Resident Focus: Shelia Baytopp - A life in review

By Cassandra Pokoney | Posted: Thursday April 8, 2021

When Sheila Baytopp talks about dance her eyes glaze over, and a dreamy, far away expression crosses her face. It’s an expression of love, of passion, of times gone by, but times that are remembered with fondness.

Sheila, who is now 91, is a member of the Presbyterian Support family, having lived at Walmsley House until last year when she moved to live closer to her son in Christchurch.

But like many residents at care homes, Sheila has a story that is as impressive as it is inspiring.

A dancer from a young age, Sheila was born and raised in England, where her passion for dance and theatre developed.

The opportunity of starting a career in dance came at age 17, when she joined a ballet company, however she soon discovered ballet wasn’t for her, and instead moved into musical theatre.

“Which I loved. It’s just a world of its own.”

It was a lifestyle and a career that has taken her all over the world.

At a 21st birthday party she attended, Sean Connery was also there, a lowly chorus boy in a production at the time. But it was just all part of the life for Sheila.

“You live in a different world and it’s lovely.”

Friends made while performing in productions stayed friends, and you learned to not say goodbye, just “ok, see you next time.”

“I was very very lucky. I more or less went from one production to another. It was very hard work. When you joined a new company you had two weeks to learn everything.”

Rehearsals usually started at 10am, but often continued until 1 or 2am.

One of her best career decision came when she took up an opportunity to work on a production in Africa.

“I just loved Africa and I wanted to see more of it.”

When her contract with the production ended, she took the time to travel around the continent, and there met her first husband. They married in Nairobi and had their first son there.

But life back in England beckoned, and she returned, and had a second son, leaving the theatre completely to focus on her family.

She moved to New Zealand with her second husband about 20 years ago, after visiting on holiday.

“I’ve been very happy here.”
“I have had a wonderful life. I’ve always made the best of it. Life is for living and that’s what you must do.”

Despite not having been on the stage for decades, music remains a major part of Sheila’s life.

“I love going to concerts, I can’t live without music.”
“I like things like Beethoven but also modern theatre music.”