Harrogate's 'Mr Selfridge' becomes health guru aged 88

Member of the 300 Group - Mr Brian Greenwood. (1606021AM1)
Member of the 300 Group - Mr Brian Greenwood. (1606021AM1)

Did you know that the average life expectancy of a woman in the UK has increased by almost three years since 1998?

Or that a Japanese man successfully climbed Mount Everest at the age of 80?

Harrogate man Brian Greenwood does but, then, Mr Greenwood is 88 himself and has lived a life truly less ordinary.

Still playing tennis each week, this remarkable octogenarian with a relaxed sense of humour has put all the wisdom of his life experiences over the years into a new book which has just been published.

Use It Or Lose It - How To Live Longer And Happier comes complete with an endorsement on its glossy dark blue cover from Lord Tebbit hailing Brian’s publication as a “splendidly comprehensive manual of how to maintain and healthy mind in a healthy body.”

Of course, it helps to have friends in high places and Brian certainly made a few of them during the decades his family owned one of Britain’s biggest chain of menswear shops.

Once a prominent name on the Sunday Times’ Rich List, the rise of the Greenwood family fortunes began in Bradford in the 1850s when Brian’s great-great grandfather took up the trade of hatter.

Soon, the Greenwoods had branched out into a gentlemen’s outfitters and become the country’s largest privately-owned menswear chain.

At its peak in the 1980s, this mighty menswear empire encompassed 300 outlets nationwide - a little like hit TV seres Mr Selfridge without the soap opera.

With his brother Dennis, Brian was co-chairman of the entire Greenwood group, which owned shops from Torquay to Dumfries.

Having swallowed up fellow household name Dunn & Co in their heyday, Brian and his family - wife Enid and son and daugher - enjoyed life at Whittington Hall, a 1, 500 to 1,600 acre estate near Kirkby Lonsdale and a 17,000 acre estate in the far north of Scotland near Ukappool.

The family was also a major property owner. In fact, where the McDonalds fast food outlet on the corner of Cambridge Road and Oxford Street in Harrogate was once one of their’s.

Sadly, even the mightiest can fall, and the recession of the early 1990s had a major impact on the owners of this famous brand.

Now living at Bishop Thorton, Brian has a cheerfully philosophical viewpoint when it comes to the changing vicissitudes of life.

He said: “The business was in my family until 2,000 but I haven’t been involved since the early 1990s. I think the Chinese own it now.

“I’m one of those rare people who have made a lot of money, then lost a lot of money.”

A man who doesn’t quite look or act his age, Brian says he never had any intention of slowing down and still doesn’t.

A country man by heart, his life remains as varied as ever.

As chairman of Woodhouse Grove School near Leeds, he was the longest-serving chairman of any public school in the UK and was made school president for life on ‘retiring’ from that role in 2009.

In his time he’s also been a JP and his sporting interests have ranged from athletics to deer stalking and he remains to this day a member of the 300 Group at the Harrogate Spa Tennis Club playing at their new courts near Harrogate High School.

The name derives, by the way, from the aggregate age of the four players who make up its men’s double tennis team!

Brian said: “What’s helped me remain healthy beyond doubt is that I’ve always been very active. I will be 89 in August but still play tennis each week. My aim is to play tennis on my 90th birthday and I see no reason why I shouldn’t do it.”

When it comes to the importance of maintaining health, Brian is certainly the right man to write about it.

He gave up smoking, for example, as long ago as 1973, an era when every man and his dog still liked to light up.

There was a good reason behind that far-sighted decision, however.

Brian said: “I’d had two heart attacks. I thought it right to give up cigarettes. My secret to a happy and healthy life is to use your body and your mind constantly.

“Regularity of exercise every day without fail is vital.”

Among the new skills Brian has learned of late is writing.

He’s always contributed the occasional article to Country Life magazine and the Shooting Gazette, but he says he never set out to publish books, never mind become a life skills guru.

This new adventure was sparked by a friend’s request to write a memoir for him to raise money for Help for Heroes and Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

Job done, he then decided it was time to write the history of his family and the family business.

Shop! Or Clogs to Clogs in Three Generations - Well, Almost was published in hardback in 2009 and ran to 302 fully-illustrated pages.

If anything, Use It or Lose It is a project even closer to Brian’s heart.

Over ten fascinating, informative and, almost inevitably. witty chapters, the book is a blueprint for living life to the full for the old of body and young at heart.

Packed with advice both medical and philosophical, it’s already received the blessing of one of West Yorkshire’s leading cardiologists.

Brian says the new book is simply an attempt to encourage its readers to keep extreme old age as far away as possible!

A man with a twinkle forever in his eye, he said: “Don’t stop doing anything too soon is my key advice.

“Don’t stop working too soon, don’t stop playing too soon and don’t stop thinking too soon.”

Use It or Lose It is published by specialist publisher The Memoir Club, 12 Tower Road, Washington, NE37 2SH and is available by mail order and selected book shops.

Waterstones in Harrogate is to stock the book shortly.