Cardigans and slippers? Not for these glamorous grannies
By Deirdre Reynolds
Thursday Oct 21 2010
Nanas of Ireland, cast off your cardies! Our government may want you to work for longer, but now sixty-something women are proving that they can work it for longer too.
With role models like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Cybill Shepherd and Susan Sarandon, being in possession of a bus pass has never looked better.
And last Saturday, at the precise moment that Strictly Come Dancing contestant Felicity Kendal executed the splits on live television -- a new poster girl for Super Grans was born.
Giving new meaning to Age Action, the 64-year-old left audiences and the judges agog by performing a raunchy rhumba with dance partner Vincent Simone.
She may have entered the so-called 'age of invisibility', but bending over backwards before sinking spread-eagle to the floor in a dress slashed to the thigh, all eyes were on her.
With not a bingo wing in sight, 'Flexible Felicity' bore absolutely no resemblance to the saggy, whiskered stereotype of a woman past her prime.
And the most pliable pensioner on the planet -- famous for playing a wholesome wife in TV series The Good Life -- revealed her preternaturally preserved physique is all down to Pilates.
When quizzed about her jaw-dropping display of dexterity after the show, the glamorous granny imparted simply: "Pilates and yoga".
The sexagenarian sex symbol has been a fan of the strengthening and stretching exercise for more than three decades and even wrote the foreword for a book called Pilates: Creating the Body You Want.
With former MP Anne Widdecome (63) and sex therapist Pamela Stephenson (60) also cutting a rug on the popular BBC series, the weekly show of pensioner power is at odds with accusations of ageism that erupted after judge Arlene Phillips (67) was replaced by former winner Alesha Dixon (32) in a bid to boost ratings.
Still, when it comes to over-the-hill hotties, both fresh-faced Arlene and Felicity have a long way to go to knock Helen Mirren off her perch.
At 65, the devastating Dame is still capable of inciting thoughts fit for the confession box in men young enough to play her grandson.
Not that you'd catch the woman described by Cameron Diaz as "drop-dead sexy" slumming it as a Bovril-slugging fan of Winning Streak too often.
While most ageing actresses rely on a battery of hair, make-up and nip/tuck to hold back the years on film, it took a team of pros to actually make Mirren look older for her Oscar-winning role as dowdy Queen Elizabeth II.
Meanwhile, in her latest movie RED, out this week, the sizzling senior citizen -- memorably snapped rocking a red bikini on holidays in 2008 -- plays a gun-toting CIA agent back from retirement; and she next appears as an Israeli spy hunter in The Debt.
Celebrated as a natural beauty in collagen-pumped Tinseltown, Mirren is at the vanguard of a generation of women boasting a confidence, style and sex appeal earned only with age.
"She's glorious," declared co-star Russell Brand at the New York premiere of The Tempest recently. "She's living in defiance of time. There's something about her that drives me wild."
Here at home, model agency boss Celia Holman Lee celebrates her 60th birthday next month -- and isn't afraid to shout it from the rooftops.
"Some women don't like revealing their age," says the Limerick style queen, "but I don't give a damn! Too many people don't make it to 60, so I plan to celebrate. I'm going to have a big bash with all my friends.
"Thank God for women like Helen Mirren, who show you don't have to be Botoxed up to the high heavens to look good as you get older."
Like her icon Mirren -- who credits not smoking and her "fundamentally sunny nature" with her virtually wrinkle-free looks -- Celia says there's no big secret to her enviable figure.
"I'm not up at 6am getting facials or jogging for 10 hours a day," she tells. "It's down to the basics; I don't overeat, I try to exercise, get the odd facial and keep my mind active with work.
"My mother was a beautiful woman who died at 82, so hopefully I inherited her genes," she tells.
If you can't rely on good genes, there's always the gym -- increasingly, older women are swapping slippers for runners to press pause on their appearance.
"Older beauties like Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are a real inspiration for our clients," says Gill Brady of Curves, Ireland's top gym for women.
"They are strong, independent women who show that you don't need to slow down after a certain age -- that you can still be fit, healthy and beautiful in your sixties and beyond.
'Curves has always been a firm favourite with older ladies, as unlike traditional gym machines ours adjust automatically to your ability -- so the workout is as easy or hard as you make it."
And one such member, Dympna Carthy (68) from Clare, beat off a bevy of nubile lovelies to land the title of Curvette of the Year. Grandma-to-be Dympna dropped from size 20 to size 12 since joining the gym in 2006.
"I joined Curves after being diagnosed with osteoporosis," says Dympna. "I weighed 12 stone 7 pounds and was uncomfortable in my own skin. It has completely changed my life; it has helped me come off HRT tablets and I have never felt so good."
Indeed, the blue-rinse brigade could be on the brink of extinction, reckons KPMG demographer Bernard Salt.
"Baby boomers (those born between 1943-60) do not see themselves as old," says Salt.
And with a longer working life ahead, neither are they content to "sit at home with a cardigan and slippers and watching daytime telly.
"If you think about it," explains Salt, "those people have redefined every stage of the life cycle through which they have passed. As kids in the 50s, they were the first teenagers. In the 60s, they were hippies. Then they invented concepts like yuppies and dinks (double income, no kids) in the 1980s.
"It is illogical to assume that they are now just going to fade into the sunset and turn into old people like preceding generations."
From fashion to cosmetics, magazines and movies, in an industry skewed towards youth and perfection, older women are more visible than ever.
At an age when women are traditionally consigned to the cultural trash can, Meryl Streep (61) has struck rom-com box office pay dirt with movies like Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia and It's Complicated -- in which she's energetically pursued by both Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. 'Past it' powerhouse stars Diane Keaton (64), Maggie Smith (75) and Judi Dench (75) all have upcoming movie releases.
Today's middle-aged stars -- Kylie Minogue (42), Sarah Jessica Parker (45) and Andie MacDowell (52) -- seem poised to take the torch as the ambassadors of agelessness.
"By the time you were 55 in 1930," muses demographer Bernard Salt, "you were eight years from death on average. Eight years out from the end of it . . . you put up with a relationship that's not terrific and you don't invest in your looks or wardrobe. You act, feel and think like an old person.
"Today, if you're 63, you can't act old because you've got another 20 years left of life," he explains. "So they're actually going to reinvent that space. They'll give it a good shake and role models will emerge showing how you can age with dignity, grace and style. And Helen Mirren and Olivia Newton-John are good examples of that."
- Deirdre Reynolds