My own Diamond Jubilee: The workers celebrating 60 years in the same job

The Queen isn't the only one celebrating 60 years on the job – she is part of an elite club which clocks in way past retirement age, discovers Nick Harding.

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The Independent Online

On 6 February, 1952, with the death of King George VI, the role of UK monarch became vacant. The job, if advertised, would have called for an applicant with a divine birthright, a sense of duty and a GSOH. The package came with a company carriage and living allowances which included several castles.

In the event, there was only one candidate – the heir to the throne, Princess Elizabeth, who, five years previously on her 21st birthday, had made a promise to the nation. "My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong," she said. She has been good to her word ever since.

In her early reign, the Queen appointed two prime ministers, oversaw Britain's involvement in the Suez crisis, addressed the UN and presided over an ever-diminishing commonwealth. In the Eighties, she survived a hoax assassination attempt, an intruder in her bedroom and the ignominy of It's a Royal Knockout. In the Nineties, she survived Fergie, her annus horribilis and steered the monarchy through the uncharted waters of public grief following the death of Princess Diana.

Royalist or republican, there is no denying that HRH QEII has performed her role with admirable professionalism, and this weekend, as an epidemic of flag-waving sweeps the nation while Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams and JLS serenade her from a makeshift stage in front of the Palace, the Queen will be celebrating a milestone only one previous monarch has attained – 60 years on the job. Yes Britain, it's bunting time!

So what makes the Queen such a success? As the late writer Christopher Hitchens explained: "Her unflinching dutifulness and reliability have conferred something beyond charm upon the institution, associating it with stoicism and a certain integrity."

With a reign that spans the television age, the Queen, whose coronation in 1953 attracted over 20 million viewers and marked the first time a television audience exceeded a radio audience, is the most recognisable and intimately visualised monarch in history. She deliberately disdains glamour to present a dignified image and, in an age where history has moved at a breakneck pace, Elizabeth II represents a constant. As royal commentator and Who's Who editor Richard Fitzwilliams says: "She has symbolised continuity in a time of change and a large number of people can't remember a time when she wasn't on the throne. There is a sense of reassurance; everyone knows that she is dedicated to duty".

In the view of royal watchers, apart from a wobble after Diana's death and some criticism early in her reign over her dealings with government, she has hardly put a foot wrong. While Queen Victoria, who reigned for 63 years, went through a period of unpopularity when she became a recluse for several years after the death of her husband Prince Albert, HRH 'Lilibet' has managed to stay on the right side of public affection. She has largely remained impartial and does not offer opinions or follow trends. PMs have marvelled at her sagacity. In his retirement speech, Harold Wilson explained how he was left feeling like an "unprepared schoolboy" during one of his regular audiences with her. Others have reported that she is amenable and good-humoured. "She has tremendous charm, great presence and a wonderful sense of humour," says Fitzwilliams.

Even Dame Helen Mirren, who snubbed the 1977 Silver Jubilee and later played Elizabeth II in the 2006 movie The Queen is now a royal convert: "I feel proud about this Jubilee and actually immensely grateful that my life has had this one constant in it".

At 86, the Queen also serves as a role model for a generation of Britons who are now expected to work well past retirement age. Clocking up 60 years on the job is currently a rare feat. However, our ageing generation combined with improved health care and the scrapping last year of the Default Retirement Age means increasingly people will work past 65 and into their seventies and possibly eighties. Longer working allows people to stay in control of their finances and enjoy a better standard of living. There are also benefits to health. Those still in work in their seventies are more active, both physically and mentally, and many cite the sociable environment of employment as a positive. For the wider economy, keeping people in work later in life is widely seen as necessary to keep income tax payments up and reduce the burden on pension funds. Critics have argued that legal rights allowing people to stay in their jobs after retirement age will create a culture of 'job-blockers' who stop younger workers progressing into senior roles (Prince Charles may have a view on this). However, another theory is that more people in work creates more wealth, which in turn creates more jobs. And many employers value the experience, trustworthiness, dedication and maturity of older workers.

