Twin sisters Jackie and Robyn Clarke are different in looks, lives and personality – Jackie is the noisy one, Robyn’s more reserved – but they have the exact same attitude to getting older. “It is what it is,” they say.
On March 22, the pair turned 50, however there are no age crises happening here and no plans to start slowing down.
“It’s business as usual,” promises Jackie. “I have friends that faced turning 50 with fear and loathing, but actually, I think 49 is more difficult. To me, 50 feels like you’re at the beginning of something.”
“It’s different now than when our mum was this age,” agrees Robyn. “Back then at 50, you were getting ready for retirement.”
Robyn is a nurse at Auckland Hospital and mum to two daughters, Teuila (16) and Lili (13). Jackie is a singer, MC, actress, TV personality and mum to two sons, Stan (15) and Ernie (13).
“We lead very different lives, but we’re close,” tells Robyn.
“We’ve got each other’s back,” says Jackie. “I think that’s what it’s like with twins.”
Growing up in a state house in Gisborne, living on their mother’s government benefit, there was no money for lavish celebrations for the Clarke twins.
So even though they describe themselves as “party-shy”, they decided to put on a bit of a bash for their joint 50th at an Auckland bowling club.
“We had the best night ever,” says Jackie. “We self-catered, so it was a little nerve-wracking, but we had lots of family on hand to help out.”
Robyn outdid herself by baking 76 melting moments, which complimented the “100” birthday cake made by Jackie’s partner Grant Lahood, Ernie and Lili – three separate cakes out of the numbers 1, 0 and 0.
But the big surprise of the night was Robyn’s partner, Richard Brown, and Grant, along with all the kids, performing a song Von Trapp family-style to the tune of My Favourite Things.
“It was all about our unique twin habits and had the audience in stitches,” smiles Jackie, who says the absolute star of the show was Robyn’s eldest daughter Teuila. “She serenaded the audience with an original tune – you could have heard a pin drop in the room. It was so magical. We were both so proud of the kids. They were awesome.”
On the birthday itself, the twins shared a lower key celebration – high tea at The Langham with older sister Tracey, and then a family dinner out that evening. And so they hit their half-century in style, although Jackie admits when she was younger, she never could imagine being such an age.
“I couldn’t visualise myself past about 33 or 34. That says something about how invisible a 50-year old woman can be. You just sort of disappear.”
Fortunately, attitudes towards older women seem to be changing.
“You can knock down the age barriers as soon as you get to them now,” reckons Jackie. “There is the capacity to define yourself any way you want to, at any age. You just have to be who you are, hold your space and people accept it. Whereas back in the day, you had to be in your Osti frock with a mug of Horlicks!”
Becoming invisible definitely isn’t on Jackie’s agenda for her fifth decade. A long-time lover of glamour, she won’t be changing her personal style.
Which is? “Mutton dressed as lamb,” she laughs. “Hell, yeah, and I’m rocking it! Actually, at home I wear pretty much the same clothes as my sons, but when I’m working, I love dressing up and go full hyper- female glam, with lots of bling and the girls [breasts] out.”
One of the upsides of being older is increased confidence. “I feel a lot more comfortable in my body now, and am more at ease with putting it out there,” says Jackie.
“I know from experience that if you feel good in your own skin, and you’re having fun, then you’re sexy and attractive. But it takes decades to lose that self-consciousness and get used to yourself. If I’d had this power in my twenties, I’d have owned the world!”
Even though she works in an industry that is notoriously youth-focused, Jackie has never been shy about admitting her age.
“As a pop singer, you’re over the hill by the time you’re 26,” she points out. “I’m never on television any more and that’s fine. I’ve always carved out my own niche.”
While she has considered using Botox to soften some of those wrinkles, so far she has resisted.
“I did once talk to Grant about it as I have a terrible grumpy frown line and thought maybe I should get it done. And he said, ‘Are you insane?’ because what I do for a living involves expressing myself and communicating with my face. I’m not saying I’d never do it, though.”
She and Robyn neither look nor feel their age. Both have clear olive skin, thanks to their Samoan genes, and say in their heads, they still feel 26. So it can be a surprise to be reminded that they’re getting on a bit.
“I’ll tell you what happened last year that was weird. I got asked to audition to play a grandmother in a theatre show,” says Jackie. “I was shocked and a little angry because there are all these women who actually are 65 and never get auditions for these things. I went along anyway, but I didn’t feel comfortable and I was terrible.”
While they are generally positive about middle age, their eyes are open to its downsides.
“You’re at that point where people you know are getting sick,” says Jackie. “You’ve got your kids to care for and you’ve got your ageing parents. That’s the nub of the tough stuff now.”
Fifty can also be a time to take stock of life. And the Clarke twins are both pretty happy with the way things have turned out so far.
“In general, it’s been beyond our wildest dreams,” tells Jackie. “We live this crazy, comfortable life compared with how we grew up. Yes, we work hard and there’s no sign of being able to work less, but I get to do some cool projects. If you can have a little spark of inspiration and then follow it through, that’s great – you never get enough of that.”
Over the course of her long career, Jackie has done everything from singing in bands to presenting documentaries and judging New Zealand Idol.
Now, as well as her MC work, she performs alongside Tina Cross, Suzanne Lynch and Taisha in vocal quartet The Ladykillers. She also fronts Kids For Kids, a mass choir of children that performs for World Vision.
Robyn’s life has taken her in a very different direction. She does sing – and was once a backing vocalist in a band – but she’s not one for the limelight and at 22, she left for London, staying for 14 years.
“It was good for me to get away from Jackie and develop myself,” she says. “Jackie has always been very smart and outgoing, and I was never like that. Then, when she started being on TV and doing music, I was always ‘Jackie’s sister’. So it was a positive thing to go and be independent. I’m happy to be back in New Zealand, though.”
Improving their fitness is a goal that both of them now share – at the moment, going walking is about all they can manage. Robyn laughs as she describes having to do an 18-point manoeuvre to get up if she’s been sitting on the floor.
"It’s not like the old days when I could just bounce up,” she tells. “But I’d like to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible, so I probably need to start now really.”
Jackie does have a slight problem with that.
“I’m hideously opposed to exercise,” she admits. “I hate gyms and only get motivated if I have a show coming up where I have to sing and dance. Then I’ll work for months to get up to speed, but normally I’m a couch potato. Still, my last warrant was pretty good. I lied about how much I drink, but who doesn’t?”
As for the future, neither of them has a long bucket list of things they want to do, although both would like to be able to travel more. And Jackie and Grant have bought a piece of land north of Auckland where they plan to build an eco house, which is where they see themselves perhaps retiring some day.
“We want to sit back, smell the roses and look at the coast – that’s the dream for everyone when they’re older, isn’t it?” says Jackie. “It means another whole load of debt to do it, so I know I’ll be popping on my sparkly frock for the next 20 years but I can’t imagine not wanting to. I still love singing and performing – it’s such a natural part of who I am. Until I’m really embarrassing the children, I’ll keep doing what I do.”
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