However, despite needing a zimmer frame to walk, he set himself the challenge to complete one hundred laps of his retirement home garden in order to raise his target of £1000 for the NHS. Once the press and social media became engaged, people took Captain Tom to their hearts and the money flowed in - all £31m of it. There followed a knighthood from the Queen, a cover on the men’s magazine GQ and a great many TV interviews, during which Captain Sir Tom was revealed to be a charming, amusing and delightful gentleman with a real twinkle in his eye. In the space of a few short months he’d gone from total obscurity, living out his final days in his retirement home, to worldwide fame and celebrity. Instead of his death last Tuesday being recorded as just a dreadful statistic of another old man being taken by this pandemic, it was met with a collective sense of real sadness and loss for someone who demonstrated so clearly that it really is never too late to do something extraordinary in life.
Inspirational role models like Captain Sir Tom tend to be in very short supply the older we get. In an ageist society like ours, we expect older people to get out of the limelight and withdraw gracefully from the centre stage, a process that tends to start at an earlier age for women than for men.
I have long felt the considerable injustice of this and, as you all know, by starting a business at 65 and now still working at 73, I am doing my best to challenge the assumption that women as old as me have little of value to contribute. Which brings me to a new initiative that we have decided to launch to coincide with International Women’s Day in March. We’re calling it ‘60 over Sixty’ and we very much need your help to come up with nominations for our final selection of 60 women aged over 60 who act as positive and inspirational role models in your life. Why over 60 years of age? Because there’s lots of these lists which start at 50 or even earlier at a time when many women are still very much centre stage. For instance, Olivia Colman and Gillian Anderson at 47 and 52 respectively are phenomenal (and ubiquitous) actors and I am loving their double act in The Crown, but I can’t wait for Imelda Staunton (65) to portray the later years of the Queen in the next series. Why? Because it will showcase to a huge audience the considerable talents of a consummate professional who, I would argue, is at the height of her acting prowess, not at the end of it.
Inspiration for your nominations can come from any part of public life, not just the dramatic arts. One of our most successful Friday film club zoom calls recently featured the late great American Supreme Court judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Appointments to the SCOTUS are for life, so RBG, as she was affectionately known, continued to work right up to her death last September aged 87. One of the contributors to our discussion thought that she should have retired when it was mooted during the Obama presidency. The reasoning was that ‘she should have made way for a younger person.’ You may agree with this sentiment, especially if you are Prince Charles, but I would argue that RBG (and the Queen) show us that, as long as you are physically and mentally capable of fulfilling your role, then why should you be prevented from performing it? I don’t see too many calls demanding that Sir David Attenborough should make way for a younger man!
So, we’d like you all to think about all those women over 60 who are still active and notable in the field of the arts, theatre, design, fashion, architecture, politics, the law, the charity sector, the world of finance, business, sport, education, science, literature, poetry, gardening, medicine, TV, radio and any other endeavour that you can think of. This person may not be a household name but will need to have an interesting and compelling story that they are still telling in the public arena. I wonder if you can recognise the women in our graphic at the top of this? We chose them fairly randomly to inspire ideas for your own nominations:
Clockwise from the top:
Floella Benjamin 71. (remember her from Play School when our kids were small?) was named as one of the most influential people in the UK of African/African-Caribbean descent in the UK. She is now in the House of Lords and speaks on children’s education, a personal passion.
Maggi Hambling. 75. Renowned artist and sculptor, famous for her seascapes and a recent controversial sculpture entitled ‘For Mary Wollstonecraft’.
Alison Steadman. 74. Ever remembered for her portrayal of the dreadful hostess of ‘Abigail’s Party’, she has now attained national treasure status as a wonderful character actress.
Margaret Atwood 81. Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, teacher and environmental activist. There’s not a book of hers I’ve not read and loved and The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic of the dystopian genre of fiction.
Yasmin Alihbai Brown. 71. British journalist and author who describes herself as ‘a leftie, liberal, anti-racist, feminist Muslim’ who commentates and writes about immigation, diversity and multiculturalism issues,
Joan Bakewell. 87. I remember Joan from her television heyday when she epitomised both brains and beauty. Now in the House of Lords, Dame Joan speaks up on behalf of the older generation, especially end of life care, and has been awarded Humanist of the Year for services to humanism.
How can you help us to compile our long list? Just leave your choices for those women over 60 who inspire you in your life in a comment below or on the Super Troopers page where I have created a post to launch our initiative. The more nominations a person gets, the more likely she is to be included in our final list of 60 women, but we are also looking for some surprises and some outliers to make sure that we get a good variety of interests and endeavours. I am personally banning Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda! Not because they aren’t fabulous. Not because they aren’t beautiful and brilliant actors, but just because they are always the first, and very often the only, amazing women of a certain age that are ever celebrated. I want our ‘60 over Sixty’ to be wide-ranging and thought-provoking and provide us all with a much needed boost of inspiration.
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Here is the Bright Spots Programme and links for this week:
Makeup Magic with Tricia and Sally Deung
Day: Monday 8th February
Meeting ID (if needed): 892 4590 5309
Password (if needed): LOOKFAB
Eatwright cookery demo with Leonie Wright
Stuffed Butternut Squash and Spiced Biscuits
Day: Wednesday 10th February
Pre- Recorded Session