Two of NI’s best known celebrities have given exclusive interviews to the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland to help spread the word of International Day of Older Persons, which takes place today, 1 October.

Speaking to the Commissioner for Older People in exclusive interviews, Lady Mary Peters, who turned 80 this year, spoke openly and candidly about getting older, including how she is affected by issues of loneliness, ill health and the difficulty of losing friends.

Eamonn Holmes, alongside his 90 year old mother, took part in a video interview where they both shared their views on ageing and his mum offered some friendly advice to the broadcaster, demonstrating you’re never too old to be told off by your mum!

Speaking about ageing and the most difficult things about getting older, Lady Mary Peters said: “I feel positive about getting older because there’s nothing you can do about it – it just creeps up on you. But without a doubt the hardest thing is continually losing friends.”

She continued: “Loneliness can be a difficult issue and because I’m on my own things can grow in magnitude and I am wary of that. I think everybody should take time for somebody who is older even if it’s only five minutes a day. The most difficult thing about getting older would be health issues. I had open heart surgery last October but thankfully I recovered well and have been given an extra ten years thanks to that - unless something else happens of course.”

She also shared her advice for younger people today: “Put down your phone and listen to conversation. When I take the bus, everyone is on their smartphone – I have a Nokia phone and I use it for travelling which is useful, but I don’t feel the need to always be on it and to be talking to someone. It is an obsession. Even little children are on smartphones.”

Lady Mary’s proudest achievement came this year at the age of 80 when she was honoured by Her Majesty The Queen becoming the Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter. There are only 23 in the UK and Lady Mary is one of three women to be given the honour. “This has been my proudest achievement. I pinch myself every day.”

Speaking about International Day of Older Persons, she said: “I think we should honour and celebrate older people. Older people are very often grandparents who are making a big contribution by looking after grandchildren as well as volunteering. They have a story to tell and I think very often for people who served during wars they never talked about it because it was depressing but it’s so important that those stories are told and that the younger generation know about those hard times. I think older people deserve to be honoured simply for remaining in this life!”

Eamonn Holmes also echoed Lady Mary Peters views, sitting alongside his mum he said: “Old people should be seen as a privilege in society. When you look at ancient Roman or Greek society, the older you were, the wiser you were deemed to be and somehow in today’s world that seems to have been turned on its head. What older people have experienced - their successes, their failures, their lessons from life, should be lessons for all of us, so I think you have to embrace old people, not reject them.”

Eamonn’s mum, Josie Holmes who will be 91 in December, reflected on getting older, saying: “The best thing about getting older is the grandchildren, they make my day. I would rather see my grandchildren coming in, than my own sons!”

For Josie the worst thing that ever happened to her was losing her husband Leonard, 28 years ago. When asked about being a widow she said ‘It is absolutely awful. It is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Talking about loneliness she said no one could understand loneliness unless they experienced it: “I think I miss my own children, the home the way it used to be, now it’s an empty house. I clean and think, what am I doing this for?”

Whilst admitting she has plenty of visits from children, grandchildren and her nieces she said: “When they all go and I stand at the door saying bye bye, I know I’m coming in here and it’s just me. I don’t like going anywhere because I come back to an empty house. Isn’t that strange?”

Whilst Josie’s proudest achievement is her children, she would prefer Eamonn worked in a supermarket: “Money’s not important. See when our Eamonn starts telling me about hotels he goes to, I feel like saying ‘would you shut up’. I’m not interested. I feel sorry for him, I’d rather he had a wee job, coming home just like the rest of them.”

“A wee job in a supermarket.” Eamonn said to the camera.

Whilst her advice to younger couples was to stick together and listen to each other, her advice to her son was not to work so hard. “Do you know what I say to him? You’ve no cause to take as much work on, just do what you can because you’re not getting any younger.”

Speaking about International Day of Older People, the Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, said: “Older people are hugely valuable members of our society and I honestly don’t think they get the recognition and respect they deserve. International Day of Older Persons is a great opportunity to celebrate our older people and the positive contribution they make to our lives - whether that be through volunteering, community work, providing childcare and support and contributing to the economy - deserves much wider recognition and respect.

“I’m delighted that Lady Mary Peters and Eamonn Holmes and his mum, Josie, have spoken so openly and honestly to us about getting older and in doing so have helped to raise awareness of this day. I hope that it will spur more people on to spend quality time with the older people in their lives and take time to stop and celebrate them today and all that they contribute.”

Watch the full interview with Eamonn and his mum below:

Read the full interview with Lady Mary Peters here

Join in the celebration of older people by sharing a picture on social media of an older person in your life using #UNIDOP.