Jeanette’s father was a Swiss cotton merchant for the East India Company, while her mother was from Liverpool. She was born in Bombay in 1930 and spent her formative years at 4a Parkfield Road in Aigburth, learning to skate at Aigburth Kindergarten. Her parents later moved to Hightown and Birkdale.
Jeanette could just as easily have become a top tennis player and in 1947 reached the junior final at Wimbledon. However that year she also won the junior figure skating championships, the sport that was her first passion. Coached by Jacques Gershwiler, she moved up to senior competition and represented Britain at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St Moritz, earning a bronze medal. That same year she won the first of her four successive British figure skating titles.
At the beginning of February 1952 Jeanette retained her European crown in Vienna, then headed to the Norwegian capital of Oslo for the Winter Olympics. The figure skating final was in the open air on 20th February and attended by 30,000 spectators. Her gold medal triumph brought some joy to a nation that was still mourning the death of King George VI two weeks earlier.
The day after her triumph Jeanette announced that she was retiring from ice skating. She went to Switzerland where she spent a year working with child war orphans at the village of Trogen. The following year, 1953, was a big one for her when she was awarded the CBE. She also married engineer Marc Wirz, brother of Switzerland’s ice skating champion. Marc and Jeanette had four children, but divorced in the 1970s.
Jeanette shunned the limelight for decades, concentrating on her family with any visits to her parents home, now in Birkdale, being private ones. She did however make a publicised return to Liverpool in 1960 to perform the opening ceremony of the Silver Blades ice rink in Prescot Road.
In 2011 Jeanette was invited to the European Championships in Switzerland’s capital of Bern and gratefully accepted. She agreed to a rare interview with International Figure Skating magazine and told the publication that the scoring system was far simpler in her day: “My goodness, you have to be a mathematician to understand it all now. I am happy I do not have to bother with puzzling over the marking. It is all so complicated. It is lovely to sit back and enjoy it all. Skating has taken on a whole new life. For me the artistic side has been the biggest change of all. In comparison, we were just sort of lumbering around in our day.”
At the age of 89, Jeanette continues to reside in Switzerland, devoting her time to her children and grandchildren. Britain did not win individual gold at the Winter Olympics again until John Curry triumphed in figure skating in 1976. The next solo female gold medallist was Amy Williams in the skeleton in 2010. Jeanette remains the only British woman to earn medals at two separate games.
For anybody interested in the Winter Olympics this book The Treasures of the Winter Olympic Games is a great buy