AS Sir Patrick Duffy turns the grand age of 100, he claims the key to his long and illustrious life is never having smoked, always taking exercise and reading as much as humanly possible along the way.
The former Labour MP and Navy Minister reached his magnificent milestone today (June 17).
And while Covid-19 restrictions meant the much-anticipated birthday party planned at The Naval Club in London’s Mayfair could not take place, he has instead taken time to reflect on an achievement which nearly passed him by.
“I know the stock answer when you are asked how you feel about turning 100 is to say, ‘I never expected this’, but it’s true - I never expected it,” he told The Irish Post this week.
“But then I never dwelt on it either,” he adds, “I was so busy, right up until now, I was too busy living.”
Speaking from his home in Doncaster, where Sir Patrick is currently working on a second edition of his autobiography Growing up Irish in Britain and British in Ireland: and in Washington, Moscow, Rome and Sydney, which was first released in 2014, he explained his thoughts further.
“When you have stayed as busy as I have, and still have a retentive mind and a helpful mind and can reflect therefore on so much that has happened to me, time seems to have brushed past me,” he admits.
“So, there is no reason why I should have dwelled on the impending future, of how long will I live and so on, there wasn’t occasion to dwell on that kind of thing.”
Yorkshire raised, but Lancashire-born, Sir Patrick’s parents hailed from Ireland but worked in and around England’s coalfields.
“I grew up Rossington, a pit town, built up around Rossington Main Colliery,” Sir Patrick recalls.
“I was brought up next door to Wigan’s tram-sheds, which were always clanging away – but we never complained. Today people would complain, wouldn’t they? - but we never complained.”
“I loved it in Rossington, that’s where all my early friendships were made,” he adds.
Remarkably Sir Patrick’s earliest memory is actually from the age of two.
“Astonishingly I can recall shopping for my mother in Wigan when I was only two and a half,” he admits.
“And the reason I am so specific about that is because I have two brothers and I can date what I was doing then from the brother who was a year younger and then by my second brother, who had not yet arrived.
“That’s my earliest memory, I have the clearest picture of that day, 97 years ago, believe it or not.”
It was in Rossington that Sir Patrick signed up for the armed forces at the age of 18, having claimed to be 19.
He would serve six years in combat during which he was made an officer – something he claims was “unbelievable” for someone “with a background like mine”.
But Sir Patrick’s life would continue to take all manner of interesting twists and turns, long after his wartime service had finished.
“My god I have had some squeaks in my life,” he laughs.
“I had six years combat service you see, I was in combat from the earliest weeks when I first signed up, giving a false age, and in no time was given a medical and was on my way to my first shipment.
“And a year later I was put before a selection board with a view to officer training.
“For an ordinary seaman to become an officer, and someone like me as well, with my background, was unbelievable.
“But from then on, I did all kinds of unexpected things, but all favourably inclined, thank God,” he adds.
“And when I look back, I not only had some narrow squeaks, inevitably, in combat, but I also had some narrow squeaks in politics too, when I was a minister in Whitehall.”
Sir Patrick moved into politics in 1963 when elected the Labour MP for Colne Valley, a position he held until 1966.
In 1970 he was elected MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, a position he held until 1992.
He was also Minister for the Navy in the 1970s and President of the NATO Assembly in the 1980s – a post which opened the door to a new range of achievements and experiences, including audiences with the likes of Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher.
And despite those few “squeaks” along the way, Sir Patrick remains fit, agile and active as he reaches his 100th year.
So just what is his secret?
“I never smoked, I never used my ministerial car when I could walk - I never used any such transport when I could avoid doing so - and I read,” he admits.
“I read and I read,” he added.
“I built up books and libraries all my life and I so much want to read them, although I know time is against me.”
Sir Patrick is also clear that his faith has been another important part of his life.
“I have felt blessed all my life and what has also strengthened that belief is my faith,” he reveals.
“I have never made anything of it, but privately I tell myself again and again I am blessed, I am blessed and blessed again.
“In that sense I am happy, I always have been, and I am fortunate.
“I have had squeaks, in combat and in the political world, but I have always been happy.”