Jan as a young man was a model and actor . :: sur
He’s rubbed shoulders with John Lennon, Twiggy and Sean Connery, modelled for Adidas, and even appeared on Coronation Street
Sitting patiently in a café on Marbella’s Paseo Marítimo waiting to be interviewed, Jan Weima is the epitome of unassuming.
Although he’s a well known face in town thanks to his years of volunteering at animal shelter Triple A, many will be blissfully unaware of how this fascinating foreign resident ended up in this sun-drenched part of the world.
Jan was born to Dutch parents on the Caribbean island of Curaçao in 1945 after they fled Holland during World War Two.
A self-confessed language lover, he grew up speaking Spanish, but also speaks Dutch, French, German and English - and can ‘ramble on’ in Portuguese.
Up until the age of 18 he lived in a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela and Argentina, before deciding to return to his parents’ home country.
“But I didn’t like the cold in Holland, so I bought a motorbike and drove down to Barcelona,” said the 68-year-old.
“There was a boat that was going to Ibiza and I remember asking my brother where is that? We had no idea, so we jumped on the boat and when we got there it was so beautiful and unspoilt. My whole family ended up moving there.”
Together with his family Jan opened a restaurant called Es Grill (Catalan spelling) which did a roaring trade from 1965 to 1970. It quickly became a trendy place to eat and saw Jan rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Lennon, English actor Terry Thomas, Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and Steve Marriott from The Small Faces.
Sadly, during this time Jan’s parents died and he decided to sell up and get out of Ibiza in 1970.
He said: “Back then it was all about sex, drugs and rock and roll. I said there’s only two ways out of here, by the funeral directors or by plane. I had to get out of there. I met this girl in Ibiza who was a model and I followed her back to Manchester for a short trip. I ended up being there for eight years!”
As luck would have it, Jan became an actor and started working for the BBC before getting walk-on parts in the popular British soap Coronation Street.
He said: “I appeared in an advert with Ken Dodd for Cadbury’s chocolate and an advert with Cilla Black that was filmed in her mother’s shop in Liverpool.
“Then I became a model and I became very popular in Manchester almost overnight. I also worked with Twiggy in a play called Victorian Scandals for Granada TV from 1973 to 1974.
“It was a laugh a minute and very well paid. I got ten pounds a day for a walk on part, but I could get 300 pounds for a day’s modelling work. I worked for catalogues such as Grattan and I was the main model for Adidas.”
In 1977 Jan was looking for somewhere to invest his savings and ended up on an inspection flight to Marbella.
He said: “I arrived on a Friday and by 11am Saturday I’d bought a property. I flew back to Manchester and I thought -what am I doing here? I thought, I already speak the language and the weather is good, so just over a week later I drove back to Marbella with my cat Pedro and my partner.
“It was very difficult to get work back then, not because there wasn’t any work going, but because it was difficult to get a work permit. So I was based in Marbella working as a rep for a British holiday company and that’s where I met my wife Beryl at Malaga airport, as she was a rep too.”
In 1979, like many living on the Costa del Sol, Jan ended up working in the real estate business as it was “booming”.
But according to Jan, Marbella in the early 80s was a world apart from the trendy resort it is today, especially where stray animals were concerned.
“To be honest I was very shocked as I would see dead dogs on Ricardo Soriano that would remain there for weeks sometimes,” he said. “It was terrible in the summer. There was no animal health department and just one vet for the whole of Marbella - and she had to look after all the farm animals too.”
It was against this backdrop in 1983 that Jan and an American called Bruno Lupia started a charity called Costa Animal Society.
He said: “We didn’t actually have a shelter, so the dogs we used to pick up were looked after in our own homes.”
He explained that the charity collapsed in 1991, as many ex pats left the Costa del Sol. However, the same year he and a few other ex pats started Triple A, where Jan is currently the secretary.
He said: “We found Sean Connery’s dog once, which we took to Triple A. One afternoon he arrived and wrote a cheque for 15,000 Pesetas (around 90 Euros) for finding his dog and looking after him. I shook his hand he drove away. I still have a copy of the cheque to this day.”
As for how Marbella has changed over the years, Jan explained: “It was very cheap. You could eat a nice three course meal for around three euros, including wine and bread. It was beautiful, quiet and there were a lot of green spaces - especially behind Puerto Banús, that was all open land. But the organisation (by the council) was terrible. This is the problem with Spain. They lack the organisational skills, unlike say the British and the Dutch.”
“But I’ve always dreamt about bringing up my children here. I felt like I was in Latin America and was going back to my roots with the weather, language and lack of organisation. I felt at home.
”Memories of the first issue of Sur in English"
“SUR in English is tremendously important for Triple A and is our main source of communication with the public. SUR lets people know what we are doing,” said Jan.
“I remember the first issue of SUR in English, it had four pages [sic], which included a guide for the English films in the Puerto Banús cinema. Back then if it rained the film was cancelled as the cinema had a corrugated roof and the rain made such a noise you couldn’t hear the film. A little voice used to come on and tell people they could come back another night. Quite often I would see Sean Connery or Stuart Granger watching a film there too!”