Jo Whiley, Gail Porter, Helena Morrissey and me! My
The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (October 30th 2022)
My platform Noon.org.uk teamed up with Vision Express and a glitzy panel to spread the word about Queenagers and why we come into our prime in midlife
What a week! Above are some of the photographs from our amazing afternoon celebrating Queenagers with two panels and a party hosted by Vision Express at the Groucho Club in London. I can’t explain how surreal and fantastic it felt to see an idea, a vision, a mission I cooked up in my bedroom in lockdown manifest with so much joy, glitz, authenticity and hoopla. I had to pinch myself.
The Groucho was decced out with Queenager paraphernalia, logos, lights, branding. When I arrived Jo Whiley DJ and broadcaster (and Vision Express ambassador) and Gail Porter were being made up in the green room for my event… And then suddenly there I was, fronting a panel, asking Jo, one of the most iconic Queenagers in Britain, how she felt about midlife. “I feel so much more confident now I am older,” she said. “I am a mum of four and I just want my kids to look forward to midlife as when they come into their prime, not to fear getting older.” She talked about working with Chris Moyles: “He would josh me almost everyday about being old, I had to laugh along, but I hated it. I kept asking him not to do it, but he didn’t stop. We so need a new positive conversation and new models of ageing. I love being a Queenager”.
I’ve met Jo several times, she has a golden aura; when she smiles it is with her whole face, it lights up. “When I am on my Anthem Tours and I look out into the stadiums I see so many fifty something women with their groups of friends dancing and laughing and full of joy,” she said. She’s right. My whole Noon/Queenager project began with that thought: that women in midlife deserve all the good stuff, joy, fun, purpose – but we never usually hear any of that. I could have hugged her.
I’d felt pretty anxious the night before – could it work? Would it gel? But thanks to the genius of the Fourth Angel who pulled it all together logistically and all the great Queenagers who turned out to talk and support, it all worked. We’ll post the full video later this week. But essentially we did two panels talking about changing the story about women in midlife to one which is more optimistic and fit for purpose! We perched on bar stools (I kept a foot on the ground) and live streamed it to social media. The room was full of journalists and influencers; we were launching a new Queenager campaign for Vision Express, a partnership with Noon. We all know our eyes start deteriorating as we age, Vision Express want us to feel as good about that as possible, and have embraced the idea of a new lens, a different framing of what is possible for women at this stage. Their Marketing Director Jane Exon talked so passionately about moving into purpose herself and wanting to use her brand to do good; “We know that at midlife and around menopause our vision deteriorates, we can get dry eyes and headaches so an eye test and a new prescription are a good idea. I want to make wearing glasses fun and glamorous, make women feel better about ageing. The right pair of glasses is such a key part of that.”
She’s right – I’ve just got some new vari-focals and they are a game changer! I’ve been getting really frustrated by not being able to read my phone, or small print on anything and hated swopping between reading glasses and ones for distance. Now I don’t have to!
The first panel involved my great old compadre, and Noon Advisory board member, Baroness Helena Morrissey (who founded the 30% Club to campaign for more women on boards, was CEO of a merchant bank and has nine kids). She talked eloquently about how much has changed for women for the better in the business world in her lifetime, describing how after she came back after her first pregnancy her bosses doubted her commitment (more fool them) and how the younger generation are much more routed in equality, with men expecting to do their share of the childcare. (One of the best things Helena ever said to me was about one of her sons who’d revealed that he wanted to be just like his dad when he grew up and “stay at home and look after everybody”… we can’t change things for women if men don’t change too!).
Mary Ann Sieghart, author of The Authority Gap (she is chatting with me for the Noon Book Club on Monday 31st Oct at 12.30pm ) talked about how women are still not heard, that a woman can make an excellent point in a meeting but the room will be deaf until a man says it and everyone says: “Yes great”. She talked about why that happens and what we can do to change it. We also had the wonderful Shilpa Rasaiah on the panel talking about how as an Asian woman she only learnt to swim in her late forties, took up paddle boarding in her fifties and now at almost 60 paddleboarded 165 miles from London back to Nottingham. Living proof that it is never too late and you are never too old to start on a new adventure. “I love being outside, on the water. You see life in a different way whole massive new chapter. Shilpa is now an Ambassador for British Canoeing and encourages other women (particularly those from her community) to get active and outside
We talk a lot at Noon about Queenagers being Forged in Fire (over half of women aged 45-60 have been through at least five big life events, divorce, bereavement, redundancy, ill health, financial troubles, elderly parents, trouble with kids) – Gail Porter can certainly relate to that. “I got so low I was homeless, I was sleeping on Hampstead Heath, I was sectioned at the Royal Free Hospital, my daughter had to be looked after by other family. It was my lowest point.” She talked about her “rollercoaster life” how having been so high – her naked body was projected on to the House of Commons, she was a media staple – it all came crashing down. But also of how she now appreciates “the beauty of every day, of still being here, of being happy.” Molly Cochrane, coach, pilates teacher and a Queenager who left school at 16 with no qualifications because she was so dyslexic but who has not got a Masters degree in Neuroscience, interjected wisely: “There is so much joy in resilience.” She is right. Queenager wisdom comes from all we know, all we have been through. It is the power in the room.
I grew up in Soho, a few hundreds yards from the Groucho Club. I would sneak in as a teen, it has always personified for me groovy, grown up life. So to see all these distinguished Queenagers there to celebrate midlife and to change the stories we tell about it meant so much to me.
Almost my favourite in our stuffed second panel was Carol Rose: “I feel as an older woman so much more confident, more conscious – in African and Caribbean society as we become menopausal we become Elders. We ascend. We are respected, we have more dignity we enter a more spiritual phase.” She talked about difficult times – divorce, having her entire fashion collection stolen, being a single mother and described how “I have learnt that nothing material matters. I am enough in myself. Everything that I need is inside me. I have taught that to my children.”
It was great to have a male perspective on Queenagers. Blue Peter presenter Tim Vincent has moved into his own new chapter at 45, becoming a dad to twin boys. “I’m about to turn fifty and I feel such joy and appreciation every day in being a father. They immediately jolt me out of any negativity into the immediacy of their world.” He talked about the need to recalibrate in what if we are lucky could be a hundred year life, our third and fourth quartiles. That is why I called my platform Noon – because in the 100 year life, 50 is only half way through. There is so much more to come.
My own new chapter at 50, took the form of founding Noon after 25 years as a newspaper executive so it was great to hear from Michelle Feeney a fellow Founder at fifty who set up Floral Street Fragrances after years at the top of the Beauty Business (Estee Lauder in New York). “This is the moment when we have the experience, the skills, the confidence and the financial wherewithal to start businesses. There is that sense of ‘if not now, when’. I wanted to set up a brand which was sustainable, which reflected my values,” she said. Queenagers are leaving corporate jobs and setting up their own businesses at a faster rate than any other demographic. “This is the moment when we just say Fuck it, I’m not going to be told what to do anymore, I’m going to run my own show.”
I am so grateful to everyone who took part in this event. It is a massive milestone for Noon and for me. Thank you all panellists and Vision Express for believing in Queenagers and amplifying the message. What is a Queenager? It’s whatever you want it to be! And now the message is out there in the world. I can’t tell you all how amazing that feels. Thanks to all of you for reading these newsletters and being part of the project!
Yours, rather exhausted!
By Eleanor Mills