Monday 24 October 2016

50 influential women over 50

From heads of state and business leaders to entertainers and artists, we list the women who are transforming the world.

Isabel Hayes

Published 08/11/2015 | 02:30

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson
Joan Burton
Katherine Zappone (left) with her wife Anne Louise Gilligan.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Michelle Obama
Louise Kennedy
Meryl Streep
Darina Allen
Hilary Clinton
Frances Fitzgerald
Miriam O'Callaghan
Christina Noble
Helen Mirren
Celia Holman Lee
Queen Elizabeth
Margaret Atwood
Anna Wintour
Christine Lagarde

Time and time again we hear that it's a man's world - and if a woman was to get a look in she'd have to be an energetic twenty-something. It seems that if the glass ceiling has indeed been broken, then it's been replaced by an impenetrable barrier of ageism. But in reality, that's a lazy assumption rather than an accurate reflection of the world.

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For, if you take a closer look, you'll discover that it's older generations of women who are driving every aspect of society. From extraordinary entrepreneurs and visionary CEOs to politicians, creatives and entertainers, it's women in their prime who really lead the world.

Today, Weekend magazine is celebrating these remarkable women who have influence and impact on the way that we all live. From thousands of possibilities, we've compiled a selection of just 50 powerful women over 50.

Listed in no particular order, the roll-call comprises figures from worlds of politics, business, humanitarian work, entertainment, fashion and the arts who have made a name for themselves as leaders in their field. Among them is the likes of Anne Enright, the writer chosen as Ireland's first ever laureate for fiction; Ginni Rometty, the first female CEO of IBM; and, of course, Hillary Clinton, who could be just a ballot away from landing the most powerful job in the world.

Though they come from disparate industries and backgrounds, all of these women share talent, vision and confidence which inspires younger generations of women to follow in their trailblazing footsteps - and which has earned them a place on our 'most influential' list…

1 Mary McAleese, age 64     

Rather than retiring quietly after two highly successful terms as president, McAleese has been as busy as ever this year - campaigning fearlessly for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum and taking the New York Times to task for its victim-blaming reporting on the Berkeley balcony tragedy. Married to husband Martin for nearly 40 years, McAleese, a staunch Catholic, joked she knew her son was gay when he asked for a vacuum for Christmas as a child. Voting Yes to same-sex marriage would "greatly affect my life and the lives of all parents of gay children," she said this year. "It will right a glaring wrong."

2 Mary Robinson, age 71


Upon becoming Ireland's first female president in 1990, Robinson famously said she was elected by Irish women who "instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system" and that's just what she went on to do. The Ballina native and barrister gained international recognition for breathing new life into a role which had previously been a male retirement post. But it took its toll. Years later, Robinson admitted she struggled with stress toward the end of her presidency: "I took an extra week [off work], spent a lot of time walking by the lake and pulled myself together." Robinson went on to become United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has since been a UN special envoy and is chair of several different boards, mainly to do with justice and climate change issues.

3 Joan Burton, age 66


The Tánaiste still remembers hundreds of boys stomping and cheering when she - one of the few girls in the class - scuttled late into a commerce lecture at UCD. Good training for the Dáil. Labour's first female leader was adopted at aged two, and won a university scholarship - a rare achievement for a working-class woman. She searched for her birth mother for years before sadly finding out she had died. Burton's wish that the general election be held next spring has been granted, but whether her party can remain in power or not is another question. Interesting fact: she learned to speak Swahili while living in Tanzania with her husband Pat Carroll.

4 Michelle Obama, age 51


Whether she's having a love-in with Beyoncé, or campaigning for women's rights, this lawyer First Lady can do no wrong. Her husband might have the Oval Office, but Michelle has been dubbed the coolest FLOTUS to ever grace the White House. She's not afraid to dance in public, flex her toned upper arms or speak her mind. Described as funny, clever and outspoken, Obama has never shied away from the ageing process. "I've never felt more confident in myself, more clear on who I am as a woman," she said when she turned 50 last year.

