Former beauty queen Inga Wheeler who met Nixon and Chevalier looks back on eventful 104 years
- Credit: Archant
A woman who as a teenager was crowned Miss Sweden and danced with legendary French actor and cabaret singer Maurice Chevalier has celebrated her 104th birthday.
Inga Wheeler, who met the actor on board a liner taking her to the Miss Universe pageant in the USA when just 18, has enjoyed an eventful life.
Celebrating her birthday with family and fellow residents at Woodbridge Lodge care home, Mrs Wheeler (nee Norberg) said her long life and good health was down to “clean living” – but added that had never stopped her from enjoying her favourite tipples, whisky and gin and tonic.
Her son Denis, 75, who lives in nearby Rendlesham, was proud to reel off the amazing life story of his mother who has six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren living as far afield as Australia and Kenya.
He told how she had left her home in Sweden and travelled on a luxury liner to New York, and then down to Miami, to take part in the 1931 Miss Universe pageant at Galveston, Texas.
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After marrying fellow Swede Louis Faugust she migrated to the then British colony of Kenya.
The couple returned to Sweden for the birth of their daughter June and son Denis before settling back in Kenya where Mr Faugust ran a coffee farm.
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Following a divorce, she married British Army major George Wheeler but later separated from him.
Denis said: “My mother worked as a safari guide for passengers coming to Tsavo national park from the ships docking at Mombasa. She also worked for a time as housekeeper at the exclusive Mombasa Club.”
In 1970 she moved back to England and became companion to an elderly woman, giving her the independence to enable her to carry on living at home; they often went on day trips together.
Later, from 1971-72, she took the position of head housemaid at Government House in Bermuda where she met President Nixon. Mrs Wheeler felt it was a great privilege to work there and it gave her great job satisfaction.
She returned join her family and took on roles as a companion for various wealthy families as this was a job she enjoyed.
Mrs Wheeler retired to Leiston where she lived in sheltered accommodation close to her son, who worked as an engineer, and moved to Woodbridge Lodge three months ago.