He may have just turned 100 but Harold Veazey still has the energy of someone half his age.
Harold became a television star late in life when he starred in ITV documentary series, ‘100 Year Old Drivers’, where he demonstrated his driving skills in his late 90s.
He still attends services at Melton’s St Mary’s Church and was a regular gym-goer in the town until earlier this year when the strains of old age finally began to take their toll.
Harold was surrounded by friends and family on Thursday when he celebrated his 100th birthday and received a treasured telegram from the Queen.
“I’ve had a good innings, I mustn’t grumble,“ said Harold.
“I have always kept pretty fit all my life. I’ve never liked spirits. If we used to go abroad I might have a drop of brandy and I’ve never smoked a lot.
“I used to have the odd fag but never made a habit of it.”
He uses a mobility walker to get around the town but still enjoys driving his red Suzuki hatchback. In fact, he’s been getting behind the wheel for 85 years but had never taken a driving test until he appeared on the TV show two years ago.
Harold recalled: “Before I left school I worked as a butcher’s boy in Kegworth.
“One day, the butcher decided I was big enough to drive the lorry, so he took me into the yard, got the lorry out and taught me how to drive it in a field. “In those days the roads were limited and there wasn’t so much traffic on them. I was 15 and I’ve been driving ever since.”
He added: “I’d never taken a driving test until I appeared on the TV show.
“When the test had finished the examiner said he was sorry that he couldn’t give me a certificate but that I’d passed with honours and to keep driving.”
Harold has lived most of his life in Melton but grew up in another Leicestershire town, Kegworth, where he got his first job, with an engineering firm.
He grew up with his mum, Ellen, father, Charles, and twin brothers, Charlie and Tom, who were four years older than him.
When the Second World War started, Harold was sent by the Ministry of Labour to Leicester to work for an American firm making parts for Spitfire aircraft.
It was while he was working there that he met his wife, Winifred.
“The Ministry sent a bus load of young ladies from Melton Mowbray to be trained as engineers and I had the pleasant task of training some of them to work a capstan lathe,” he recalled fondly.
“Winifred was one of them and she was my favourite of the lot.”
The couple married in Melton in 1942 and had a son, Ian, who has two daughters and lives in Dubai, and daughter Christine, who also has two daughters and lives in Melton.
Harold clearly dotes on Christine: “She’s my right arm. She takes good care of me,” he said.
Harold, a former church warden at St Mary the Virgin Church, Thorpe Arnold, joined the church with his new wife.
Winifred took on cleaning duties at St Mary’s in Melton and after her passing several years ago, Harold took over her role washing the altar cloths, something he still does today.
Harold, who in 2014 was given an award for being the oldest athlete in the county, was a familiar figure at the town’s Waterfield Leisure Centre for many years, enjoying an hour-long workout three mornings a week.
Unfortunately he had to give it up earlier this year, explaining: “I stopped going because my knees packed up.
“When I was 90 they decided I needed two new knees.
“I had them done and they guaranteed them for 10 years.
“I went back after 10 years to see the surgeon and he x-rayed the knees and said ‘no chance, you’ve had it’.
“So now I can hardly pick them up and I miss going to the gym, it kept my legs moving.”
Exercise has always played a big part in Harold keeping active and healthy into old age. He regularly walked around Melton Country Park after his gym sessions and, in his younger days, he enjoyed playing football, cricket and boxing locally.
Receiving his telegram from the Queen was a thrill but not as much as actually meeting her in person, which he did last year when he received Maundy Money from her at Leicester Cathedral.
Harold said the monarch talked to him about his role washing laundry cloths for the church and asked about his work during the last world war.
“That for me is far better than receiving a card or telegram from her,” he added.
“I was actually speaking to Her Majesty. That made my day.
“My wife would have been very proud of me, she was very patriotic.”
Harold’s daughter, Christine Saxby, told the Melton Times why he is so special to her: “Dad has always been my go-to person for words of comfort, a hug or home truths.
“He is kind, generous and has such a big heart.
“His unfailing faith has kept him strong when others would have given up.
“We all love him so much.”
His grand-daughter, Annabelle, was also keen to pay tribute to him. She said: “My Grandad is the strongest man I’ve ever met.
“He’s taught me that no matter what strife or heartbreak you face in life, to pick yourself up and battle on.
“He’s given me a lifetime of wisdom and encouragement and I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful than I am to be his granddaughter.”
EVENTS IN 1918 - THE YEAR HAROLD WAS BORN:
l The First World War ended
l The RAF was formed
l Women got the vote for the first time
PRIME MINISTERS AND MONARCHS HAROLD HAS LIVED THROUGH:
l Since Harold was born there have been 19 different Prime Ministers (dating from David Lloyd George).
l There have been four monarchs in Harold’s lifetime, going back to George V.