5 Sabina Higgins, in her early 70s

Known as the President's 'rock', Ireland's First Lady is an actor, an activist and an international ambassador for Irish fashion designers, but also extremely private. Originally from Mayo, she grew up listening to her mother reading Dickens and moved to Dublin in the 1960s, where she helped to form the Focus Theatre. Michael D Higgins spotted her at a party in 1969 - "a willowy young woman with long flowing blonde hair". Her introduction to political life wasn't glamorous - she was bundled into a car and told to speak about her husband outside a church during the 1977 election campaign. She's taken part in every political campaign since.

6 Adi Roche, age 60

The former Aer Lingus worker-turned-peace campaigner set up Chernobyl Children International with her husband Sean after she received a fax from doctors in the Ukraine in 1991 saying 'FOR GOD'S SAKE GET THE CHILDREN OUT'. Since its inception, CCI has pumped over €96m into the areas most affected by the 1986 disaster and Ireland has received nearly 25,000 children for medical treatment. Roche ran for president in 1997 but later says her life was nearly ruined by what she believes was a political smear campaign against her and her family: "I was drowning inside, it destroyed me."

7 Christina Noble, age 70

Following a traumatic childhood plagued by institutional abuse, the fish-and-chip shop worker from Dublin was moved to help children in Vietnam after a vivid dream. She arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 and against all the odds, set up the Christina Noble Children's Foundation, which provides vital health services, education and support to thousands of vulnerable children and their families annually. A self-described "raucous character", mother to three children and thousands more 'babbies' who call her Mama Tina, Noble continues to work tirelessly. She even got into trouble with Mother Teresa for smuggling Readers Digest in for the nuns.

8 Darina Allen, age 67


The 'Julia Child of Ireland' wanted to find a job in a big hotel after graduating from cookery school in 1968 but in those days, "Men were chefs, women ran tea shops." When she heard of a maverick Ballymaloe farmer's wife running a restaurant in her own home (shock, horror), Allen went to investigate and ended up marrying the son - Tim Allen. They turned Ballymaloe into an internationally renowned cookery school with emphasis on using fresh, local produce. She is also credited with helping to restart the farmers' market movement, and there are now over 150 across Ireland.

9 Katherine Zappone, age 61


Alongside her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, Katherine Zappone sparked the debate for marriage equality in Ireland when the pair fought to have their 2003 Canadian marriage recognised by the High Court. The Washington-born theologian and first openly lesbian Senator proposed to Gilligan, a one-time nun, again when the referendum passed on May 22. One thing Zappone regrets about growing older is the fact the pair never had children. "I just never thought it was possible. But looking back there are regrets." She plans to run as an independent candidate in the next general election.

10 Queen Elizabeth, age 89


Who'll ever forget Queen Elizabeth joyfully saying "I like this clinky glass," as she toasted her historic visit to Ireland in 2011. (Question: Do British champagne glasses not clink?) All the same, with those five words the Queen showed an endearing side that is rarely seen. Her reserved nature was anathema to the British public during the national outpouring of grief over Princess Diana's untimely death, but she won her way into their hearts again. She's vowed she'll never retire and this year became the longest-serving monarch in British history, beating her great great grandmother Queen Victoria. Bet there were some clinky glasses that night.

11 Moya Doherty, age 57

Along with her husband, John McColgan, Moya Doherty has made millions from the global success of their Riverdance show. More than 100 million people have seen the extravaganza since its debut as the interval act during the 1994 Eurovision song contest. At the time, Doherty was in her 30s with two young children. "The success of it didn't quite hit for a while," she said. She was appointed chairwoman of the RTE board last year after Communications Minister Alex White cycled round to her office and asked her to take it on. Doherty says she enjoys getting older but finds Ireland is quite an ageist society: "The 50s are a strange time for a woman, both physically and emotionally - a junction when you look both ways, to the past and the future."

