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Life begins at 40: Beth Heath talks us through her 40th year challenges

By Andy Richardson | Features | Published:

Blame Walter B Pitkin. It’s his fault.

Beth Heath has set herself 40 challenges to complete in her 40th year

The American writer penned a self-help book called Life Begins At 40 in 1932.

t was a huge hit and spawned a hit black and white film starring Will Rogers and Richard Cromwell.

Pitkin wrote his book during a time of rapid increase in life expectancy.

Fifty years earlier, most Americans expected to die by the time they reached that milestone. But in Pitkin’s time, they could look forward to living until they were 60.

Pitkin doesn’t take the credit for coining the phrase “life begins at forty”.

But he captured the zeitgeist in his remarkable book and gave it a cultural significance that has endured down the ages.

John Lennon revisited Pitkin’s idea with a hit song in 1980 while there have been numerous TV series and books bearing that title.

The phrase means, of course, that people can look forward to many years of happy and fulfilling existence once that mark has been reached.

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And one West Midlands businesswoman is proof positive of that maxim. Beth Heath, who hails from Ironbridge, has set herself 40 challenges to complete in her 40th year. From driving an F1 car to felling a 40ft tree and from showing Highland Cattle – she did, and she won – to biking in the Alps, she’s almost ticked off every challenge on her wishlist.

The objective has been to make memories and spend quality time with her friends and family. They say life begins at 40. And, in the case of the Ironbridge events organiser, never a truer word was spoken.

In no particular order – and in her own words – these are the things she’s been up to:

1. Showing Highland Cattle

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“I know this isn’t your everyday thing. But that’s the reason why I set it as a challenge. As bizarre as it may sound, I’ve got a friend who owns Highland Cattle and he agreed to lend me one to exhibit at the Shropshire County Show. The best part of it was that I won. So I showed Highland Cattle and I have the rosette to prove. I won because my cow was the prettiest.”

2. Go to a professional cricket game and eat a traditional afternoon tea

“I’ve never had any interest in cricket. I thought a maiden was a pretty woman, long leg was something you’d find on a tall man and a Duke’s ball was something unmentionable that belonged to an aristocrat. So I wanted to challenge myself and do something quintessentially English – and what’s more English that cricket with afternoon tea. I went to see England play Australia at Edgbaston in The Ashes. It was great. It was like rounders but with prosecco.”

3. Fly a glider

“I’ve never been afraid of heights. And that’s just as well. A year or so ago I did a wing walk for charity, when I literally strapped myself onto the top of the wings of a small aeroplane to get a bird’s eye view. Shropshire is such a pretty county and going up to the Long Mynd to look down on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was one of the standout activities. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

4. Drive an F1 car

“Man, who doesn’t like F1? It’s great. It’s like driving a good car but faster. I signed up for a track day and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t very good at it. It’s safe to say that at my age and with my ability, I’m not going to challenge Lewis Hamilton. Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 3 are all safe. I’m not sure which car I drove, it was one those ones that’s really flat. The car was really fast but the two other blokes racing at the same time as me lapped me twice.”

5. Drive a double decker bus

“This was much more up my street – or, to be more accurate, much more in my field. My business organises food festivals and similar events and one of the exhibitors had a double decker bus. I asked if I could drive it; we were on private land, so I wasn’t breaking any laws. It was brilliant fun. As much as I love a good Mercedes Benz or Volvo, stick me on the Number 22 any day. It’s amazing. If my business folds, I’ll sign up for National Express and do the Wolverhampton to London route.”

6. Complete the Crystal Maze

“Everyone loves the Crystal Maze and signing up was great fun. I smashed it and won a crystal in each of the rooms. If ever Richard Ayoade needs a brilliant contestant, I’m in.”

7. Cut down a 40ft tree

“I look nothing like a lumberjack, I don’t own a saw, I haven’t got a beard and I’ve never worn a plaid shirt. But I took to cutting down a tree like a battered fish to the fryer. We live on a small holding in Ironbridge so I did one of the trees on our land. Now my friends call me Axe Girl.”

8. Drink a pint of beer brewed in every English county

“I guess this is one for the fellas, more than the ladies. But here’s my thinking behind it. There are some brilliant breweries in the Black County, Staffordshire and Shropshire. So I got to thinking that there would be brilliant craft ale breweries everywhere. And guess what: I was right. And I have had the hangovers to prove it. Drinking all that beer has been tough, but I’ve had a very supportive husband, Sid, who’s helped me with every last drop.”

9. Read 40 books

“This was probably the easiest challenge of the lot because I’m an avid reader. I wanted to read a few more classics, I’ve read plenty of business books and I’ve got through so many Murder Mystery books that I know who’s done it by the time I’ve read the first page.”

10. Tell 40 jokes

“Do you know what. I’m never going to be a comedian. Miranda Hart – your job is safe. I told the jokes and I was rubbish at it. They laughed at me, not with me. Next.”

Behind the wheel - Beth Heath jumped into a racing car

11. Do the conga with 40 people

“Smashed that. We had a huge party for my birthday, earlier this year. All my friends and family came. And, yes, we all did the conga. I bet that would have looked weird from space.”

12. Take part in a coracle race

“I live near to the river at Ironbridge and coracles are a big part of our heritage. So I signed up for a race and while everyone else was going forwards I ended up going backwards. I nearly got swept downstream and had to be rescued. I did the challenge and crossed it off my list, but canoeing is much easier.”

13. Drive a monster truck

“There’s a bit of a theme with this driving lark, isn’t there. Yes, I did the monster truck. No, I didn’t drive over a line of second hand cars. But I’ve have really loved to. Maybe next time.”

