Triathlete Daphne Belt: “At 50, I was terrified – at 83, nothing can stop me”
To the outside world, my fifties probably looked like a breeze. I had a secure, interesting job with the BBC, a nice home in Royal Tunbridge Wells, and a busy social life. But I knew deep down something was missing.
I’d raised my daughter Samantha, now 35, single-handedly, and had worked as a presenter, reporter and producer across BBC Radio and TV for 30 years. But when I hit my fifties, things changed. As many women at this age experience, I felt I was being undermined and overlooked at work, which coincided with a difficult menopause.
I felt overwhelmed and broken, and suddenly became aware that I didn’t want to see out the rest of my life feeling trapped, voiceless and powerless. So I decided to take early retirement aged 60 and become a spirited, unapologetic retirement rebel.
With my purpose now left for me to define, I decided that I would spend the next few years challenging bullying and ageism in the workplace. My mission was simple: to show others that you don’t have to accept the cards that society is dealing you. Instead, you can rewrite your own script and ignore the pressure to grow old quietly.
I was fortunate that my BBC pension and an old nursing pension (I was a nurse before joining the BBC), enabled me to leave work and find happiness while being financially secure.
This is how I discovered a newfound joy, and seven things I’ve learned along the way.
When I was contemplating my retirement, I knew I wanted to get rid of all my “stuff”. I felt that we get too bogged down in a cycle of working too much to pay for things we don’t really need, leaving little time for family and friends. I felt that collectively, we were getting life the wrong way round.
I wanted to show others it is possible to live a far less materialistic life, and still be happy. Out of the blue one morning, a couple of years before my retirement, in 2017, I woke up with the idea of a motorhome in my head, and to this day I don’t know where it came from. I had never holidayed in one, or even driven one.
Despite that, I went ahead and purchased my trusty second-hand motorhome, Dora the Explora [sic]. She had a homely feel, and all the elements I needed: cooker, fridge freezer, microwave, shower, toilet and heating.
Over the next two years, I gradually got rid of my home and possessions and revved off into my retirement in 2019. Most of my family and friends thought I’d gone crazy, but they also supported my idea because they knew how unhappy I had become.
I started writing about my journey in my blog. My plan was to have no plan and to just go with the flow. I spent my first night on a farm outside Harrogate in Yorkshire, and when I watched the sunrise the next morning, I knew that I had done the right thing.
Looking back on that day, heading off into the unknown was a crazy thing to do, but it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. Since then I have weathered storms, endured a pandemic, climbed peaks in Scotland, swum in icy seas and rivers, and met the most amazing people while on my travels. I have become the woman that I always felt I should have been. I no longer feel unworthy, not good enough, or afraid. I am enough.
I relish the freedom I have by being able to discover the beauty of Great Britain, staying mainly on the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s smaller sites. The Outer Hebrides and the West Coast of Scotland are my highlights so far, and I’ve been wowed by parts of Ireland and Normandy, in France.
Aged 63, I published a book called Retirement Rebel about my life’s journey, from feeling broken in my mid-fifties to being the happiest I have ever been in my sixties. I’ve had messages from women in Australia, Germany and Italy telling me that I have inspired them to see life differently and to take steps to be more adventurous in their retirement.
Exploring the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland
I want to show younger women that they needn’t fear getting old and to help the older ones to face their fears and create their own adventures – no matter how big, or how small. You don’t have to be as mad as me and turn your life on its head. You may just want to make small lifestyle changes, such as going for walks in the countryside more often, or taking up a hobby that you’ve always wanted to do.
When it comes to pursuing your dreams, I genuinely believe age is just a number. It’s never too late and you are never too old.
The main turning point for me, emotionally, came six months into my motorhome life, standing on the edge of Loch Morlich in Scotland, late at night in the dark and pouring my heart out. I cried, and shouted out loud – having conversations with people I had lost and those I felt had wronged me.
I sobbed for ages, and then felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I decided then and there that I would leave the anger and hurt behind, and move forward. I vowed that I would do all I could to help other women so they never feel as broken and as lost as I had felt in my fifties.
Siobhan spent five months in a field in Norfolk during the second Covid lockdown
When Covid struck, I spent the first lockdown in Lancaster with another couple in a van nearby. But the second lockdown was tough – I was on my own in a field in Norfolk for five months over winter. I struggled emotionally and had to dig deep to find my inner strength. The pipes in my motorhome froze at one point, and I had to collect snow and boil it to make drinks and wash. I felt like Bear Grylls and I was proud of myself for sticking it out.
My new lifestyle has made me feel invigorated and up for new challenges. I believe when you retire, you “refire”. Life has taken on a whole new meaning for me in my sixties, and I’ve relished doing new things, however daunting. I’ve driven my motorhome for thousands of miles on my own. I have wild-camped in Scotland, and more recently, I’ve driven my motorhome on the other side of the road when I travelled around France.
Refilling Dora the Explora for her next adventure
It did take me a while to get to grips with motorhome life, such as learning how to fill the water tank and connect to the electricity or gas supplies on sites. I admit I shed a few tears and constantly called my brother for advice. Initially I did struggle driving the motorhome and navigating country roads. I’ve been stuck in muddy fields and pranged the back of the van – all of which would have floored me a few years ago. Now, with my newfound confidence and my “inner warrior”, I’m able to find a way to overcome any problems that arise, and that is very empowering.
Conventionally, people want to settle down into a comfortable and secure retirement in their homes. The thought of not having roots as you age makes some feel very afraid. For me, being nomadic has allowed me to truly live in the moment. I have become the mistress of my own destiny, and I can take my “rebel spirit” into any situation in life, which fills me with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
When people ask me how long I intend to keep living like this, my answer is for as long as I am enjoying it, and as long as I am able to. The only things I’ve missed since I embarked on my life’s adventure is hanging out with some of my old friends and soaking in a nice hot bath, while reading a book and listening to music.
My message to whoever is reading: seize life’s reins. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Read Siobhan’s full story in Retirement Rebel: One Woman, One Motorhome, One Great Big Adventure (Vertebrate, £9.99) and follow her adventures on Instagram
Written by Siobhan Daniels
Following a 30-year career as a reporter, producer and presenter for the BBC, Siobhan Daniels retired and decided to shake up every aspect of her life. She sold her belongings, bought a motorhome and embarked on a solo trip around Great Britain. This adventure turned out to be a journey of self-discovery which Siobhan chronicles in her book Retirement Rebel. She is now a passionate advocate of rewriting the retirement “script” and she writes and speaks about tackling ageism.