12 Arianna Huffington, age 65

First we wondered whether women could 'have it all', then we told ourselves to 'lean in'. Now Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, is encouraging women to slow down, reflect and focus on 'thriving'. In 2005, she launched the Huffington Post, which now averages 214 million unique visitors per month. After she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, Huffington decided she needed to redefine the meaning of success as more than just money and power. She sets out her roadmap to success in the best-selling book Thrive, which urges women to unplug and live in the moment.

13 Siobhan Talbot, age 53

Talbot became the first woman to take over the running of a public company in Ireland in 2014, after rising to the top of multi-billion-euro food giant, Glanbia. Talbot counts her mother as her greatest role model - her farmer dad died when Talbot was just 15, leaving her mother with five children to raise. She has no truck with talk of glass ceilings and believes it's often a matter of personal choice that women don't pursue top jobs. The mum-of-two successfully battled breast cancer in 2010: "It has undeniably changed me and made me realise what is important in life."

14 Margaret Heffernan, in her 70s

The doyenne of Dunnes Stores worth an estimated €270m is renowned for her steely determination not to engage with trade unions or publicly explain herself. Ever. She took control of her father's company after her brother Ben Dunne's drug scandal and turned it around from a 'pile-em-high' discount store to a more upmarket success story. Little is known about her except that she is both a tireless workaholic and devoted to her family. She appears to be working less these days but as recently as 2011 her fiery side was evident when she allegedly told an employee she wanted "f***ing men or mice".

15 Elle Macpherson, age 51

The Australian supermodel began her career at just 17, but it was her cover appearance on the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated that catapulted her to fame, earning her the nickname 'The Body'. Macpherson was one of the first models to capitalise on her own brand, launching her signature lingerie collection in 1990. Elle Macpherson Intimates is now a hugely successful global line, generating an estimated €9m a year.

16 Carly Fiorina, age 61

When she dropped out of law school after just one year, her father told her he didn't think she'd amount to much. But now, Carly Fiorina is CEO of one of the world's leading technology companies and a Republican candidate for US president in the 2016 election. When she was hired as CEO at Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina made history as the first woman to head a Fortune 100 company.

17 Hillary Clinton, age 67


She's the most famous woman in history to stand by her man, but it's been many years since Clinton was regarded as such. As she continues to battle the email controversy - in which she used her private email account while Secretary of State - the Democrat has not abandoned her long-cherished desire to be America's first female president. Clinton is regarded as steely but in recent years has shown her softer side. She was even cool for a while after a photo of her texting on a plane while wearing sunnies went viral. Unfortunately, in the wake of the current email scandal, that photo isn't quite so funny anymore.

18 Edna O'Brien, age 84

She's been described as the greatest living woman author, but O'Brien spent years as a cultural outcast awaiting acceptance from her beloved home country. That finally came this year when she was honoured as a Saoithe of Aosdána, Ireland's highest literary accolade. Originally from Clare, her first novel about sexual awaking in Ireland, The Country Girls, was banned and she became a national hate figure. At the same time, her novels were lauded in the UK, where she has lived for most of her adult life. Apparently her hearing is going, but O'Brien says she will always continue reading and writing - "those two intensities that have buttressed my whole life".

19 Anne Enright, age 53

The Man Booker prize-winning author this year became the first ever laureate for Irish fiction and says it meant more to her than any other prize "because it happened at home. It takes Ireland a while to accept one of its writers," she says. She won the Man Booker prize for her novel The Gathering in 2007 and was longlisted for this year's prize for her book, The Green Road. The south Dublin philosophy graduate took a while to come to writing. She first worked in children's television but didn't find it fulfilling and ultimately had a breakdown and started writing full-time in 1993. "I have been very happy, insofar as anybody is, ever since," she says.

20 Angela Merkel, age 61

For a while there, Merkel practically owned Ireland so we had to include her. That and the fact that she is one of the most powerful women in the world. Chancellor of Germany since 2005, Merkel is known to her loyal public as 'Mutti'. She may have little interest in fashion and is not noted for her public speaking abilities, but Merkel has made many powerful politicians pay for underestimating this scientist from East Germany. She is intelligent, analytical and fiercely ambitious. But those close to her say she is smart and funny in private, capable of doing mean impersonations of other world leaders. We'd love to see her Enda.

