,” recalls the grandmother of Sydney-based Phoenix, nine, and 15-monthold Esme. “I frequented Cuba Mall and there were quite a few good tattooists there. I took a deep breath and it didn’t hurt that much. All my friends thought it was a bit funny and I used to stand up at dinner parties, since I love entertaining and hosting, to show it off .”

Being in the spotlight comes naturally to Fay, who trained as a teacher and majored in speech and drama in England, where she met her sons’ father Grant while he was studying in London.

“I’m told I don’t look as old as I am, which is a lucky thing”

“Grant started acting professionally in New Zealand, and it was an exciting time with lots of entertainment and tours, and when my youngest was four, I had a year acting on the New Zealand soap opera Close to Home as Fleur,” says Fay.

“But it wasn’t an easy time. Grant was working nights acting, as well as teaching at drama school during the day, and rehearsing at the weekends. I had no family around to help.”

When Fay became a solo mother after 20 years of marriage, the former Youthline phone counsellor bought a little house in Newtown that she renovated herself.

While doing evening classes in self-awareness and women’s studies, and getting her social work postgraduate diploma, she secured a job with the Help Foundation. There, she counselled children, parents and families on sexual abuse, working with police and social welfare, before opening a private practice.

A self-described people person, Fay admits the social isolation of the Covid lockdowns has been challenging for her, but she keeps her spirits up by staying in contact with long-term friends from Wellington, who she says are equally vibrant in their 70s.

“I’m told I don’t look as old as I am, which is a lucky thing, but I don’t like that I’ve put on weight because of medication I’m on and having polymyalgia,” Fay shares. “But it’s not going to stop me from going swimming or doing what I want to do.”

In fact, she’s been following the latest dance challenge trend called Jerusalema on Facebook.

“The Jerusalema is going around and is very topical at the moment. I thought, ‘I’d love to be able to do that!'” she enthuses. “A few years ago, I learnt the Floss and did it with my grandson over Facetime, although he said I was doing it wrong. But I like that it’s all a bit of fun.”

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