The metaphor I like to use to describe my own ageing is of wading into the sea. When I was in my 50s I was very definitely still on the shore. Very little had changed for me physically. psychologically or emotionally since my 40s. Yes I was passing through the menopause, but  thanks to HRT, I hardly noticed the difference. Maybe in my 60s I was paddling up to my ankles but the water was warm enough and I could still feel the safety of the shore at my back.

I have written elsewhere about the sense of disbelief I had when I turned 70 on Christmas Day 2017. Brought up to believe that we have (in the biblical sense) just ‘three score years and ten’ as an average life span, I really struggled to reconcile my age with how I felt inside, which was not very different from how I had always felt. However, as I wade further into the waters of older age (I reckon I am now up to my knees), I have been looking for inspiration from those people, some of whom are much further out to sea than I am, but who truly seem to be (with apologies to Stevie Smith) ‘waving not drowning’.

My Role Models for How to Be Old:

Serenely Like The Queen. It is with no disrespect that I say that the Queen has always seemed old to me. Probably because she was an impossibly remote and imposing figure during her coronation which I watched in awe on my granny’s 9” TV set when I was 6 years old. Now she is a tiny 93 year old woman who universally and uniquely, in my view, commands the most incredible amount of awe and respect the world over.


Sagaciously like David Attenborough. Another sprightly 93 year old, David Attenborough has become the ultimate personification of the ‘wise old man’. Passionate, knowledgeable and articulate, his distinctive voice intones our doom if we don’t heed his warnings about the damage we are doing to our beautiful planet.


Rebelliously like Mick Jagger. The ultimate ‘wild child’ still defying the years and the dodgy ticker to strut his stuff for all the world like the rebellious teenager he has always been. You have to admire someone for whom 76 feels like the start of a whole new chapter (new aortic heart valves, new 31 year old girlfriend) rather than the end of an era.


Creatively like David Hockney. Maybe one of the greatest living artists of the 20th century, David Hockney at 82 years of age isn’t allowing the grass to grow under his feet. What I love is his capacity to keep experimenting with new ways to express his creativity using computer technologies and a child-like eye to show us some of their artistic potential.


Seductively like Joanna Lumley. Fun, flirtatious and a bit naughty seems to sum up the seductive appeal of Joanna Lumley. She’s someone you can imagine having a girly night out with and spending the whole time laughing uproariously while quaffing a few glasses of ‘Bolly’. I realise I’m mixing her up with Patsy, her most famous comic creation in Ab Fab, but I suspect that Jennifer Saunders modelled that character on her very good friend Joanna.


Joyously like Judi Dench. Dame Judi has to be one of our greatest actors and also the best personification of ‘joyous’ that I can think of. Whenever she is interviewed she is full of stories of pranks and naughtiness. She clearly has a huge sense of the ridiculous and finds humour in most situations, including a story she told recently of being stung on her bottom by a bee whilst rehearsing, and the paramedic asking ‘Have we got a carer with us?’ She retorted ‘I’ve just done eight weeks of The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick Theatre so you can f*** off!’


Combatively  like Jeremy Paxman. The phrase ‘take no prisoners’ and ‘doesn’t suffer fools gladly’ could have been invented for Jeremy Paxman. And as the new star writer for Saga Magazine he has recently taken up the cudgels on behalf of older people by taking issue with the fact that ageism is the last acceptable form of prejudice. I rather like the fact that he is now using his combative intelligence to call people out on their ageist attitudes.


Colourfully like Zandra Rhodes. I love the way that some women use themselves as expressions of their own creative spirit. Zandra Rhodes has always had brightly coloured hair and exotic makeup to complement the stunning fabrics that she designs for her clothes. She obviously sees no reason to tone this down now that she is 78 years old.


Wryly like Pam Ayres. When I had my 60th birthday party I read out the hilarious poem that Pam Ayres wrote about her utter disbelief at receiving a letter about her state pension (‘Me? - I’m a Goer not a Goner”). Pam is now in her early 70s and she seems to be approaching her ageing self in the same beady eyed way that she has always celebrated her life by sending up the challenges of ageing in poems like ‘I wish I’d Looked after My Teeth’ and ‘Will I Still Have to be Sexy at Sixty?’


I can probably think of at least a dozen more people who brilliantly show that age is not another country but the same place we have always lived, only more so. My examples of how to be old inspire me for the very reason that these fabulous men and women are no different from how they have always been. They are still vibrant, passionate and very powerfully alive and kicking.

Who would you nominate as the older person who inspires you most as you wade further into the waters of older age?

Image Source:

Queen Elizabeth Source: Express

David Attenborough Source: Carbon Brief

Mick Jagger Source: ET Canada

David Hockney Source: Exhibition on Screen

Joanna Lumley Source: Sunday Post

Judi Dench Source: Independent

Judi Dench Source: Hollywood Reporter

Jeremy Paxman Source: Arena

Zandra Rhodes Source: kpbs

Pam Ayers Source: The List

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