21 Julia Gillard, age 54

The Australian public was astounded when Julia Gillard - the smart, seemingly loyal deputy prime minister to Kevin Rudd - made a surprise challenge for the leadership and won. As Rudd shed tears, Gillard was labelled a traitor. Sadly, as the country's first female prime minister, Gillard, who was born in Wales, seemed to lose her bounce and famous wit. But before she too was toppled in turn by (you guessed it) Rudd, she regained some of it to deliver her famous misogyny speech in parliament against opposition leader Tony Abbott. It was criticised by the Australian media but received international acclaim.

22 Aung San Suu Kyi, age 70


Myanmar's opposition leader became an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression after she spent years under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy to the military-ruled country. Known as The Lady, she spent much of her time in some form of detention between 1989 and 2010, was denied access to her sons for lengthy periods and didn't get to see her British husband before his death from cancer. The Nobel Peace Prize winner says she doesn't feel any different since she turned 70 - "But it's interesting I've made it this far".

23 Enya, age 54


Born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin in Gweedore, Donegal, Enya started her career with family band Clannad before going solo in 1982. She is one of Ireland's most successful artists, but also the most private. She is rarely seen around Dalkey, where she lives in a highly secure castle named Manderley, and few people in the Irish music industry have ever met her. She rarely gives interviews and has sold a whopping 75 million albums worldwide over the years, all with little to no promotion or live performances. Pretty impressive. "I'm not after fame," she told The Guardian in 2000. Her first album in seven years - Dark Sky Island - will be released on November 20 so who knows, we might get a peek of her soon.

24 Melinda Gates, age 51

She turned him down when he first asked her for a date, but once she married the richest man on the planet (Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates), Melinda Gates could have opted for a life of ease and luxury. Instead the mother-of-three threw herself into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Her job: how to give away billions of dollars to those most in need. Turning 50 last year wasn't scary for Gates, compared to when she turned 30 and 40. "I know who I am and like who I am," she said. "I hope more girls can start to get there before they turn 50."

25 Meg Whitman, age 59

New Yorker Whitman transformed eBay from a start-up company to an online auction giant during her tenure as CEO before running for governor of California. The conservative republican pumped a record $119m of her own cash into the campaign, but narrowly lost out. Whitman was criticised during the campaign for her unwillingness to talk about herself and was blindsided by an allegation she fired her housekeeper when she discovered she was an illegal immigrant. She returned to the world of business as CEO of Hewlett Packard. She's worth just under $2bn now so maybe it was the right decision.

26 Ginni Rometty, age 58

In 2012, Ginni Rometty broke through the glass ceiling to become the first female CEO of IBM, one of the oldest, most powerful companies in the world. Rometty came from a working class background in Chicago, where she and her three siblings were raised by their single mother after her father left. She believes growth and comfort "never co-exist". "Ask yourself, when have you learned the most?" she has said. "I guarantee it's when you felt at risk." Rometty may be feeling like this right now - IBM hasn't reported a year-over-year increase in sales since she took over.

27 Christine Lagarde, age 59


She became the first female chief of the IMF in 2011 following the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex scandal. The French lawyer and politician has played a key role in managing the Greek debt crisis - Merkel is the first person she calls for advice, apparently. Lagarde is said to be engaging and outspoken, hates when people are on their phone during meetings and has perfected an excellent death stare to deal with it. "I have noticed that when a woman speaks, people start chatting or looking at their emails or doing something else. It is very, very strange," she says. Doesn't happen to her though, thanks to the aforementioned death stare.

