My haven: The legendary wartime entertainer, Dame Vera Lynn, 94, relaxes in the painting room at her Sussex home
At 92, Dame Vera Lynn became the oldest person to have a number one album
1 HALL OF FAME
This is my favourite room, and I keep all the memorabilia from my career here. I’ve received lots of awards, including a Women of the Year award presented to me by Katherine Jenkins two years ago, and a Lifetime Achievement Brit Award given to me last year after I became the oldest person, at 92, to have a number one album. I went to The Brits to receive it – the music from the youngsters was much better than I expected.
2 HIGHEST HONOUR
It was an absolute honour to receive my dame. It was given to me in 1975 for services to our troops, but it was quite unexpected as I’d received an OBE in 1959. I went to the Palace and the Queen herself presented it to me. She said, ‘Well, you’ve waited a long time for this.’ I wear it on special occasions, such as functions for ex-servicemen. It’s nice to be called Dame Vera. I don’t like the Lynn bit – somehow Dame Vera is more personal.
3 A BRUSH WITH ART
Watercolours are a passion of mine and my subjects are usually from my lovely garden and the field beyond. This painting of a magnolia, picked from my front garden, is my favourite. It’s very pale and delicate, almost botanical. I used to paint quite a bit at school, then I went to a class in the village to learn watercolour skills. It’s much harder as you get older but it still gives me enormous pleasure to watch a painting gradually come to life.
4 WHAT A TROOPER
When I got back from Dimapur in Burma after visiting the troops there in 1944, these photos started to arrive from families of chaps who’d had cameras. A war zone is a worrying place, but our boys made me feel safe. I spoke to lots of the wounded and I often wonder how many got home. The American Veterans Association gave me the medal with the red, white and blue ribbon later for entertaining the troops – I’m very proud of it.
5 FAMILY AFFAIR
Family photos always make me smile and I have them all around my home. My daughter, Virginia, lives next door and comes to see me every day. My only brother, Roger, lives in Brighton and has children and grandchildren, and we try to see each other’s families as often as we can. We’re a small but close-knit family. Roger and I have always been close. As teenagers we’d go ballroom dancing together in east London, where we grew up.
6 MY HARRY
My husband, Harry, was an RAF musician who played with the Squadronaires, the official RAF band. He worked with me after he left the services, making travel arrangements and so on. He was a lovely, kind, thoughtful man and we were married 58 years. We went everywhere together, except for the trip to Dimapur. It was very difficult when I lost him in 1999 after a stroke, but I have lots of fond memories.
As told to Paula Kerr. Dame Vera is president of the Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy. See www.dvltrust.org.uk