So while party-pooper Sir Mervyn King has voiced concern that this weekend's extra bank holiday, combined with the cost of the Jubilee celebrations, could lead to a contraction in the UK economy, most of us will not care. In the midst of a gloomy summer, with clouds of worrying uncertainty rolling in from the Continent, where's the harm in placing a solar-powered waving Elizabeth II figurine on your hosepipe-ban-parched lawn and celebrating one of the only certainties in British life? God save the Queen.

Quentin Blake, 79

Illustrator, London

I am impressed with the Queen's achievement. There is something to be said for having someone in a prominent position who has not been elected, at times that is a good thing. I'm not in favour of privilege on the whole but in a sense she is neutral and there is some benefit in that. I met her when I was given a medal and I had lunch with her, which was very enjoyable. She was good company, we talked about television and plays and art and young people.

I started drawing seriously when I was at secondary school and had my first published work in Punch when I was 16. I was paid in guineas; it was quite a lot at the time. I read English at Cambridge and later went to Chelsea Art School to do life classes. I really only found the way I wanted to draw when I was in my early twenties, after the art editor at Punch told me that some of the rough drawings I sent in were better than the finished ones, which looked rather laboured. That was when I relaxed and developed my freewheeling style.

I first did illustrations for children's books in 1960 for a book written by a friend, John Yeoman. After that my publisher put me together with Roald Dahl who had written a picture book called The Enormous Crocodile. Initially it was a business connection but then we got to know each other. I had no idea at the time just how successful the books we did together would be, but we got taken with the habit. The books were fascinating to do because they are not all the same. Some are calm and friendly, others could be brutal, so I was changing gear all the time. I worked for 15 years with Roald and the fact that all those drawings have survived means a lot to me. I've been lucky enough to work with many different authors since and each one has been different. I recently did David Walliams's first two books.

In many ways there have been no changes since I started. There is still no official way of getting published. You just have to go to publishers and show your work and hope to get lucky. And I still draw with old-fashioned things like quills and reed pens. The main change has been in digital printing which now is astonishingly accurate. I can do a drawing that will be enlarged to the size of a wall with amazing fidelity.

Fortunately, age presents no limitations. I still travel and I still draw quickly; the hand and eye co-ordination still works perfectly well. I've never considered retiring. I wouldn't know what to do. Experience is tremendously important in this profession. You may be gifted but experience helps you discover your mistakes.

Sister Clare Joseph, 83

Nun and nurse, St Anthony's Hospital, Cheam, Sutton

I became a nun in 1949 and started training as a student nurse two years later. I have been in the same hospital ever since. At the beginning we cared for a lot of patients with TB. They stayed for many months, some needed to be hospitalised for as long as two years. The old hospital was divided into Nightingale wards which each had up to 20 beds in them. As TB began to fade out there was an increasing demand for more acute surgery and the hospital, which had sustained structural damage from bombing during the war, was demolished and a new one built in its place.

It was the early days of the NHS and as a Catholic hospital we were asked by the hierarchy not to go into the Service as there were concerns we may have been required to carry out procedures we were not prepared to do. Instead, we contracted with the NHS and most of our patients were NHS patients.

During the rebuild, one of our sisters researched patient-centred care and felt that private rooms were the best way to give patients the care and privacy they wanted. It was 40 years ago and everyone thought we were mad. We became one of the first hospitals built with single rooms.

I was theatre sister for 15 years and the changes I have lived through have been immense. When I started, all the instruments were sterilised in big boilers and dressings were stored in drums. Now everything is pre-packed. When I began nursing, a cataract patient would be in for 10 days and they would be bed-bound with sandbags on either side of their head to keep them still. Now the longest most patients stay in for is three or four days, even after major surgery. I've seen the introduction of MRI, ultrasound and laparoscopic surgery.

I keep going because it is a vocation. My whole life is devoted to being a Sister; that comes first before being a nurse. I made a vow to serve in my congregation until my last breath. Convent life has changed, too. In 1962 the Second Vatican Council decreed that we should look more approachable and we were given more freedom; we are not a closed order but we were quite strict – for instance we couldn't see our relatives or go home. I was in the convent for 17 years before I was allowed home to Switzerland for the first time. When we adopted the new habits I remember feeling exposed because our habits were only ankle-length.