14. Sleep under the stars

“We did that at Shrewsbury Town FC as part of a campaign to raise money for the homeless. We slept in a cardboard tepee and it was absolutely freezing. It brought home what people go through when they’re in those situations. We raised a lot of money for the homeless and it gave me a real reality check too.”

15. Hold hands with a mascot

“I know what you’re thinking…. I’m just a big kid. But I held hands with Lennie the Lion, the Shrewsbury Town Mascot, and got a big cheer – from my friends. I love Lennie.”

16. Canoeing

“Easiest than being in a coracle. Next.”

17. Become a master at Hula Hoop

“I had a go when I was a kid and was never much good. But now I am the Hula Hoop Ninja. My abs are rock hard and I can spin at 200 revs per minute. Beat that, personal trainers everywhere.”

18. Climb a fully grown tree

“And before you ask. No, I didn’t climb the 40ft tree that I’d just cut down. I climbed a tree. I was part woman-part orang utan. And I shall never do it again. Climbing trees is scary.”

19. Have a classic family holiday, like you do when you’re kids

“Right, this was the absolute best challenge. My husband, two kids and mother went to Devon. And during that week, we spent so much quality time together. We made memories that will last a lifetime and reminded ourselves why family is the most important thing of all. This challenge, more than any other, summed up my 40-in-40 mission.”

20. Walk up Mount Snowdon

“I don’t understand why more people don’t do this. Snowdon’s only up the road, relatively speaking, and it’s sensational. It’s a great way to get fit, a great physical and mental challenge and the views are breathtaking. I loved my day in Snowdon.”

21. Go wild swimming

“I’ll let you into a secret, I’ve done skinny dipping more than once. There’s nothing quite as liberating. I won’t tell you where I went but I will tell you I’ve done it more than once. I was probably in the sea. And no photographs were taken.”

22. Throw a party for all of my friends

“This one was a bit like having a classic family holiday. It’s what the whole year has been about. I just want to spend time with the people I love and show them how much I appreciate them.”

23. Watch rugby

“This was another first for me. God, those blokes have got amazing legs. Went to rugby, didn’t make a beer snake after the game, learned what a try was and know all about conversions. I got this. John Innverdale, I’m coming for you.”

24. Book a couples spa

“Me and my husband, loads of oil and candles. Life doesn’t get any more relaxing than having a massage with the one you love the most.”

25. Do a soap box derby

“It’s possible that I just sat in the car, rather than raced it down a hill. I can’t remember. It counts. I did it, well, sort of. Those things are crazy, even for a woman who likes driving Monster Trucks and F1 cars. I think I’m done with the driving. I’ll never leave my Volvo ever again.”

Beth turned lumberjill to cut down a 40ft tree

26. Learn to cook…. Properly

“This was great fun. I love to cook and having attended a cookery school, I can now blow Nigella right out the window.”

27. Take part in a tennis tournament

“The Shrewsbury Club has plenty of great tournaments so I took on a professional. You can guess the score. I was bageled. It wasn’t a proper match. But I banged the ball over the net quicker than Federer.”

28. Go hot air ballooning

“This is still on my list and I genuinely can’t wait. I’m told it gets really cold from your neck down, but really hot on your head when they fire the burners.”

29. Do a 40-mile bike ride

“Easy. Next year I’m doing the Tour de France.”

30. Plant a time capsule

“I did this in the garden and plan to tell my kids about it, so that when they reach 40 they can look at all the stuff I put in there for them and realise how much I love them both.”

31. Biking in The Alps

“I added this to the list after doing number 29. Like I say, Beth Heath – Moulet La Jeune. Chapeau.”

32. Give away 40 items of clothing

“This was a bit like sleeping under the stars. We’ve all got too much stuff. We could all do a bit more for others. While having a brilliant time, I also wanted to remember that some people are less fortunate.”

33. Visit John O’Grouts and Lands End

“I’ve not done this one yet. But it’s on the list. And it’s a helluva long way. I was wondering whether I could cycle it as practice for the Tour de France, or just do it in a Monster Truck. That’d be proper fun.”

34. Visit the highest and lowest bar in the UK

“There’s a lot of drinking and partying involved in this list, isn’t there……”

35. Visit the Guinness factory in Ireland.

“Yes, there’s definitely a lot of drinking and partying involved. You wouldn’t believe me if you told me I normally drank water when out with friends, would you?”

36. Eat something from every county in England

“One of my first businesses was a hamper company and that introduced me to the delights of artisan food. I have to say, I’ve quite enjoyed this one – it’s a good job I’ve done all that cycling to burn off the extra calories.”

37. Raise more than £4000 for charity

“We’ve actually done a lot, lot more than the target. And we’re proud that we have. That’s just something we do.”

38. Throw a pot on a wheel

“If you’re looking for great pottery, probably best not to come to me. But it’s fun when the clay whizzes off the wheel. Everyone should try that.”

39. Go to a professional darts game

“They have professional darts in Wolverhampton. Our name’s down. We will be shouting ‘C’mon’ with the best of them.”

40. Buy a lobster or catch a fish and cook it outside

“I caught the fish and cooked it. Delicious. I’m still searching for the lobster.”

I wanted to do this because it’s a bit like a midlife crisis. You realise that doing things and making memories and seeing your friends and family more is more important than working all the time. This makes you spend time with people you love.

Andy Richardson

By Andy Richardson
Feature Writer - @andyrichardson1

Feature writer and food critic Andy Richardson interviews celebrities, writes columns and hangs out with chefs for stories that appear across all group titles.

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