28 Janet Yellen, age 69

Dubbed the 16 Trillion Dollar Woman by Time magazine, Yellen made history in 2014 when she became the first female head of the US Federal Reserve. Being in charge of the American economy is no mean feat - one word from Yellen can send stock markets plummeting - but she has managed it deftly. She cares passionately about unemployment and prides herself on being more in touch with the economy than most economists. She also seems to only talk (publicly) about economics so we'll stop here.

29 Meryl Streep, age 66


She's one of the most celebrated actors of her generation, and has been nominated for a record 19 Academy Awards (she's won three). As well as being a critical darling, Streep has enjoyed huge commercial success, and shows no signs of slowing down. She is an outspoken advocate of women's rights, and although she is one of the lucky few actresses who is still offered compelling roles in her 60s, she has spoken out about turning down several ageist witch roles: "I was not offered any female adventurers, or love interests, or heroes or demons. I was offered witches because I was 'old' at 40."

30 Maggie Smith, age 80

Smith has been a famous British actor for 60 years, but she's never been in quite such demand until now, thanks to roles in Downton Abbey and Harry Potter. It ruined a recent trip to Paris when she was besieged by American tourists. "What do they do, these huge movie stars?" she says. "Perhaps they never go out." She's hugely in demand - "I'm always older than God in these parts now" - and keeps meaning to slow down, but doesn't manage it. She prefers to keep busy and particularly enjoys hanging out on the Downton set with Penelope Wilton (who plays Isabel Crawley). They play endless games of Bananagrams.

31 Judi Dench, age 80

It was a wrench for Bond fans when 'M' was killed off in the last blockbuster but the British actor is showing no signs of slowing down, despite her candid admission that she constantly fears she won't be offered more work. Dench firmly believes in looking forward, but does regret turning down a mystery role that went on to be an enormous success. 'Retirement' is a dirty word in her house, along with 'old' and 'vintage': "I don't want any of those old words. I like 'enthusiastic' and I like the word 'cut' because that means you've finished the shot."

32 Louise Kennedy, age 55


The uncrowned queen of Irish fashion rose to international prominence when she was commissioned by Mary Robinson to design THAT purple presidential inauguration outfit. She continued to dress Robinson throughout her presidency and over the years has also designed for British PM wives Cherie Blair and Sarah Brown, as well as the Countess of Wessex and Meryl Streep. Now designing for 32 years, Kennedy says she has never noticed the years passing - "I don't feel any different from when I started and I put that down to the passion and energy I put into my work," she says.

33 Kim Cattrall, age 59

Cattrall will always be best known for her sexually liberating role as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City. The actress has recently admitted she was terrified of the role and turned it down several times before eventually accepting it. It ran from 1998 to 2004. Cattrall recently took aim at how she is treated for her choice not to have children. "I'm so glad that I'm not in a political job, because I would be judged even more harshly," she said. "It would be, if I had children, could I do the job efficiently? And if I didn't have children, I was a selfish bitch."

34 Ellen DeGeneres, age 57

The former TGI Friday's waitress from Louisiana has a shelf full of Emmy Awards and a list of credits including her chat show, sitcom, hosting the Oscars and writing best-selling books. In 1997, DeGeneres sparked international headlines when she appeared on the cover of Time magazine next to the headline, 'Yep, I'm Gay'. At the time she was the star of her own sitcom, Ellen, and an estimated 42 million people tuned in to see Ellen's character also come out. She turned very successfully to chat show hosting, married actress Portia De Rossi in 2008 and says it's crazy that she is now in her 50s: "I think I'm very immature. I feel like a kid."

35 Oprah Winfrey, age 61

Oprah changed the face of TV chat shows forever and has left a void since her final episode aired in 2011 after 25 years. As America's richest self-made woman, Winfrey is one of the most powerful and influential people in the world. She has a net worth of $3bn, gets five hours' sleep a night and is a firm believer in growing old gracefully. "Call me crazy, but I've never really understood our culture's fear of getting older," she says. "If you're blessed enough to grow older, then there's so much wisdom to be gained from celebrating the process with vibrancy and vigour and grace."

