Has the silver fox lost his charm?
With Byran Ferry, Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas splitting up from their much younger wives, signs are that no ageing alpha male can hang on to his sex appeal forever
Turbulent times for our leading old codgers! Chaos amid the oldest swingers in town! Planet Celebrity's most celebrated May-to-September alliances would appear globally under threat.
First came the parting of scrumptious Nigella Lawson (53) and the unpalatable Charles Saatchi (70), next Catherine Zeta-Jones (43) forsook prunish Michael Douglas (68). Clint Eastwood (83) and, er, Mrs Eastwood (48) are on the marital way out, and news now strikes that raffish Bryan Ferry (67) and that girl who used to go out with his son (30) will be going their separate ways. There is clearly something in the water of wannabe eternal male youth.
Of course, divorce is now rife among "silver splitters" in general, or rather those who would be frosty tops if they could be detached from the Grecian 2000.
In the UK, the Office for National Statistics reports that the proportion of people over 60 separating from their spouses has almost doubled in a decade. The most recent Irish figures from the CSO and the 2011 census show that the number of separated and divorced people in Ireland increased by 22.3 percent, from 166,797 to 203,964 between 2006 and 2011 - two thirds of the increase was among those 55 and over.
Although 'divorced' still remains a marginal status for those over 65 (just 1.6 percent of the population) this figure has almost doubled since 2006.
The cause most often cited is "unreasonable behaviour", established code for "I can no longer tolerate being in the same house as you, let alone bed". And, lo, the 60-pluses have gone about frittering away their pensions and accruing the more arcane sexually transmitted diseases.
Social commentators have attributed such tendencies to a greater "lust for life" among baby boomers. However, in the case of the male parties in May-to-September unions, it may be more a case of younger partners' diminished lust for them.
One can see the appeal, in theory at least, of pairing off with someone more senior. They may be steadier, more sophisticated, better suited and booted than a chap of one's own age. For a striving Swansea gal such as Cath Jones, there may be distinct career advantages. Damn it, one may even like them, witness the then nipperish Billie Piper and erstwhile husband Chris Evans, some 17 years apart, who always appeared to be having a whale of a time and despite their divorce remain stalwart allies.
However, as the years go by, matters may start to pall. When does a silver fox become a boring old git? Where once he may have played the teacher, the antique partner increasingly fails to understand you or your friends' cultural references He falls asleep at the opera, the dinner table, and the wheel. Unholy things begin happening to his toenails, as he becomes closer to his physio than to you, arm candy-turned-carer, marital intimacy reduced to so many reassuring pats on the hand.
Meanwhile, the felled alpha male may make a less than supportive prop, once compelled to cede his pedestal. Throttle-gate and its fallout occurred in the wake of Saatchi's 70th birthday, as his domestic goddess prepared to storm America. Given the train wreck he has made of the situation, one has to remind oneself that the art collector was once half of Britain's most famous crack PR unit.
The Douglases, once considered to exemplify that most doomed category of "most stable marriage in Hollywood", illustrated still more sharply what happens when a sex god passes his sell-by date. When they married, in 2000, the Basic Instinct stallion was already looking distinctly rickety compared with his nubile showgirl. Zeta-Jones appeared to over-compensate, embracing golf, his decrepit Tinseltown allies, and wardrobe choices that made the late Thora Hird look modish.
"I will never get divorced," she once crowed. "Divorce repulses me. I grew up in a small, strictly Catholic fishing village where people have a different attitude to those in Hollywood."
And then came her husband's unchivalrous revelation in June that his throat cancer had been caused by oral sex. This may have seemed karmic come-uppance for an actor who made a career out of embodying men victimised by psychotic female sexuality, but it was too much for the woman who had only three years earlier declared: "See the man over there? He's a movie star and I get to sleep with him every night!"
Still, you can't keep an old dog down – but nor can you teach him new tricks. Days after news broke of the demise of Clint Eastwood's 17-year marriage to news anchor Dina Ruiz, she is said to have rekindled a romance with a man of her own vintage, while the film director has been spotted with the requisite "mystery woman" of still more tender years.
Bryan Ferry is the towering exception to the "get thee behind me, grandpa" rule. To be sure, his two-year marriage to 30-year-old PR Amanda Sheppard may be over. But, the man merely needs to look for someone slightly closer in age. Having recently swooned over him from the front row of a private performance, I would recommend that – instead of a 37-year age gap – he opts for a more decorous quarter-century version with a 42-year-old journalist.
Ferry has long been the friendly face of the May-to-September allegiance. Before his latest nuptials, pop's dashing dandy observed that he was "fortunate" to have found himself a younger girlfriend. He elaborated: "The interesting thing is . . . you never really meet people your own age who aren't married. I'm very fortunate that I work in music, where you're in touch with different age groups, either the audience or people you work with. It does help. Obviously, I'm not ageist!"
Model Cindy Crawford briefly married Richard Gere when she was 22, the actor 37. Her comments serve for all "mind the gap" relationships: " . . . you're starting to come into your own and feel your own power and connect to your inner strength and it's hard to do that – it's hard to change – in a relationship because what one person might have signed up for, all of a sudden, you're not that any more."
Ms Crawford added: "I was more willing at 22 to be, like, 'Okay, I'll follow', but then you start going: 'Well, I don't want to just follow – I want to lead sometimes and I want to walk side by side sometimes'."
And, she might have added, sometimes one just wants to walk away from the denture fixative and athlete's foot powder at speed and without so much as a backward glance.
Additional reporting by Chrissie Russell