Prue Leith Rocks!
Underneath was the warning ‘Elderly People Crossing’ as if the traffic was at any moment going to be brought to a standstill by these old duffers inching their way across the road like tortoises or snails.
As a child I never wanted to become that bent-backed, frail, slow old woman on the road sign and now that I am 72, the thought still fills me with the same feeling of dread.
Last week I detailed the research produced by the Centre for Positive Ageing into the ways that older people are portrayed in a number of different media. This was invariably negative whether it was in newspaper articles, in advertisements, promotions for age-focussed charities or on social media. According to all of these, old age neither looks nor sounds very appealing, so that, just like those old-fashioned road signs, we are being warned of a tough road ahead as we move inexorably towards our later years.
How wonderful then to have someone in the public eye to counter all this gloom and doom and to give us something fabulous and inspirational to look forward to! I realised last week when I was watching the ‘Great British Bake Off’ that Prue Leith makes me feel excited about the prospect of being 80 years old. I look at her and think ‘I could be like her in seven years’ time’ and in place of the dread comes the sense that she’s showing me a fabulously positive way to live those later years.
Why I Love Prue Leith
1. She admits her age.
I cannot imagine any other woman on TV stating loud and clear that she is 80 years old as Prue did on GBBO a couple of weeks ago. I suspect that most women who are fast approaching their televisual sell-by-date (Kirsty Wark springs to mind) try to keep that guilty secret firmly hidden from the viewing public. Women are not expected to admit their age, least of all in front of millions of people. You could almost hear the nation’s collective jaw drop when she said it and the immense surprise that she could really be that old and still on prime time TV on a very popular show. I almost wish she could wear a sign saying ‘This is what 80 looks like now’ or ‘Yes I’m 80. Get Over It’ so that we could all start reframing our views.
2. She’s being paid and valued for her expertise..
So often on TV you get the pairing of the older man with the (much) younger woman alongside him. She is there to be the junior partner in every way. Not so with Prue and Paul. Both have their specific areas of knowledge and experience of baking and both are equally important in the judging process. I was so delighted that they replaced Mary Berry (another national treasure) with Prue rather than some much younger eye catching chef/cook who would inevitably have been seen as second-in-command to sexy old blue eyes Hollywood.
3. She’s still going strong.
Not just still going, but still going strong. Prue looks robust. She stands tall with feet firmly planted. She looks healthy and exudes energy and intelligence. She is a wonderful counter to the notion that with advancing age comes inevitable frailty and infirmity. I look at her on Bake-Off and can see the living embodiment of a different narrative to the one we are constantly fed (especially during this pandemic). That’s how I want to come across in seven years time and I want people to be amazed that I look like that at 80.
4. Her clothes are just the right side of whacky.
Let’s be honest, all that vivid layering of colour could be slightly pantomime dame, but somehow Prue manages to look bold, bright and interesting rather than ridiculous. Last week she was wearing a gorgeous bright green, navy and white patterned top with plain navy trousers in an outfit that I would wear in a heartbeat. Sometimes it’s a sweater, sometimes it’s a coat or jacket, sometimes it’s a scarf - maybe you might not want the whole lot all at once as Prue tends to, but the single elements are perfect pointers for ways to jazz up your look. I imagine that she doesn’t own a single black or beige garment!
5. She knows the value of great accessories.
This is also part of her signature look and involves some beautiful colourful necklaces which complement her tops. Sometimes she wears brightly coloured shoes and scarves. This is the easiest and safest part of Prue’s style which is easy to emulate. Her specs are also part of her rebellion against invisibility. If, like Prue you have to wear specs then why not go for frames which add interest to a utilitarian necessity? The trick is to avoid the Elton John/Dame Edna Everage/Su Pollard madness which Prue does by keeping the frames the same oblong shape but varying the colour. Accessories are a brilliant way to inject some fun and interest without risk. This year I bought a pair of bright red Calla suede lace-ups and have had lots of compliments. Red shoes, red lipstick = life in the old girl yet!
6. Her makeup and hair always look wonderful.
On GBBO Prue’s makeup will be done by an excellent makeup artist who will know how to make Prue look amazing under that lighting (and when it’s hot). But I bet that Prue has a lot to say about lip colours which are always perfectly chosen to work with her spectacle frames and overall look for each show. Sometimes she wears red lipstick, sometimes it’s a bright pink but it’s never ‘safe’ or dull. Prue’s makeup works with her clothes and accessories in a perfect combination of bright and beautiful. I am also very envious of Prue’s two toned hair which has gone grey at the front and is still dark elsewhere. It’s beautifully cut to frame her face and by not covering the grey she’s both celebrating and admitting her age which is consistent with everything else about the way she looks.
This week I was chatting to someone in her 30s and mentioned Prue Leith on Bake Off. ‘OMG’, she said “when Prue said she was 80 I texted my sister and we agreed that we couldn't believe that she was that old! It really made me think because my Granny is in her 90s and she’s been waiting to die for the past 12 years!” And that’s the point, really. Some of you may have read this thinking ‘Prue Leith is lucky’ or ‘Prue Leith must have good genes’ or ‘Prue Leith is rich and privileged’. All of which may be true, but she also has an incredible joie de vivre, a great deal of experience and knowledge and a very clear determination not to be defined by how old she is. That’s my kind of role model. I have no idea what I’ll be like in another seven years, but I look at Prue Leith and feel the fear and dread ebbing away. We need a new road sign: ‘Beware Elderly People Crossing - because one’s on a racing bike and the other’s on a 5k run!’