36 Orla Kiely, age 53

Her distinctive 'Stem' pattern is recognised worldwide, gracing everything from the walls of stately homes to handbags and cars, but it's the earthy tones of her Irish upbringing that inspired Dublin-born Kiely - as well as her mother's kitsch green kitchen with orange gloss ceiling (nice). Kiely initially worked at handpainting wallpaper in New York, went on to design hats for Harrods and switched to handbags when her father pointed out at London Fashion Week that no one was wearing hats but everyone was carrying a bag. The London-based mother-of-two runs her business alongside husband, Dermott Rowan, and doesn't like to reveal her age. So let's hope Wikipedia was right.

37 Mary Wilson, age 52

The Tipperary native began her career at RTE in the Cork studios in 1989, before she moved to the newsroom in Dublin. She was appointed legal affairs correspondent and spent 10 years working at the Four Courts, where she covered many high-profile cases including the murder of Veronica Guerin. In 2006, Wilson landed the role as host of Drivetime, and now has an audience of 226,000 listeners. Always the consummate professional, she innately knows when to push her interviewees and when to step back. She also has a heart. After Renua TD Terence Flanagan had a 'mental blank' during an interview earlier this year, Wilson quickly wound things up, saying: "Terence, I think we'll leave it there for today." She has an 18-year-old daughter, Aoife, with ex-husband and RTE soccer correspondent, Tony O'Donoghue.

38 Diane Sawyer, age 69

The 1963 Miss Junior America started her career as a weather girl in a local TV station that sounds like something out of Anchorman. She became a staffer in the Nixon administration (he called her 'The Tall Girl') and worked for him for years after his downfall before returning to journalism. Her ability to book the biggest interviewees infuriated her rival Barbara Walters, who referred to her as 'That Girl'. Sawyer stood down from her $20m presenting role in 2014 but is still working, most recently interviewing Bruce Jenner before she became Caitlyn.

39 Barbara Walters, age 86

Over the decades, this veteran American TV journalist has interviewed everyone from Fidel Castro to Monica Lewinsky. But we love her best for the 2011 moment when she told the Kardashian family exactly what the world has been thinking: "You don't really act, you don't sing, you don't dance, you don't have any - forgive me - any talent." (We'd have left out the 'forgive me' but grudging respect to the K-Klan who took it on the chin). Walters retired two years ago with a "See you later" rather than "Goodbye", saying she wanted to leave while she was still in demand, "Rather than, 'Oh is she still alive?'"

40 Donna Tartt, age 52

She's been described as the last private woman in the world (having met quite a few on this list, we disagree). Nevertheless, the American author of the highly acclaimed novels The Secret History and The Goldfinch gives few interviews and avoids the literary circuit. There's a practical element to this as well - Tartt takes an average of 10 years to complete writing her books so, as she says: "It's better for me to be at home and getting on with a book". Sadly for her fans, it will probably be another eight years before her next book is published.

41 Hilary Mantel, age 63

The British author of Wolf Hall is the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize twice, but she's nearly as famous for her outspoken nature. When she referred to the Duchess of Cambridge's persona as that of a "shop-window mannequin", she was reviled by the British press and rebuked by prime minister David Cameron. When she wrote a fantasy story about assassinating former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, there was uproar and suggestions the police should be called. On meeting the Queen, Mantel says: "I passed my eyes over her as a cannibal views his dinner." But apparently she is quiet and polite in person.

42 Margaret Atwood, age 75


In over 50 years, Atwood has published a prodigious bibliography comprising more than 30 novels and poetry books, including The Handmaid's Tale. She's one of Canada's most famous exports and a beloved cultural figure. But don't ever put her on a pedestal or call her an icon because it strikes terror in her heart: "Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around." She's a huge fan of Twitter and loves it so much she has to limit herself to 10 minutes a day. "It's like having a little radio show."

