Pamela Exley (l) and daughter Olivia
met Noele Gordon (centre) when the poem
was released as a record.
P amela has always been a country girl, she tells us. “I was born in York in 1930 but grew up in Wensleydale. I started picking out notes from the age of three but there were no music teachers where we lived, so my father responded to an advertisement in the paper for a correspondence course to learn to play the piano. We did it together and during the war he arranged musical evenings and concerts around the Dales to keep people’s spirits up. I used to join him playing piano and singing. One day a lady from the audience introduced herself as a music teacher and we were able to arrange some proper lessons.”
Soon Pamela was playing at musical events in local church halls and was often called upon to provide accompaniment to professional entertainers.
After getting married, Pamela and her husband Mike ran successful businesses in Harrogate before buying a holiday apartment in the Costa del Sol and moving to Spain permanently in 1980. They initially lived on the coast but a chance encounter with an English couple from Coín led to Pamela and Mike moving inland. “The road to Coín was very different then, more of a track and at some points you had to drive along the river bed but we loved it. Thirty years ago there were not so many cars here, it was mainly motorbikes and donkeys.”
Mike and Pamela revelled in the space and atmosphere of their country home. “I was doing porcelain painting at the time, running art classes at the Art College in Mijas and I even had my own shop in Mijas town centre. The ‘finca’ gave me space for a kiln and a piano, so I started giving art and music lessons. One of my students was the son of Eastenders actress Polly Perkins, Tim Arnold. He was a brilliant student, gifted from the beginning and has gone on to have a career as a professional musician.”
Although there were some Brits living in Coín when Pamela and Mike moved to the town in 1982, in the early 1990s the arrival of the BBC soap Eldorado boosted the British community in the area. “A casting agent asked if Mike and I would be interested in doing some walk-on parts at the film set in Coín. In total I was called on for 50 separate shows. It was very sad when it all finished.”
Eldorado and Eastenders are not the only soaps with which Pamela has a connection. She explains “I wrote a love poem to my eldest daughter, Olivia, who was in her early 20s and going through a rough patch at the time. The poem was picked up and recorded by Crossroads actress Noele Gordon, complete with an orchestral backing track. Olivia and I met Noele and she couldn’t have been lovelier. The poem was called ‘To my daughter’ and it seemed to strike a chord with people. Noele even did a performance of the poem on Bob Monkhouse’s Boxing Day show one Christmas. That was really my 15 minutes of fame! Sadly Olivia died a few years later at the age of 40. She was beautiful, clever and had her own ballet school in Edinburgh.”
After her husband Mike passed away, Pamela managed the ‘finca’ with her daughter Shelley. “I began singing in a choir on the coast and met someone special there called Pete. He had a lovely smile. I had been widowed for 11 years and I can say that at 75 years old I found love again. We had lots of good times for several years but a series of illnesses and stays in hospital for me meant time apart and after my other half began showing signs of Alzheimers, his family felt he was better off with them in Ireland. He’s 90 now. They moved Pete while I was in hospital last year and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I can’t travel now, so I will probably never see him again.“
“These days I enjoy painting and drawing but cannot play the piano. Even now at 83 I am taking commissions for my painted porcelain, I particularly love painting birds and flowers. I have my family with me at the ‘finca’. My granddaughter is only four but her brother is seven and already showing signs that he will be an artist. I don’t get out much any more but I still love Coín. The people here are so friendly.”
An avid reader since the very beginning
Although the roads inland were more difficult to navigate than they are now, Pamela has never had a problem getting hold of her weekly copy of SUR in English and has been a dedicated reader of the paper since it first hit the newsstands, a couple of years after she moved to Coín in 1982.
“I have always looked forward to reading SUR in English each week. I read every bit of it, except for the naughty adverts! When we first moved here we used to go down to the petrol station each Friday or Saturday to pick up the latest edition. We always managed to find a copy. Now there are more places to get it from,” she explains.