How I move: Annie Whittle on her mission to stay active

Actor Annie Whittle is on a mission to keep active, so she swims 50 lengths of the local pool, digs in the garden and adores her community dance class.

How do you choose to move?

I love swimming. That’s my exercise of choice. I learnt at school, but I didn’t really start swimming seriously until I was about 30. I got a role in a film called Trial Run, where I was playing a marathon runner. I was swimming a mile and a half a day, running with Allison Roe in Auckland Domain and I was cycling as well. So I was extremely fit during that time. My then-husband was a very good swimmer and I really just watched what he was doing and taught myself. These days I swim at West Wave in Henderson, which is our closest swimming pool. I do 40 to 50 lengths of freestyle. I don’t do tumble turns because the water goes up my nose and I can’t cope with that. I need to get a nose plug or something. I also don’t like having to share my lane – I’m very selfish! So I try to choose my times for swimming.

What other exercise do you enjoy?

We live right on the top of the Waitākere Ranges, up by the television mast, so I adore walking in the area. Sadly, a lot of the bush walks have been closed to stop the spread of kauri dieback. Mostly now I walk on Scenic Drive, which is a lovely walk in itself. You just have to pick your days. It’s been okay in lockdown because there hasn’t been too much traffic. My husband Ian and I walk together. We both love walking with our dog, Ted. He is a black Labrador and he’s eight going on eight months. He’s a very naughty boy.

I also do a seniors dance class in the Titirangi community hall. I love the companionship of the other women. We’re all different shapes and sizes and there’s a reasonable age range. It’s just gorgeous and, of course, I love the music. My teacher started Zoom classes over lockdown, but I’ve had to pull out. I just found trying to get Zoom to work properly so frustrating. The dance classes are only half an hour long and usually by the end I was sort of getting the gist of it, but I had to abandon it because it was driving me nuts and I think I was probably annoying everybody else.

What do you love doing outdoors?

I have a big, big garden, and over the 35 years I’ve lived here, I’ve grown a lot and nurtured and transplanted and coaxed things to grow. It’s my absolute joy, it’s my balm, it’s my happy place. Even in the rain I go out, because if you get stuck into some task or other in the garden, hours pass and you come in and you’re wet and tired and feeling really happy because you’ve achieved something.

Were you a sporty child?

I grew up in Christchurch. My mum and dad were both keen mountain people and as children my brother Peter and I spent every holiday – winter and summer – in Arthur’s Pass National Park, skiing in the winters and walking and climbing in the summertime. The mountains were a glorious playground for us. It’s not that I’m not a team player, but I didn’t really enjoy team sports. I did like individual sports. I did ballet and I was a fencer when I was at university.

Why is it so important to you to stay active?

One reason is that our family – such as it is now, because sadly I lost my brother last year and I only have one son and one niece, whom I adore – is riddled with arthritis. Both my grandfathers and my mum and dad suffered terribly from arthritis. My dad died quite youngish, at 73, from cancer but my mum lived until 92. But she was very, very disabled by arthritis by the end of her life and I just don’t want to end my life like that.

So I’m trying to keep as mobile as I can, and if I need something like a knee replacement, I’ll have that just to enable me to keep moving. Also, as an actor, you never know when your next job is going to come along and so you need to keep a reasonable level of fitness so when you do get the opportunity to do some work, you can hit your straps quickly.

What’s your next project?

It’s a wonderful play called Grand Horizons. Jennifer Ward-Lealand is directing and I’m very excited to be working with her. I play Nancy, whose 50-year marriage to Bill is foundering after a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams and accumulated unspoken resentments. It’s such a real play and it’s hilarious. It’s quite black. It’s very clever, wicked, sometimes achingly sad, but I think it’s going to be one of those plays that you’ll come out of and think a lot about for days to come. I did quite a bit of TV work last year, but I haven’t done any theatre for a few years, so I’m really looking forward to it.


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