Gina Foster has been a resident of Benalmádena since 1982 when she moved from Herfordshire, England.
As anyone who knows long-term Benalmádena Pueblo resident, Gina Foster, will testify, her whirlwind lifestyle makes it almost impossible to describe her with just one phrase. They all fall short somehow.
The truth is, Gina has consistently played an active part in foreign resident life since moving to the coast from Hertfordshire, England, in 1982. And she certainly shows no signs of slowing down.
“I don’t ever, and didn’t ever, really intend to get involved with so many different things, it all just seems to happen gradually and before you know it you’re right in the middle of it all,” explains Gina, eyes twinkling.
“It was my husband, Ken, who really wanted to come and live in Spain first of all. I took some convincing to leave our home in England. But he came over to play golf and said he’d bought a house we’d both viewed on a previous trip. It was a lovely house but I think he only bought it because it had a telephone line – which was very rare in those days! He ‘bribed’ me to come over by buying me a beautiful piano,” she laughs.
“He loved it here and when we moved over he had a completely new lease of life, he had such fun here. But sadly, just two years after we arrived he died of a heart condition.”
Many recent widows might have considered returning to the UK. However, Gina decided to stay in the home she now adored and with the good friends she had made on the coast.
And it wasn’t too long until she found herself in the midst of a major community project.
Gina says: “We found out by accident at the end of August in 1985 that there were plans to start building a motorway through parts of Benalmádena Pueblo, just below the church, and that it would take out the beautiful castle folly and many people in the surrounding urbanisations would lose their gardens.
“A group of us met in a small bar and decided we had to act – but we only had three weeks. I was vice-president of the Rancho Domingo urbanisation at the time and, crucially, I had an answerphone at home, so my house was used as campaign headquarters and I was nominated to co-lead the charge.
“We organised meetings at the town hall and we gained a lot of support from the Spanish community, which I was really touched by as no-one spoke English in the village at the time and my Spanish wasn’t as it is now. We even convinced the Mayor to sign a petition and it was filmed by the local television station.
“We drafted in topographers and lawyers, and other professionals, – it cost a fortune – and they put together a great case and they took it to Brussels. They won and the motorway got re-routed!”
Gina remembers several weeks later being at a dinner event in London and an unknown “well-heeled man” walking up to her and warning her sternly to “keep out of politics, Mrs Foster.”
“But for me, for us, it was never a political matter. It was about protecting the village and the properties.”
Musical soireese to raise funds for the campaign were the blueprint for what became Gina’s legendary Christmas and summer parties at her palatial home, which had stunning views, sweeping staircases and an inner courtyard where 200 partygoers could dance the night away.
The lavish celebrations were often attended by Gina’s many celebrity friends. Those famous faces included Mike Reid, better known as ‘Frank Butcher’ in the soap Eastenders, and who Gina had known since she was 16; Danny La Rue, the actor and female impersonator who was one of Britain’s highest paid entertainers in the 1960s and 1970s; actress Barbara Windsor, famed for her parts in the Carry On films and Eastenders; celebrated actor and comedian Frankie Howerd, andErnie Wise, of the comic duo Morecambe and Wise.
Many of these public figures were not just ‘party guests’, but extremely close friends, and although she has more than a fair share of humorous, and some incredibly sad, personal anecdotes, naturally she would never share them publicly.
These parties often doubled up as fundraising events for The Salon Variétes, Fuengirola’s long-running, perennially popular, volunteer-run, English-speaking theatre.
“I was there at the Theatre’s opening night in 1985 and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve done probably most roles at the theatre over the years: president, vice-president, wardrobe, president of FOTA [the fundraising arm of the theatre], front of house… I could never count the hours and hours I’ve put into the theatre, or think of the money that I’ve ploughed in over the years, but since my husband died, and having no children, the theatre has become like a family to me.
“As well as the ‘back stage’ roles, I do also enjoy treading the boards. My favourite characters are the baddies. I love playing the baddies, the over-the-top posh characters, or the mad old ones!”
Currently, she’s playing the Genie in the Lamp in this year’s pantomime, Aladdin. “The fabulous costume makes me appear the most glamorous genie ever!” she giggles.
In recent times, Gina has also taken to volunteering with the charity Age Care. “With Age Care my main role is being a companion to older people who live on their own, taking them shopping, sorting out their bills, or even just taking them out for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
“It’s very rewarding. However, it can also be very tough as there is, in many cases, simply not the financial resources or the institutional back-up, to care for elderly foreign people here and as such there is only so much the charity can do.”
The paper was planned on the theatre terrace
Gina Foster has been a reader of SUR in English since the first edition. “SUR in English was the pioneer. There was no paper for the English-speaking community before this one. I remember Joan and Gerry Davies, the founders, having meetings on the Theatre’s terrace discussing the plans for an English newspaper and thinking what a brilliant idea is was.
“Everybody was thrilled by it – and still is. We all wait for it on a Friday morning, but you have to be quick to make sure you get a copy, they go fast!”