When you see so much energy and passion for life, you feel like that is the way things should go. Stay fit, stay open-minded and be truthful to yourself. Ray Woolley proves with his way of life and his personal records that all is possible.
Two days ago I got the news that you are officially in the Guinness World Records book for 2019 as the oldest scuba-diver in the world. My congratulations, Ray!
Thank you. I never thought I would get to this stage.
Have you ever thought you would get so much attention?
Never. When I was 90 I started to dive on the Zenobia and somehow it got the attention. As no one was interested in my 89, I keep saying that 90 was the magical age to get noticed. The world coverage attention I have now is unbelievable.
Is it true that a documentary has been filmed about your life?
Yes, but I always tell my film producer: «I’m too old to be a film star» and he laughs about that. «Life begins at 90» documentary got six awards at the film festival so far as I remember. It’s going to be shown again on December, 20th in Switzerland. It will be online so more and more people could watch it.
In fact, I keep seeing that my story goes viral in many countries — Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the US. The Gulf News in Dubai also took the story a few months ago and I was immediately in contact with the people I know there as they were truly excited with the news.
How did you start diving?
It was back in 1960 in the UK when I thought I would like to stay a bit longer under the water and see what’s there besides shooting fish. So when I came to Cyprus for the first time in 1964 my diving story continued. I worked on the island for 10 years for the British foreign office and retired at 60. Then I moved to Dubai as I got a good job proposal to work on the local radio. I told myself it could be only for 2-3 years but only 16 years later I left Dubai and came back to Cyprus.
You have been living in Cyprus since you were 76. Do you like it here?
If I was not here, I wouldn’t be who I am today without a doubt, I wouldn’t have the condition I have now. I did 39 dives when I was 93. In fact I did more than 50 dives till this day.
Tell me please more about the day you broke the record.
About 4 years ago I saw the Guinness World Records book and the American aged 92 and hundred days was the oldest diver at that time. I thought I might bit him here. So I waited till I’m 94 and made a record dive on my birthday. I wanted the number to be sharp and I made it.
We had about 35 divers that day, August 28th, 2017. Normally we dive in a pair, with the diving buddy. He relies on you, you rely on him. It is the best way to dive safely. Dave Turner, Diving Officer BSAC at RAF Akrotiri, my diving buddy, accompanied me on that day as well. But all those people — foreigners and locals who wanted to cheer me up and support truly amazed me. According to the Guinness rules, to break a record you have to dive to 15m depth for 30 minutes but I did 41m for 44 minutes.
And what is your key secret of long living?
Definitely exercise. I spend at least three hours a day in my pool except the winter season, I walk, I do basic aerobics. Normally I dive during winter as well, but this year I was advised to take a couple of months off to wait for the warmer water. Another important thing for healthy living — do everything in moderation. I can have a glass of wine or beer occasionally but I’m not a drinking person. I tried smoking but that’s is not my thing. I’m very keen on eating salads which I do every lunch time, fish, chicken and not much of a red meat.
I have read about you taking part in the WWII. Why did you join the Navy?
I grew up on the peninsula so I was surrounded by the water, saw all those ships in front of me. I used to visit Liverpool often as my granny lived there. I was so interested in boats that I haven’t ever thought of joining the army. The war broke when I was only about 16 so I had to wait till my 18th birthday to be able to get to the Navy. And I chose the radio branch as I was amazed by the morse code. They trained me for 10 months during the war. I was the leading telegraphist on the ship but the youngest one in the ship’s team.
Tell us more about the war operation you took part in on the isle of Rhodes in 1945?
A lot of Americans used to bring their convoy’s to Gibraltar, and we did this for 18 months. After that I was taken off my ship in Alexandria, Egypt, and stayed there for several weeks living in barracks. Then had my name called and they told me I was going to be with special forces. We never knew where we were going. We didn’t need to know until we were captured.
On December 24th, 1944, while in Haifa I was put on one of the landing crafts, a boat with an open deck. The ship went to the Turkish shore where the Germans also had the presence . We chose the Christmas eve knowing their ships will be staying down and won’t be so particular about checking things outside and that helped us to get much closer. We stayed about 5 months on the island of Symi, in the group of Dodecanese islands. We were keeping an eye on what the Germans ships were doing, what they were supplying to and so on. Our ship was unseen as we were on the radio pause on the isle of Rhodes.
War is a difficult experience and it is all about who wins in the end and how the people get together.
Ray, what is your advice for the younger generation? How they could stay as healthy and positive as you are right now?
My father was in the WWI, I was in the WWII and I’m rather pleased my son, who is almost 70, didn’t have to go the war.
I feel sorry that there is a huge deal about all those laptops and computers nowadays. When I go to the UK I usually travel by train. No one is talking to each other as it was in my time. But I know that is the way it goes and there is nothing we can do about it.
I also hope the younger generation would have more manners and kindness to people. It takes nothing to say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ but it means a lot to the person.
If I can inspire people to be as active as I am, I will be pleased. Just keep on the move, stay positive and exercise a bit more — walking, riding a bicycle, swimming, running, you won’t have much of the health problems when you are old. If you don’t have a possibility to do sports, just take the stairs and walk more. And I think I’m winning at the moment (laughs).