43 Madonna, age 57

Love her or hate her, you had to have grudging respect for Madonna when she went spectacularly on her ear at the Brits this year before coolly carrying on her performance. A lover of yoga (it's preparation for how to die, apparently), she's outraged at the ageism she says she constantly encounters: "They're judging me by my age. Why is that acceptable? Women, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they're not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don't follow the rules. I never did, and I'm not going to start. This is what a 56-year-old ass looks like motherf***ers."

44 Helen Mirren, age 70


The other Queen of England (well, she has played her twice, after all), Mirren was recently voted Britain's most empowering female after she revealed she regrets not telling more people to "f*** off" when she was younger. Perhaps that would include Michael Parkinson who told her she was "sluttishly erotic" during an infamous 1975 interview. The former Prime Suspect star's fame has grown steadily since she secured a position with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-60s and her US profile grew considerably after she won an Oscar for her role in The Queen. The Oscars are "arse-breakingly boring" by the way. And getting older is "f***ing great".

45 Anna Wintour, age 65


Known for her trademark bob, sunglasses and fashion show scowl, the English editor-in-chief of American Vogue has been ruling the fashion world since she took on the role in 1988. She transformed the title into a force to be reckoned with, and despite some controversial decisions (like putting Kim Kardashian on the cover last year) has made it one of the most influential titles in the world. When she turned 60 five years ago, there were rumours Wintour would be axed, but she seems more secure now than ever. She isn't coy about her age, say friends, but good luck finding a quote in which she discusses it.

46 Grace Jones, age 67

It's hard to imagine, but this iconic diva and fiery Bond villain was a timid child during her strict religious upbringing in Jamaica. She's been a Vogue model, an Andy Warhol muse and her hits like 'Slave To The Rhythm' ruled the 1980s airwaves. She always does exactly what she likes - including slapping TV host Russell Harty across the face during a live interview in 1981. She astounded the British audience at the Queen's Jubilee Concert in 2012 when she emerged in a latex swimsuit, belting out tunes while twirling a hula hoop around her hips ("Who dat?" tweeted a clueless Jessie J).

47 Tina Turner, age 75

Born Anna Mae Bullock to crop-sharing parents in Tennessee, she was transformed into Tina Turner by her future husband, Ike. He abused her for years until Turner escaped in 1976 with 35c in her pocket. Her first solo album, Private Dancer, turned her into an international superstar. Turner hung up her dancing shoes in 2000 and lives in Zurich with her younger husband. "Age is no issue to me," she says. "Fifty is the new 30. Seventy is the new 50. There are no rules that say you have to dress a certain way, or be a certain way."

48 Diane von Furstenburg, age 68

Fear is not an option, says the international fashion designer who learned this philosophy from her mother - a Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz. The Belgian-born designer briefly married into German royalty but her life changed irrevocably when she designed her famous wrap dress in the 1970s. Over 40 years later, it's still her most famous creation, but Von Furstenburg confesses she took the dress for granted for years. These days, she says she doesn't have the waist to wear it anymore: "I don't love ageing but the alternative to ageing - you don't want that. Ageing means living, right?"

49 Donna Karan, age 67

She's the American Chanel who transformed womenswear in the 1980s, bringing us the body top, opaque tights (thank you Donna), jersey sarong skirts and oversized cardigans - clothes for women "doing more than one thing in their lives," as she said. She was so driven she famously transformed her bedside into a design studio two days after the birth of her daughter. The world was shocked when Karan announced this year that she is stepping down from her role with no replacement. She's going to focus on her charitable foundation, Urban Zen.

50 Vera Wang, age 66

Remember when anyone who was anyone got married in Vera Wang? The New York fashion designer transformed the wedding dress market in the 1990s and is still one of the reigning bridal market queens, selling everything from apparel to accessories and homeware through her $1bn-a-year company. Described as having the energy of a wind-up toy, Wang's drink of choice is vodka and she's usually the first one to hit the dancefloor. But after many years of success, she still has insecurities: "If I were to say at any point that I feel really confident or really in control, that would be a mistake. Because I don't."

Additional reporting Meadhbh McGrath

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