This is a year of big birthdays, for, believe it or not, 2017 is when the baby boomer turns 70.
Ever-youthful Joanna Lumley, Bill Clinton and Cher are 70 already and are now joined by a million new septuagenarians this year — more than ever before. To mark this, Channel 4 has a new four-part TV series called The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old. Its aim? To show just how young 70 really is.
The baby boomers have always been rule breakers. Born in peacetime, with the freedom to enjoy the Sixties’ summer of love, they’re now completely redefining ‘old age’. They may be doting grandparents, but they’re also going to music festivals, travelling the globe, wearing skinny jeans, remodelling their houses and feeling fitter and healthier than they’ve ever been.
Angela Neustatter, 73, is a writer and author of 13 books including The Year I Turn . . . A Quirky A-Z Of Ageing. She lives in London with Olly, her husband of 43 years, with whom she has two grown-up sons and two grandchildren
Statistics suggest life expectancy is rising by two-and-a-half years per decade — predictions are that, by the end of the 21st century, there will be 1.5 million centenarians in the UK. Which is why the Oxford Institute Of Population Ageing is insisting we change the language surrounding age. Forget ‘old’, those of us in our 70s and 80s should now be called ‘active adults’ instead.
Here six (very active) top writers reveal how they’re ripping up the rulebook . . .
I’M FITTER NOW THAN I WAS 20 YEARS AGO
Angela Neustatter, 73, is a writer and author of 13 books including The Year I Turn . . . A Quirky A-Z Of Ageing. She lives in London with Olly, her husband of 43 years, with whom she has two grown-up sons and two grandchildren.
In my youth I assumed my 70s would be a time of diminishing returns, yet so far — I am approaching 74 — I have found it a strikingly cheering time. I seem to belong to the group where ‘a growing happiness’ in elders has been charted by economists.
In my youth I assumed my 70s would be a time of diminishing returns, yet so far — I am approaching 74 — I have found it a strikingly cheering time. I seem to belong to the group where ‘a growing happiness’ in elders has been charted by economists
In my 50s there were so many ‘is this it?’ questions, and ‘can I still wear this?’ worries.
These days I wear what I like — black leather, a mini with a big sweater, leggings and T-shirts, clingy dresses. If anyone thinks I appear inappropriate, they can look the other way.
We baby boomers coincided with the invention of the teenager. We learned the fun of wearing kooky clothes, whereas my mother’s most rebellious garment was a yellow Horrocks frock with little black spots. Usually she wore sensible tweed skirts and cardies.
The Sixties Women’s Movement showed those of us who tuned into feminism that we had every right to assert ourselves. But these days we’re also grown-up enough to step back from conflict and emotional chaos when it comes our way.
I’ll say, ‘Sorry, I’m not playing’ if a partner or friend is determinedly argumentative. Much more peaceful.
Actress Jane Fonda at 43
My mother died of cancer when I was 25 and she was 50. I spent my midlife years imagining I would get a tumour at the age she died. When it didn’t happen I felt free to anticipate older age with equanimity and was able to put her memory to rest.
I pinch a good deal more than an inch around my midriff and dismiss it, tant pis; looking back on too many years of bingeing, starving, yearning, in pursuit of the Twiggy look.
Now I am happy to have good health — although there is pesky sciatica — and a body that, if anything, is more supple than 20 years back (yes, that is me doing the Jane Fonda pose) thanks to a decade of Pilates, yoga and a home with stairs.
Then there’s sex. Increasingly my generation has been given permission, with each new decade, to believe it can still have an erotic life.
So if the idea appeals — the challenge is to find times after an afteroon siesta perhaps or a morning lie-in — other than the night when I am about as erotic as a fried egg.
As much as anything, I celebrate my 70s for being a time when my ego is no longer on high alert, in case others are doing better at a career, being lovelier, funnier, cleverer than I am.
This is such a relief having lived much of my life with the fear of rejection and failure. I used to think 40 was the age when you signed off from a life of fun and frolics. But it’s not true — which seems a remarkable gift.
Author Lesley Pearse, 72, is single. She lives in Torquay and has three daughters and four grandchildren
TAKE THE PLUNGE WITH SCUBA DIVING
Author Lesley Pearse, 72, is single. She lives in Torquay and has three daughters and four grandchildren.
