Insights + interviews

In Conversation With Bernard Harrison

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We interview 61-year-old active ager Bernard Harrison on his rules of life.

No stranger to the zoological circles, Bernard Harrison who helped to create the Night Safari as well as make the Singapore Zoological Gardens an international success story is also an active ager that leads a very fulfilling life when he is not working. We find out more about the man who has made Wildlife Reserves Singapore the success it is today.

AA: You are known for having some of the most creative, radical ideas when it comes to your career. How do you remain staying this creative at your age, and from what or whom do you draw inspiration for your ideas?

BH: Personally, I think age is just a state of mind and you can be as young as you feel, but that’s only if you want it. I have never thought of my ideas as being radical, just logical. Perhaps Singapore needs to catch up a little! I am inspired by Anita Roddick and Steve Jobs in the corporate world and more esoterically, Christopher Hitchens. Both Anita and Steve were idealists and also influenced by a ‘hippie culture’. Anita set up the Body Shop to make ends meet and recycling was a necessity rather than a philosophy while Steve was a perfectionist and wanted to develop products of quality, disillusioned with the numerous inferior products that were being put on the market. As for Christopher, he is a very powerful thinker and believed that religious dogma was detrimental to humanity, a position I subscribe to.

AA: It is said that you and your wife, Tina still behave like ‘young romantics’. Do you have any relationship tips on how both of you manage to keep the passion and fun alive?

BH: Just be yourself, but to be fair it’s so difficult to find a partner who can makes you feel like that, to be carefree and have fun, and be goofy. It took me three marriages to find one.

AA: In the book you have been often described to be someone with a certain ‘sexual status’ and to a certain extent a ‘ladies’ man’. What is your secret to maintaining this image at your age?

BH: I am what I am! I have never sought such a status. And I have always respected the ladies I have dated!

AA: What do you do in your free time for leisure? Any specific activities you engage in to stay active or fit?

BH: I do yoga three times a week and walk my dogs every morning. If I’m away from home I take a 30-minutes walk before breakfast and do some push-ups. I admit I am a little vain, but to quote the youngsters, you only live once!

AA: Do you have any specific diets you stick to? What kind of food do you usually have in your meals and do you prepare them on your own?

BH: I’m not vegetarian, but I don’t eat too much meat either. My daughter is a vegan and my son eats only ethically raised meat, and some of their eating habits have rubbed off on me. I enjoy cooking and eating a lot of tempeh and tofu in Bali. I think more people should look at a simpler diet.

AA: How do you maintain such a close relationship with your children? We know from your book that you give your children quite a lot of freedom, but are there certain boundaries you set for them that they cannot cross? How do you know when to draw the line and when to maintain your position of authority as a parent?

BH: Basically I have always treated my children as friends. You guide friends as opposed to telling them what to do. It’s ultimately their choice. It’s really making them understand that they have their own lives and they steer their own destiny and it’s good to get that across as early as possible in their lives. And I am a guide rather than a master to them. As you can tell, I’m not very Confucian!

AA: Do you ever worry if age will temper your passion for life down by a few notches or change who you are as a person? What motivates you to continue pursuing your own happiness and realising your dreams?

BH: As I’ve mentioned earlier, age is a state of mind. To me happiness is the primary goal of our lives, to be happy, however simple or complex we make it. Some people make it extremely complex, with a goal for making heaps of money or power, but actually it is really simple. For me happiness is a table on the beach by the sea, with a good bottle of wine and great company. As long as I can do that, it really doesn’t matter what age I am!




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