Birthday singalong surprise for Gwen

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Gwen celebrates her 90th birthday. Photo: Senga Hawker

A secret surprise awaited Gwen Zanottera as she turned 90.

When she opened her door late last month, the Stratford resident was greeted by a mob of socially distanced well-wishing singers.

Gwen is a well-known and much-loved figure in the town. She was a Blue Badge guide for many years and still guides coach tours.

She has been very involved in the local theatre and music scene, and was a member of both the Operatic Society and Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

Gwen told the Herald the surprise serenade organised by her friend Brenda Littlewood was “lovely”. She added: “Bren said she was going to come round with some treats from Marks and Spencer, but when I opened the door there were 20 people outside all properly distanced and singing Happy Birthday.

“It was a wonderful day. My phone didn’t stop ringing with friends and family calling, and I was lucky to get 50 cards from all over the world, many of them from people who I met when I was on Stratford’s Twinning Association.”

Before the lockdown, Gwen had a full diary of celebrations organised, with a party on Saturday, a bit of a do at St Andrew’s, Shottery, on Sunday and a lunch at Edward Moon’s on Monday. Even though it was all cancelled, indomitable Gwen remains a lesson in positivity.

She said: “It could drive you potty but you don’t have to let it. I talk to people on the phone and the internet, and I write – mainly short stories and poems.

“When I turned 80 I swore I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t want to do, so I do the things I love and keep busy, and rest when I’m not.”

Gwen has published books on the origins of sayings and is a member of writing group Stratford Scribes, who are meeting online once a week. “We are keeping up our classes as it keeps our minds busy, which is so important at the moment.”

Born in London – she is a proud Cockney – Gwen was evacuated to Broadway during the war and later settled in Evesham with her parents.

After meeting her husband while working in Germany, they settled in the Stratford area, where they raised two sons.

Gwen retired as a legal secretary aged 61 and then got a job on the open-top tour buses. “I went topless for 25 years!” she joked.

“I love being a guide,” she added. “I’m known for my terrible jokes.”