111-year-old Bob Weighton who has become the oldest man in the world (Photo: PA)
Bob Weighton leans on his walker as he makes his way into his local Waitrose. He is steady on his feet, but the walker helps with balance, the front of which has a number plate emblazoned with “Bob 111”.
“No need for an 'L' plate!” a fellow shopper jokes as Bob cruises towards the broccoli. “I’m getting a new one with the number 112 in a few weeks,” he tells the stranger, smiling. A brief pause and look of confusion ensues, until Bob adds: “Because I’ll be 112-years-old.” The shock on the man’s face is probably worth waiting a century for in itself.
Bob is the oldest man in the world - a title he recently took on following the death of Chitetsu Watanabe, of Japan, who held it for two weeks. When he was born on 29 March 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was US President, the Titanic being built and television yet to be invented.
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He’s low key about his world record. “Why me? I'm just a little boy born in Hull,” he ponders as we head to his flat in Alton, Hampshire, where he lives independently, but for occasional visits by carers. “There’s no reason why - somebody has to be the oldest!”
Bob Weighton at his local Waitrose (Photo: Benjamin Butterworth)
The key to living for 111 years and 345 days is to “avoid dying,” he says, but beyond that you’ll have to work out the secret to ongoing immortality for yourself.
He only drinks alcohol on special occasions, doesn’t smoke and avoids red meat, but that’s more out of concern for the planet than health worries. He has enjoyed Branston pickles since boyhood (they were invented when he was 14) and fills his shopping bag with brown bread and bananas.
“I’ve eaten stuff that I’ve no idea what was in it,” he confesses of claims diet is responsible for his longevity.
A young Bob Weighton (back) who will turn 112 on 29 March (Photo: Getty)
As a teenager he trained to be a marine engineer, but there were no jobs, so he contacted the Methodist Church and agreed to teach English in Taiwan. Ahead of the move he met his wife, Agnes, who was being sent to Ghana. The couple maintained their relationship by letter writing, waiting weeks at a time for correspondence to arrive as they were shipped between Asia and Africa.
After some years they built a life together in Japan, where they lived through the 1930s. But the rise of Hitler in Europe meant the family must leave, the authorities said, for fear Britons would become the enemy within.
They ended up on the shores of Canada with no money, no furniture, an 18 month old baby and another on the way. “Although we didn't think of ourselves as refugees, we were, yes,” he recalls, admitting the years were “tough”.
Eventually he was recruited by the British Political Warfare Mission to decode Japanese military communications, at the time of Pearl Harbour, and made a life in the US. It wasn't until 1946 that he returned to England, now with three children in tow. He acquired his dream job lecturing at what is now City University in London and toured the nation giving talks about life in Asia, before retiring 55 years ago.
Bob Weighton will celebrate his 112th birthday at the end of March [Photo: Benjamin Butterworth]
The inescapable reality of living so long is that many loved ones have gone. His wife died in 1995, aged 88, and one of his children, Peter, died in 2012, aged 75.
But with such a great age comes new friends and enquirers. One woman who spots him outside his flat pushes her walking frame forward at speed to say hello to her famous neighbour. “I read that you were born in 1908,” the elderly woman says excitedly. “The same year as my mother!”
What, then, is it like to be the last man standing from an extinct generation? “I don't think it's strange, it's very real to me. I quite enjoy explaining what it was like to younger people who have no idea. They can't imagine a home without electricity or the sky without aeroplanes. I'm very much happy."
Proud 'eco warrior'