I did approach my 70th birthday with trepidation but, two years on, I found it means nothing if you have a young outlook and laugh a lot. Laughing is far sexier than crying.
I keep fit by scrambling up my Devonshire cliff-top garden to weed and plant. I have to come down on my bottom, but it’s safer that way. I go to Pilates to keep bendy, and I swim and walk the dog.
I will not buy ‘old lady’ clothes or shoes — they’re a dead giveaway. So maybe I can’t wear 4in stilettos any longer, but I will never be seen in trainers. Wellies yes, but always in a bright colour, recently orange to match my raincoat.
I’m thinking of doing a scuba diving course. I’ve always wanted to do it and I’m close enough to the sea to pour myself into a wet suit in the privacy of my home.
At heart I’m still the hippy chick I was back in 1968. I love parties, I throw a big one every year, always with live music. You don’t have to take up bungee jumping or white-water rafting to prove you’re still young at heart.
Dance with a big smile on your face, talk to strangers on a dog walk, drink younger people under the table but remember to hang up your clothes and take your make-up off before bed. I’m always the first one up the next morning. Anyone for a bacon sarnie and a dip in the sea?
The Woman In The Wood by Lesley Pearse (Michael Joseph, £18.99) is out June 29.
Journalist and broadcaster Esther Rantzen, 76, presented That’s Life! for 21 years. She was made a Dame in 2015. Husband Desmond Wilcox died in 2000. She has three grown-up children
BRAVING A SPEED-DATING DANCE CLASS
Journalist and broadcaster Esther Rantzen, 76, presented That’s Life! for 21 years. She was made a Dame in 2015 for services to children and older people through the helplines ChildLine and The Silver Line. Husband Desmond Wilcox died in 2000. She has three grown-up children and one grandson.
Some people have always grown old disgracefully, thank goodness. Think Mae West, flaunting false eyelashes and toy boys. I remember seeing Marlene Dietrich on stage well into her 70s, still in her famous ‘nude dress’ and strategically placed sequins.
Of course, showbusiness has always encouraged rebels. The difference today is that normal people with ordinary lives follow their example.
Look at the internet dating sites — they’re filled with suggestions for baby boomers who are seeking romance. Clearly, plenty of wrinklies are happy to plunge into new relationships at an age when previous generations would have found it unthinkable.
I marvel at their courage. Personally, I have been too scared of rejection to go down that path. When I did recently venture onto Channel Four’s Celebrity First Date, my date, a lawyer called John, damned me with faint praise. ‘For a lady of your advancing years, Esther,’ he told me, ‘you were splendid company.’ Thanks, John.
But that’s fine, because there are wonderful new ways of finding company these days for the over-70s.
Recently, in spite of my total lack of dance talent and muscle memory, I spent an evening in a church hall learning the French jive, Ceroc. Admittedly I needed frequent breathers to stay abreast of fellow baby boomers.
It’s arranged like the dance version of speed dating, changing partners every five minutes so you’re never caught in the sticky embrace of an over-amorous fellow dancer. It’s not just the vigorous exercise, but the jeggings my mum would never have contemplated. When I was younger, I did try to wear what was considered respectable but now, who cares?
At my age — 76 — my grandmother wore satin bloomers elasticated around the knee, handy for keeping a hanky to wipe her nose. Here am I happy in T-shirt and leggings.
Stanley Johnson, 76, writer, author and conservationist, lives in London and Somerset. He has four children by his first marriage to painter Charlotte Johnson-Wahl and two by his second marriage to Jennifer Kidd
CLIMBING KILIMANJAR0 WAS A PERSONAL HIGH
Stanley Johnson, 76, writer, author and conservationist, lives in London and Somerset. He has four children by his first marriage to painter Charlotte Johnson-Wahl (Boris, Rachel, Leo and Jo) and two, Julia and Max, by his second marriage to Jennifer Kidd.
I am now over halfway through my eighth decade and I can honestly say that, on present form and touching wood etc, it looks like knocking all previous decades into a cocked hat.
I began my 70s by scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at more than 19,500ft. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to climb through the night, guided by the light of a head-torch, till dawn breaks and you find yourself looking down at the clouds beneath you.
There’s still a long way to the summit, but when you get there, the feeling is indescribable. Actually, I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro twice in the past five years, and I don’t rule out doing it again.
