ITV's Rob Setchell pays tribute to Eileen Ash who died aged 110

Eileen Ash with Rob Setchell after an interview to mark her 105th birthday.

Eileen Ash with Rob Setchell after an interview to mark her 105th birthday. - Credit: ITV News Anglia

ITV broadcaster Rob Setchell, who previously worked for Archant, has paid tribute to "inspiring and incredible" Eileen Ash - the oldest living Test cricketer and Norfolk's oldest woman, who died aged 110.

In a reporter's calendar, there are often annual fixtures. The rail fare rises of January, the tourism boom of the summer holidays, the back-to-school features of September.

The one that was always highlighted in my diary was Eileen Ash's birthday. The annual excuse, at the end of October, to visit the most incredible woman.

When I first met her she was turning 101. I readied myself to shout my questions, to gently guide a centenarian through a quick interview for her local paper.

Eileen Ash coming in to bat for the England women's cricket team at Colwall in 1936.

Eileen Ash coming in to bat for the England women's cricket team at Colwall in 1936. - Credit: Submitted

Then, from her home overlooking Norwich, she did the guiding - as a wide-eyed reporter sat stunned on the sofa.

"I can't stop for too long," I remember her saying. "I've got yoga."

As a lifelong cricket fan, I sat open-mouthed as she spoke about her career.

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When she dropped into conversation that she kept a bat signed by Sir Don Bradman by her bed "in case of burglars", I thought she was joking. So she went and fetched it.

It was utterly amazing. At 101, she was as sharp as an opening-over quick single. She wanted an iPad for Christmas.

As we left, she hopped into her yellow Mini and drove off to yoga - her second session of the week.

I walked away with the biggest, dopiest grin on my face - and every time I had the privilege of speaking to her, it was the same.

By the time she reached 105, I had to bring a pack of biscuits if I wanted an interview. She'd joke that her "media career was over".

She was still ferociously independent, charmingly cheeky and thoroughly entertaining.

"I got a lot of wine this year," she said. "I don't know how people know I like wine but they keep sending me it."

After opening another birthday greeting from the Queen, she asked why Her Majesty hadn't delivered her well-wishes on horseback.

On her 107th, headlines about Brexit were swirling. "The English always cope," she told me. "We'll win through."

And then on the eve of her 110th, just a few weeks ago, we had the honour of visiting Eileen in her care home in Norwich.

She had started to struggle with her health - but her infectious character was still working its magic. The staff loved her. "She tells us to always be happy and keep smiling," they said.

There was 88 years between Eileen and one of her carers, Chloe. But, paying tribute to the most remarkable resident, she admitted they had a "better bond than with most of my friends".

For those of us who'd known her only fleetingly during her incredible innings to feel such a sense of loss is a mark of what a wonderful woman she was. My thoughts are with her family, friends and those who knew her best.

I've been lucky enough to meet a lot of inspiring people in this job. I'm a fierce advocate of journalistic objectivity, but Eileen was my absolute favourite.


Former women's England cricketer Eileen Ash, now 105, she attends a Yoga class on Tuesdays and drive

Former women's England cricketer Eileen Ash, now 105, she attends a Yoga class on Tuesdays and drives there in her yellow Mini. Photo by Simon Finlay. - Credit: Archant


This article was first published on the ITV website

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