I first met Valerie at our local pet shop, where she was working behind the counter. With her silver grey bob and glamorous dress sense, I always felt there was more to her than dog collars and pet treats, so when I heard the pet shop was closing down, I asked her to model for me and she invited me to her home and told me a little of her life.
Valerie is both forthright and kindly. I know she commands respect because the first time she asked our dog Basil to raise his paw in the pet shop....he did! Without question! We'd been trying for 2 years without success to get him to raise a paw. He knew who was in charge and it wasn't us!
Being rather nosey when it comes to clothes and what's in other people's wardrobes, I asked Valerie if we could head straight to her closet to pick out a few favourite pieces for some shots. I didn't realise it but I straight away picked out a red silk jacket which she later told me was her favourite item of clothing. It makes sense, it's vibrant, like Valerie, full of colour and covered in flowers, just like her incredibly beautiful, verdant garden.
I loved Valerie's dressing table, a cornucopia of flowers and make up.
Valerie's house is a gorgeous eclectic mix of colour and pictures and furniture - a burnt orange velvet armchair, a beautiful dresser in the kitchen which is really a bookcase and many wonderful artworks on the walls, some of them by Valerie and her family. It's clear that family matters and that her home and garden are her oasis. She has poured love into it and in return it welcomes you in.
During her career, Valerie worked in PR and as a fundraiser for VSO, Royal Marsden, The Samaritans and London Zoo. Her favourite charity was The Samaritans because of the people, but she is clearly an animal lover and I asked her more about the Zoo. Her best moments include feeding a baby tiger on her lap with a bottle and patting the Iguanas, because they are like a 'slow dog', they wag their tails very slowly! Surprisingly, Valerie also told me she loves snakes!
Valerie put on her sun hat and showed me her garden.
I asked her a few quick fire questions
How do you look so good at the age of 71 years?
It's partly the luck of the gene pool, and a zest for life. I still go dancing, I do swing, jive and Forro, which is a Brazilian dance. I'm also very vain and I like to go to the gym to keep trim, though I do find the gym boring!
Do you have any self care tips?
My beauty regime is minimal, I simply apply another layer of black eyeliner! (I particularly loved this answer)
What matters to you most at this point in your life?
My family and my fiancee. I met him when I was 15 years old and fate brought us back together again much later in life.
What's the most valuable thing you own?
A picture which my granddaughter Georgia made for me. It is a beautiful print of a Russian doll and is in memory of my mother who was Russian. It hangs on my wall.
Valerie showed me some of the drawings she did when she was younger, they were beautiful and whimsical.
What is the most valuable thing you have learnt in life?
To never regret what has gone and to always look to the future, the past is the past. Remember to celebrate the good times and don't hold onto bitterness.
What is your favourite piece of clothing?
My red silk jacket.
It was a joy to spend time with Valerie and I vowed to myself afterwards that I must get out and dance more and take time to plant a few more flowers.