I am sure I will look back on my 70s as a golden decade in so many ways. There have been setbacks, of course. The high point of my political career was back in 1979 when I was elected as an MEP with a 95,000 majority! But I failed to be elected as an MP in Devon in 2005.
But life takes some surprising turns. I have been writing novels since the Sixties, and up till now not one has hit the bestseller list. But this week I heard that Channel 4 is making a six-part TV series based on my new thriller. I’m going to screen-test for a part. A new career beckons, which should see me out. As Clint Eastwood might say: ‘Make my decade!’
Kompromat by Stanley Johnson (Oneworld Publications, £14.99, July 13).
Author and actress Jan Leeming, 75, is best known as a BBC newsreader. In 2006 she took part in I’m A Celebrity. She lives in Kent and has a son, Jonathan
RETIREMENT? I’M FAR TOO BUSY FOR THAT
Author and actress Jan Leeming, 75, is best known as a BBC newsreader. In 2006 she took part in I’m A Celebrity. She lives in Kent and has a son, Jonathan.
I’ve never had any time to feel morbid about hitting 70. I was among the first tranche of women with full careers, and retirement is just not something I can imagine after such a busy life. I still want to make a contribution. And more practically I still need to earn money — no security and no pension!
I’ve trained as an assistant for Canterbury Cathedral — I do a two-hour duty on Sundays. People often comment on how like Jan Leeming I look! For a time, I thought that regular TV work had passed me by, but in 2015 came an invitation to join the cast of the BBC series The Real Marigold Hotel, exploring retirement in India.
After I mentioned that, being single, I never went on organised holidays, a holiday company invited me to become their ambassador. Thanks to them, I’ve visited Tuscany, Burma and Croatia, with Peru and Canada coming up soon.
The world has changed exponentially in the past 50 years because of travel, the internet, more wealth and health — the idea of going to a gym is anathema to me, but I walk my dog, watch what I eat and weigh myself every day (it’s so much harder to keep the weight off when you’re older).
Jan says: ‘I’ve never had any time to feel morbid about hitting 70. I was among the first tranche of women with full careers, and retirement is just not something I can imagine after such a busy life’
We are better educated and have higher expectations than our mothers. Most of my generation have held down jobs as well as having families and though we may love and respect our men, they do not rule our lives.
If I’d been born a generation later, I wouldn’t have married five times. I’d simply have had relationships.
I didn’t burn my bra and am not a feminist, though I believe in women’s rights. Perhaps being the first woman newsreader in Australia in the Sixties was the key to my realisation that the only restrictions are those you impose on yourself.
Former editor Jo Foley, 71, is a specialist travel and wellness writer. Divorced, she lives in London with her cat, Maud
I’M GRATEFUL FOR 50 YEARS OF FREEDOM
Former editor Jo Foley, 71, is a specialist travel and wellness writer. Divorced, she lives in London with her cat, Maud.
How did I get here from there? To the life I live now — alone but not lonely, childless but surrounded by friends, some a third of my age — 71 on the outside, much less on the inside.
I’m still working and travelling and shouting at people in the street who annoy me. How did it happen that in one generation my life should be so different from that of my forebears? It happened because of choice.
Choice on what to do, where to go, how to live, who to see and most important, the confidence to take a chance and see what freeing ourselves from society’s restrictions does for us.
In the world in which my mother grew up, life was predictable and hidebound — such women lived at home with their families until marriage, after which they mostly remained in the same place, the same town, village or neighbourhood. It never occurred to them that they could be responsible for their own life.
But how our baby boomer generation made up for it! Sure it was scary and we did stupid things, but we mostly survived unscathed. We learned how to live in strange towns and cities at college or university.
At night we plotted escape routes to the sun, where we could find badly-paid jobs in beach bars or child-minding for careless couples with predatory dads, but we learned how to get from A to B. We still carried fear with us, but when the chips were down, and boy were they sometimes down, we scraped out of it.
Looking back from half a century later we realise it prepared us for the lives we live now. We learned self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, confidence and a dollop of selfishness — our own homes, our own friends and plans.
In our 70s we shop at Zara, drink pisco sours, take slow boats along the Mekong and talk to ourselves without contradiction. Did we ever think to thank our parents?
The Baby Boomers’ Guide To Growing Old, More 4 tomorrow