Dame Fanny Waterman – the driving force behind The Leeds International Piano Competition – shows no sign of slowing down as she turns 93 today.
In the past year the energetic great-grandmother has dined with the Queen, met the Australian Prime Minister, been the subject of a BBC documentary and recognised as one of our most celebrated Dames, alongside Dame Judi Dench and Welsh diva Dame Shirley Bassey.
She has also had a Leeds community centre named after her and recruited two new world-famous ambassadors for her beloved competition – Lang Lang, one of the world’s most famous classical pianists; and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose piano was a source of solace during her 15 lonely years of house arrest.
It’s hard to imagine the next 12 months could top that but the woman dubbed ‘Field Marshall Fanny’ by those who know and love her, already has a meeting lined up with Aung San Suu Kyi – at the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s request; plus plans to set up a table tennis competition for schoolchildren.
She said: “I want to do my autobiography – if only I could find the time.”
Still, after a staggering eight birthday celebrations last year, this year’s festivities are far more low-key, with just a small musical soiree planned.
The inspirational widow, who still works up to 10 hours a day as well as teaching young pianists, said: “You can reverse the digits of 93 to 39 – I don’t feel any different.
“You don’t stop working because you grow old, you grow old because you stop working.”
And she has no interest in receiving birthday gifts: “I just enjoy the fact that I’m happy and healthy, surrounded by loving family and friends.”
It’s just over half a century since she came up with the idea of the competition credited with putting Leeds on the global map and launching the careers of numerous maestros including Romania’s Radu Lupu.
Last summer, as well as the world-renowned contest, she organised a concert which saw 500 children from more than 22 Leeds schools sing together at Leeds Town Hall.
She said: “That was something that stands out in my memory. I have a mission now, in addition to the piano competition, and that is to help young children from poor homes because that’s where I started.”