My aunt Julia was such a beautiful, vivacious spirit. Always full of energy, full of life.
Five years younger than my mother, both sisters had been born in Nottingham but lived with my Greek grandmother in Thessaloniki, the second city of Greece, for much of their formative years.
By the mid 1960s the girls were back in Blighty and living in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where I was later christened. Just last week, as my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I realised that I had mislaid my photos of their big day. My dad managed to email though a few just a couple of days ago. Looking typically Swinging Sixties, Julia is in between my mum and gran, and behind my uncle Alex.
Julia was the first member of my immediate family to go to university and the first to move overseas. Once married (to a German barrister) but fiercely independent and very much the career woman with a lawyer’s training, for the last 22 years Julia was a US resident with a green card. First stop NYC.
A former underwriter for Lloyd’s of London, she had a lucky escape when she quit her job at one of the many insurance companies working out of the World Trade Center in New York City just weeks before 9/11.
Having gone west, basing herself in the beautiful Bay Area just outside of San Francisco, we reconnected in a big way when I started visiting California five years ago. We’d hang out in the Castro for Gay Pride, and would often share travel tips, stories and music recommendations. Above all else, she was fun. Funky. Smart. Super intelligent and a bit posh.
I looked up to her in so many ways. Julia was the older sibling I never had. A big sis who insisted I call her Julia, never aunt or aunty (she said that was ageing).
She was the switched-on one who saw David Bowie at Wembley on his Isolar ‘Thin White Duke’ tour of 1976, was an avid admirer of the Pet Shop Boys and bought me my first 12″ single, Temptation by Heaven 17.
She was the switched-on one who bought a townhouse in London and a holiday home in France, preferred to have a non-English partner and was an intrepid world traveller who never entertained the idea of living in Britain again.
She was the switched-on one who loved going to gigs, and recently caught New Order and Diana Ross in concert, the latter of which I was all set to accompany her to in Oakland had my passport not been stolen just before I was due to fly out.
Sounds familiar? Hardly a surprise we got on so well, eh?
On a subsequent visit to America in 2016, I had only just landed in Los Angeles when the news came through that her doctors had discovered colon cancer and she’d been rushed to hospital for an emergency operation. It’s the first instance of cancer in my family so it was a shock in more ways than one.
But as was her wont, we still celebrated Thanksgiving the following month in typically fun-filled fashion. The most important thing about Julia was that she was a lover of life. Fun, funny and always engaging, always interested.
Joel (far right in the photo above) remarked at the time how “strong the dynamic is between you two. You bounce off each other, more like a brother and sister.”
When Julia and her boyfriend Michael came to stay with me at my house in the south of France last May, you would have never have guessed this was a woman who had been been battling cancer and was on chemotherapy for the last two years. Truly a warrior with abundance of grace, serenity and acceptance. And hair.
That’s no wig, she’d kept all her lustrous long locks and had turned 64 the previous week. Those great Greek genes! What an inspiration she was. Never one to complain or feel sorry for herself, she told me at the time she was thankful for every day that she lived longer than her mum, my gran, who died at 54. Aways a tremendously upbeat person with a great lightness of spirit, her positivity was amazing
Sadly, by the time I paid her a visit last November the cancer she’d been courageously battling had spread and the chemo was increased. Nevertheless, she refused to be a victim, and we had a lovely day out in San Fran and the Pacifica area. Oh, we did like to be beside the seaside.
When Michael called me with the news this morning I missed his first call as my phone was on silent and I had music on. The music stopped and I listened to his voicemail. The last song played? The Bee Gees’ Staying Alive. My aunt would have liked that.
Rest in peace Julia. Love you.