They always say that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any presents – but, as Age UK’s new festive adverts have proven, there’s much more to the 25 December than tearing the wrapping paper off of a well-chosen gift.
Based on a true story, we first hear Janet’s voice as she chats about her travels across the world – and she recalls how she once visited Australia, only to find herself being interviewed by a journalist who lived just around the corner from her home in the UK. She’s brave, she’s independent, and she’s a lot of fun.
But, as the camera pans across the room, we soon realise that the bubbly elderly woman (played by Miram Margoyles) is completely alone – and that this is not an unusual occurrence.
“I try to stay up to date, read all the latest magazines and stuff like that,” she explains, “but I do feel it happening. That I’m not managing to keep up. I tell myself that it’s no big loss; I enjoy my solitude, I’ve never really needed that much to get by.”
She goes on to recall past Christmases, before explaining that she keeps herself busy by “immersing myself in things like drawing, or reading, or just thinking” – but it soon becomes clear that there is a desperately sad side to these “satisfying” hobbies.
“It’s a bit strange when you realise you haven’t spoken to anybody for days… or weeks. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to speak. So I go to the shops and chat to the checkout girl, just to hear the sound of my own voice.”
She adds: “The thing is, you’ve never been an old person before. You have no idea how it’s going to be. Suddenly I’m scared of becoming a non-person – of life just going on around me. This is going to sound absolutely terrible, but I don’t plan anything for Christmas anymore, because nothing ever happens.”
Read more: Why we are so scared of growing old
Age UK have also released an advert featuring celebrated actor James Bolam, as he reads the true account of an elderly man named Roy.
It begins, again, with ’Roy’ talking to himself in the kitchen as he prepares himself a meal.
“A loved one dies and suddenly you think to yourself – where is she?” he says, recalling the death of his beloved wife. “I’ve got no one to talk to. So you start talking to yourself. And I talk to myself like the clappers.
The good thing with me is that I get on well with myself… some people don’t, you know.But I don’t. I say, ‘now, come on – we don’t argue. Come on kid, we can do this’. So that’s how we do. But it isn’t easy. Loneliness isn’t easy at all.”
Watch Roy’s full story below:
The adverts have been designed to raise awareness about loneliness in older men and women (1.2 million elderly people are chronically lonely) – and to promote Age UK’s telephone befriending services.
The scheme, which has been named Call In Time, sees elderly people matched up with like-minded volunteers for weekly companionship or regular ‘good day’ calls.
The real-life Roy has praised the service, saying: “Joining Age UK’s befriending service has been a great help. My local Age UK helped to set this up and I will be forever grateful... I’m feeling much more confident and positive now.”
And Janet, whom the first advert was based upon, said: “A lot of people assume that older people are surrounded by friends and family, especially at this time of year. Sadly, that’s not the case for all of us.
“Joining Age UK’s Call in Time service has without doubt helped me through some very difficult days. My befriender calls me every week and selflessly listens to me.”
You can find out about Age UK’s befriending services (both telephone and face-to-face) on their website. Or, if you are worried about an elderly relative or neighbour, they also have advice on how best to overcome loneliness , too.