Jeanne, 120 years and 238 days, is now oldest person on record

Paris - In extreme old age, as in infancy, it is the days that count. Jeanne Calment, who has lived all her life in the southern city of Arles, yesterday notched up 120 years and 238 days to become the longest- lived human being on record, writes Mary Dejevsky. She overtook a Japanese man who died in 1986 at the age of 120 years and 237 days.

Jeanne of Arles, as she became known during her 120th-birthday celebrations in February, was born in 1875, before such events as the Dreyfus affair, the invention of cinema and the building of the Eiffel Tower. She met Van Gogh and was 39 at the outbreak of the First World War.

Yesterday, wearing a black and white dress made by a Paris fashion house and sitting in the new green wheelchair bought after her last birthday, she told assembled television reporters: "I have always been brave; was never afraid of anything."

For the past 10 years she has lived in a small old people's home in Arles; her daughter and grandson both predeceased her. Now she is blind, almost deaf, practically immobile and "a bit distracted" but her doctor, Victor Lebre, describes her as being "more like a 90-year-old in good health" than someone of 120.

He admitted yesterday that he feared during the summer she might not make the 238 days needed to break the record: the heatwave of July and August took its toll and only a day-trip to a local seaside resort and permission to smoke "a single cigarette" restored her morale. Now, he said, her life could probably be measured "in months rather than years", as she had "achieved her goal".

In February, Mrs Calment's 120th birthday was celebrated with singing, dancing and a large cake - although her glazed look and waxlike appearance suggested the festivities largely passed her by. Then, her only recorded comment was: "The good Lord seems to have forgotten me."

In France, her longevity has inevitably been cited not only as a personal achievement but as an advertisement for the French lifestyle and the low- cholesterol Mediterranean diet, with its olive oil, fruit, vegetables and moderate intake of red wine. And while Jeanne of Arles is clearly exceptional, the claim may have some truth: with a life-expectancy of more than 84 years, French women are the longest-lived in Europe.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn