A pint-sized pensioner believed to Britain’s oldest ELF is still going strong – at the grand old age of 78.
Val Priest was told by her granddaughter that she was “too old” to be dressing up as Santa’s oldest helper – but Val wants to keep volunteering until she’s “at least 80”.
The 5ft 2in grandmother-of-three says she jumped at the chance to don the hat and pointy ears four years ago to spread Christmas cheer after being picked out for the job because of her tiny frame.
Val, a retired machinist who made men’s dapper suits, has been bauble-making and helping her fellow elves put up an 18ft Christmas tree at the Temple Newsam estate.
The West Yorkshire Tudor-Jacobean house is Val’s old stomping ground – as she once volunteered to be an tapestry curator and has been assisting staff ever since.
“But I just love seeing the children’s faces light up to be honest and I’ll keep going as long as I can still get up there to the house.”
Her unpaid job description as an elf boasts a list of roles, including bauble making, assisting Santa in his grotto, meeting the children and filling the grounds with festive cheer.
But her granddaughter Lauren Matthews, 25, has told Val she can’t be an elf – because she’s too old.
Val said: “My granddaughter Lauren told me ‘grandma you’re 78, you can’t be an elf’ – but it’s just a bit of fun for the children really.
“The kiddies absolutely love it [visiting Santa] – there was one boy who was shaking with excitement when Santa gave him his present.
“Seeing all the children’s faces just makes it all worthwhile – I jumped at the chance to be an elf when I was asked.”
Val, who grew up in the area, has been visiting Temple Newsam for as long as she can remember and would take both her two children and three grandchildren up to admire the “gorgeous” house and gardens.
She was interviewed to be a guide for a set of six Grayson Perry’s tapestries and managed to get the job up at the estate at the age of 74.
Asked why she thought she was asked to be an elf, Val said: “Well it’s obvious because I’m 5’2″ – but I’m not dumpy – I’m a size 8.”
“I don’t think my age has anything to do with it – I just love Christmas.”
Visitors can meet Val at the festivities this weekend and enjoy an array of historical activities such as carol singers, a Tudor banquet display and Victorian craft making.
Speaking about the estate itself, Val said: “The staff there are fantastic and treat volunteers as one of their own.
“It’s just such a lovely atmosphere for everyone. Some families have been back two or three times already.”
And it doesn’t look like Val will be stopping her wonderful work at Temple Newsam anytime soon.
Val added: “I just love doing it – whenever they need me, I’ll be there.”