Zena, London

 ZENA LIVES: Hampstead, London BORN: South Africa,  MOTHER TONGUE: English GRANDCHILDREN: Sam, Lauren, Olivia THEY CALL HER: Mama Zene COOKING: Piroshkis  The most esteemed guest to have eaten my Peroshkis at a luncheon is Margaret Thatcher, who was perfectly charming. This recipe goes back very far. My mother was Russian and she taught me to make Peroshkis. She moved around a lot and she was ten years old when she left Russia so this was probably her way of holding on to her heritage. When we would have dinner parties with my husband I would make Peroshkis and people loved them. They all wanted the recipe and were fascinated by how I made them but of course it’s so simple, I never passed it on.  My cooking is simple but it’s always healthy and tastes delicious. There’s no question that the key to keeping youthful is to eat well and exercise. I have chronic Leukaemia but I don’t even think about it. My granddaughter Olivia bought me a Pilates DVD and I learnt it by heart so that I can take a mat wherever I am and do the exercises every morning. It’s mainly for the core and the hips and they’re excellent. I can hold a plank for 300 counts.

ZENA
LIVES: Hampstead, London
BORN: South Africa, 
MOTHER TONGUE: English
GRANDCHILDREN: Sam, Lauren, Olivia
THEY CALL HER: Mama Zene
COOKING: Piroshkis

The most esteemed guest to have eaten my Peroshkis at a luncheon is Margaret Thatcher, who was perfectly charming. This recipe goes back very far. My mother was Russian and she taught me to make Peroshkis. She moved around a lot and she was ten years old when she left Russia so this was probably her way of holding on to her heritage. When we would have dinner parties with my husband I would make Peroshkis and people loved them. They all wanted the recipe and were fascinated by how I made them but of course it’s so simple, I never passed it on.

My cooking is simple but it’s always healthy and tastes delicious. There’s no question that the key to keeping youthful is to eat well and exercise. I have chronic Leukaemia but I don’t even think about it. My granddaughter Olivia bought me a Pilates DVD and I learnt it by heart so that I can take a mat wherever I am and do the exercises every morning. It’s mainly for the core and the hips and they’re excellent. I can hold a plank for 300 counts.

I never think of myself as my actual age. I used to see people that were 80 and think ‘Oh God, are they old!’ but here I am at my age and I really do think young. I’ve had a very active life. In South Africa my first business was a butcher’s shop (at my father’s suggestion.) I remember walking in for the first time, seeing all this sawdust and blood on the floor. The man we bought it from was awful. He told everyone I was Jewish – in such an anti-Semitic area - because he wanted to sabotage our business but I persevered and made a great success of it.

I wanted to leave South Africa though so we sold the business and my husband put the money into a trust fund his friend had set up. The night before I was due to fly to London with the children, we went for dinner at his parents’ house. I could see he was anxious, puffing away at his cigarettes. I asked his mother what was the matter with him because and she said, ‘you don’t know? You’ve lost all your money.” Well, I could have murdered that man there and then. I worked day and night for 3 years for that money and he lost it all.

We borrowed money for the flight and got a one-roomed apartment with beds that fold into the wall. I was just so happy to be out of South Africa and to be seeing trees for the first time that I made it work. I went to college and did a course in hair and beauty then the same college asked me to teach my own course called ‘Making the Most of Yourself.’ The Lady of Hampstead was in my class and she then asked me to run a Charm School with her so we ran a course from her home for women whose husbands were in high profile positions. Then Revlon got to hear about me and I began working with them, travelling all over doing their promotions.

When my husband died I thought the end of my life had come. I started playing golf to distract myself and I met the second man I was with there. I was with him for 15 years. In total I’ve had three gentleman in my life. My husband (a South African), an Englishman and an American.

Jerry, my current companion, is a rocket scientist and was a professor at Princeton for 54 years. He was an honorary fellow and there are only 40 in the world. He put the first American into space – Armstrong. When I met him, I was actually with the Englishman (Murry) at the time. We had a pleasant relationship but nothing special.

I had met Jerry once with his wife and I couldn’t quite put them together. He was more English than American and she was from Cuba. I thought, ’Isn’t she lucky to have got a man like that?’ Anyway, she died and he was very upset. My son is his dentist so he told him I’d cheer him up and that I was coming to America. So we went out together and when I was with him and we were talking, I felt I’d known him all my life. There was such a connection, I couldn’t get over it. I was in my seventies.

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Afterwards he asked me for luncheon and dinner, then I told him I’d have to go back to Palm Beach. I asked him if he’d like to join me for the weekend and he said ‘Sure.’ I’d just met him! He came over and we spoke for hours. And Murry my partner was at home in London and was supposed to come to Palm Beach to join me that weekend too. So I phoned him and told him ‘Murry, don’t come, I’ve fallen in love.’

We’ve had 14 wonderful years together and I’ve travelled the world with him. He’s a rocket scientist and he tells me I’m clever! I spend half my time with him there and the other half of the time here. We spend every night talking on FaceTime together and he’s mad about me. Can you imagine? A man of that age!

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