I've had a very fulfilled and happy life. I never get bored, the changes have been so great and have happened quickly.

Experience counts for a lot. Patients report that the hospital feels calmer and more peaceful and that comes from the presence of the sisters.

I think the Queen is wonderful, she seems to be blooming. The first time I saw television was the Coronation and I've been a royalist ever since.

Dorene Hargreaves, 79

Dance and fitness instructor, Wick, Somerset

I was 14 when I first took to the stage as a dancer in panto at the Bristol Hippodrome. My father died when I was young and my mother sacrificed every penny to allow me to go to classes. I did panto for five years and in my twenties I began to take classes of my own. It was a natural progression from dancing to start keep-fit classes which, in those days, were like dance classes. I even had a pianist to accompany me.

The first fitness celebrity was a woman called Eileen Fowler. She started the keep-fit craze long before Jane Fonda and I went on a tour with her to Spain where we did exhibitions. I represented the South West in national competitions and have performed keep-fit routines in the Albert Hall. In the early Sixties keep-fit was a massive craze. I first started hosting classes in 1962 in an adult education centre and was paid £9 an hour. In the early days people came in leotards, now they wear trousers and tracksuits.

Today, I run my own classes. I run three a week and pay £40 to hire a hall. I make a small profit but I don't do it for the money. I do it because I love it. I also hold classes in a nursing home once a month.

I've seen a lot of fads come and go, like aerobics. Classes are closing all the time so I must be doing something right. I put my own sequences together and use music by artists such as Alesha Dixon and Abba. A lot of people go to gyms, but you don't get the companionship there. When you go to a class you can go on your own and by the end you will have made friends. I have people who have been with me for 40 years. I have one who had both her hips and knees replaced and still comes along.

My mum gave up everything to allow me to follow my dreams and my work ethic comes from her. I hope she'd be proud. It keeps me fit, too. I've never had a flu jab and I rarely get colds; I take cod liver oil every morning and drink lots of hot water. I only ever had one injury; I fell in a class and broke my wrist but was back at work the following week. I won't retire as long as I am able to do it.

The Queen has her health too and I like her, but not all the other hangers-on. She's done a good job, she's had to be hard and she's dedicated.

Roger Kempson, 79

Funeral director, Littlehampton, West Sussex

Today I will have been working for the same firm for 65 years. I admire anyone who sticks at the same job for 60 years. I'm not particularly a royalist but I'm not against the Royal Family and I shall be celebrating the Jubilee like everyone else.

I began as a stonemason's apprentice after the war in 1947. We made memorials and also helped rebuild bomb-damaged churches. When work started to run out in 1954 I moved over to the funeral side of the business, earning 30 shillings a week, which was a good wage. Now you can start on around £20,000 a year and an area manager can earn up to £45,000 a year. I work for a family business called FA Holland.

The firm has always been forward-thinking and was ahead of the trade. In the Fifties there was little refrigeration or embalming but Holland introduced them and also had proper mortuaries and a chapel of rest, which was virtually unheard of in those days; most people took their deceased home and laid them out in the front room. Today the premises we use are more like hospitals and the care of the deceased is of a very high standard.

I get pleasure in helping people. I get involved in their lives. I know many of the families I have worked for personally because I grew up in the town. I've done many funerals for people I know. I knew parents and grandparents and nowadays the people who are now my age are passing on too. I have buried people I went to school with.

One of the main skills you need to be a good funeral director is the ability to read people and understand them. Some people cope with grief by laughing and trying to make light of it, others want to be quiet and you need to know which is which. College can't teach you that, age and experience can. You keep learning, you never finish. It keeps my brain going.

When I started they used to say that the average lifespan was three score years and 10 and that if someone made 72 they were elderly, but nowadays you have to be in your nineties to be considered old and the number of people over 100 is unbelievable.

I am semi-retired now but if I ever thought I wasn't doing the job properly I would pack it in all together. You can't make mistakes.

