Strictly, Angela and the world as it should be...
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (September 24th 2023)
How the annual sequin-fest sets an important anti-ageist example
The Queenager – Strictly, Angela rippon
Greetings on this grey Sunday – I swam this morning and the pond was awash with magpies and crows, the sky lowering. Even the heron soaring magnificently over by head, wings wide, didn’t assuage my gloom. I’ve been toying with writing about Russel Brand and my 25 years working for Rupert Murdoch (who finally stood down after 70 years last week) but I thought we all needed some cheering up. So I’m going to write about sparkles and fake tan instead. Yup – this issue of the Queenager is all about Strictly Come Dancing.
I was chatting to Claudia Winkleman a couple of months ago at a lunch about things Queenager, gendered ageism, the boys club at the top, all that kind of thing and she laughed and said: “In my world at Strictly women run everything – the programme, the channel, and of course we are the presenters; I never come across any of that kind of thing.” Claudia has a great knack for keeping on the bright side, she’s made an incredibly successful career out of keeping it light… but watching this season of Strictly Come Dancing I suddenly realised she had a point. That she lived in a kind of golden Queenager bubble; perhaps a microcosm of the world as it should be, if we midlife women were allowed to run things all of the time….
This season in particular Strictly Come Dancing is awash with Queenagers – there’s the two presenters for starters, Claudia 51, Tess Daly 54, the first time a massive Prime Time show has been helmed by two midlife women. That is a huge thing if you think about it; remember all those ghastly game shows we watched growing up with an old man presenter with a young female side kick? Then there is this season’s amazing line up: I am old enough to remember the frisson that went through the nation when Angela Rippon emerged from behind the BBC News desk and high kicked her way across the studio. For starters it was a miracle that she had legs; and such wonderful ones! And now, here she is at the Super Queenager age of 78, Cha-Cha-Cha-ing with the best of them. A one-woman living proof that age is just a number, that even at nearly our ninth decade we can dance and jive and compete… with anyone of any age. She’s not just smashing it on the dance floor. Even more impressive to my mind is that she also presents the BBC’s Rip Off Britain show. In an article she somehow found the time to write this week, she revealed how as well as dancing for six hours a day, she’s filming a whole new series of her show about consumer scams. No wonder she needs a massage and a cryo-ice bath on a Sunday. I do just reading about her schedule! She also makes a good point when she says, “Dance is the best exercise in our 50s ad 60s, it’s good for balance, stimulates your brain and is social, all in one package. For older people dance beats those two terrors of old age, isolation and loneliness…”
The Queenager-tasticness of Strictly with all its rhinestones and escapism doesn’t stop with Angela. There’s also Annabel Croft, 57, who tragically and suddenly lost her husband earlier this year; it had always been ‘his dream’ for her to compete on the show. “It’s so special [to be on Strictly],” she said. “It’s beyond anything I could put into words”. Not surprising. Her husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer in May and died eight weeks later. They had been together for over thirty years. Yet there she is, giving it her all!
Talk about embracing the new, using the hole in your life to let something new grow. The woman is a living miracle of resilience and grit. I remember another friend saying when her husband died that she felt so awful about everything that she just resolved to say ‘yes’ if someone suggested it. She found herself in all sorts of new and unexpected situations, some of which were great, some less so but I’ve always respected her desire just to get on with the newness. When we are really at a low ebb we have to welcome in the new with all its uncertainty because in that is at least the possibility of something positive, something different. It’s a good maxim. Annabel Croft is a great exemplar of life going on of living our dreams against the odds. Of a new chapter..
Then there is Amanda Abbington, 51, also a Queenager, a talented actress and in her own words “peri-menopausal..I wanted to embarrass my children because that’s what mums are supposed to do. Also I am quite a slob in my real life so I’m looking forwards to sequins, glitter and nice costumes… not to mention the false eyelashes..” There have been a rash of articles about how her dance partner is a hard task master and she’d got bleeding blisters on her feet. No wonder she’s also got herself an ice-bath!
Because although it looks glamorous, it’s not easy dancing live on prime-time – that’s why when a celebrity really pulls off something magic we all remember it; I’m still chuckling about Ed Balls! I have two left feet and would be bound to bugger it up which makes me even more in awe of those who can do it. It takes practice, confidence and commitment to take up the challenge. It’s wonderful to see so many mid life and later life women rising so gracefully and energetically to the occasion! And men – let’s not forget Les Dennis is nearly 70!
It sounds trivial but this matters. My colleague Diane Kenwood, Noon’s Editorial Director, has written an excellent blog this week about over-hearing two women in their 50s/60s saying they would rather die than admit to being over 60, even if they were. That kind of internalised ageism is rampant. It’s the most stupid form of prejudice because it’s so self-hating – after all we’ll all get old (if we’re lucky enough to live that long). Why be so negative about your future self?
I hope that the energetic, life-affirming role models provided by Angela Rippon but also Annabel Cox Amanda Abbington and Claudia and Tess might start to erase that kind of knee-jerk ageism. We live in a world where there are now more over 60s than at any time in history. It’s the great unsung achievement of science. Rather than talking down oldies, we need to adjust our views and attitude. In the 100 Year Life which if we’re lucky we’ll get to live (and we all need to be thinking about how we can do that as healthily as possible so we can all be waltzing if we want to at 80) fifty or even sixty is not that old. In the G7 more than a quarter of the workforce will be over 50 by 2031 and nearly half of American workers expect to work beyond the age of 65 – that is a huge shift, in 1990 only 12% of workers expected to go on working that long. (I highly recommend a new report from Bain & Co on older workers if that is your bag, where those figures come from).
Yet attitudes to oldies, particularly older women, have not seen a similar rate of change. How miserably sad that we live in a world where we are lucky enough to live a third as long as our predecessors but that that time is negated by negative attitudes; a third of people have experienced ageism according to the Centre for Ageing Better (full transparency I am on their board of expert advisors). Ageist attitudes are baked in to every day phrases: ‘at your age’, ‘good for your age’, ‘aren’t you too old for that’, ‘hurry up grand dad’, ‘little old lady’. I believe that by recognising and tackling ageism in the way we have racism or homophobia, we can radically change not just the story we tell about older people but our expectations of what ageing looks and feels like.
So three cheers for Strictly Come Dancing – not only does is provide a bit of light relief as the evenings get shorter and Rishi Sunak throws out everything that might save us from global warming in a pathetic attempt to get re-elected (don’t get me started on that!!!). But who knew that some Queenagers in rhinestones might provide the key to shifting entrenched ageist attitudes in our society!
Have a great week –
Ps We’ve just announced to day our World Menopause Day Noon Debate: Queenagers, work and menopause. We’ve got a stellar panel – including Dr Nighat Arif (expert in women’s health and bestselling author of The Knowledge), Ritula Shah (ex World Tonight), Dr Lucy Ryan (author of Revolting Women, by current favourite book) and Rachel Weiss, Founder of the Menopause Café. I’ll be in the Chair and we’ll be discussing the current brain drain of Queenagers out of organisations, how much of it is due to menopause (I’d argue that it’s more of what we call at Noon the Midlife Maelstrom, all the things that hit at 50, not just menopause) and what we can do to keep midlife women on track. Do Join us – sign up here at Eventbrite. Free for Paid Subscribers to this email, you know the code.. £10 for everyone else. Online at 6.45pm on Wednesday October 18th.
By Eleanor Mills