Bryan Collen, 74

Farmer, Gisleham, Suffolk

In 1945 my father took over an estate farm which I grew up on. I was expected to help out after school and at weekends which I did and when I left school I had no ambitions to do anything other than farming. At the time the industry was moving from horse power to machinery and I had a tremendous interest in tractors. My father was a progressive and invested in modern machinery. In the Fifties we were one of the first farms to have a mechanised milking parlour.

When I began farming, farmers made a good living. The wage was basic but we had extra rations and got surplus food from the farm.

There have dramatic changes in the past 60 years. Crop yields have risen hugely. I farm sugar beet and wheat and when I started, 10 tonnes an acre was good. Now you can produce 30 tonnes, which has been down to the introduction of fertiliser and pesticides and the introduction of bigger fields and better drainage.

The market we sell to has changed dramatically. There is a global demand for wheat and sugar. Because we are a large arable producer we don't sell to the supermarkets so they haven't had as big an impact on us as they have on farms producing fresh consumables and vegetable crops which have seen margins cut. In the Sixties, wheat was selling for around £40 a tonne, now on the world market it is around £140 a tonne. However, we are in the process of selling off our 120-head dairy herd because the price of milk is now so low you need large herds to make a profit. It was recently dropped by 2p a litre.

I've also noticed the climate change. It has got warmer and it has become a little unpredictable, but I am not totally convinced climate change is as dramatic as is made out.

Farming is in my blood and I am driven by the desire to do the job better. I want to see the land improved all the time. You hear a lot of people talk about how the land is being overworked but in my experience it is in better condition than it has ever been.

I still like nothing better than driving a combine harvester at harvest time. When they first came out they were £300, they now cost the best part of £300,000. I bought my first tractor in 1967, it was £700 and I lost more nights of sleep over that than anything since. To buy the equivalent today would be £70,000.

Experience is important in farming. There is still room for older people because there is no substitute for the knowledge that you gain over time. To work for as long as I have you need your health and you have to love your work and have to be able to earn enough to put food the table. I think the Queen has done well in her job. She's had difficult times but has kept the monarchy on an even keel.

Colin Davies, 66

Salesman, Isle of Man

My father had a shop in Liverpool selling menswear and as a young child I wanted to help so I pestered him and when I was six he took me out with him door-to-door selling. It became a regular thing. There was no training, I just copied my father. When I was older I would skive off school and work in the markets.

In those days I had a terrible stutter and when I saw a man demonstrating a food chopping machine I was mesmerised by his patter. I wanted to speak like he did. I asked him for a job, he agreed and I left home the next day and hitchhiked to Leicester to start work as a grafter – a travelling salesman. I was 15.

I travelled all over the UK and Ireland selling anything from non-drip nappies to ironing boards. There were no regulations and all kinds of scams. When I sold juicers I would fill oranges with extra juice using a syringe so during the demonstration it appeared as if the juicer was extracting more juice than normal.

In Ireland I took photographs of tourists with an Instamatic camera. I bought a monkey from a man in a pub to use as a prop. I called him Pedro and he used to sleep in my car. I fed him bananas and nuts. He would sit on people's shoulders and I'd take the photographs. It worked well until he bit someone and ran off up O'Connell Street. I never saw him again.

In 1982 I joined Everest as a rep. I worked my way up to become regional manager which was an amazing achievement and something I am very proud of.

Since I started out things have changed dramatically. Now the direct sales industry is much cleaner. Consumers are more aware of their rights and salespeople have to work within the framework of those rights, otherwise you will not last. The Queen has done well selling the monarchy to an increasingly sceptical nation. I can remember her Coronation. I used to know a man who sold seats for it for 10 shillings each. He advertised them and people sent in their money. He sent them back a fold-up chair. The Jubilee will be good for business.

The most important quality you need in sales is the ability to sell yourself. People buy people first of all. If they like you and you have a good product, you can sell. It's quite a job to sell cold and you have to believe in what you are selling.

I've stayed interested because my career in Everest has enabled me to provide a decent standard of living for my family. I've worked all my life and never had a day off sick. I'm 67 this year and I'll continue working as long as I can. Experience is so important because you can use it to help other people and people tend to trust an older person more.