Wednesday 26 October 2016

Michael D, Mary Berry, Hillary, Trump - all prove age no barrier to active life

Published 26/09/2016 | 02:30

Mary Berry's refusal to move to Channel 4 means the GBBO deal is regarded as a catastrophe – more of a flop than a collapsed lemon soufflé (Stock picture)
Mary Berry's refusal to move to Channel 4 means the GBBO deal is regarded as a catastrophe – more of a flop than a collapsed lemon soufflé (Stock picture)

Both main contenders for the American presidency have faced fierce criticism - and there will be more of that this week for the TV debates. But let's give both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump a round of applause on one count anyway: both of them are past pensionable age and have at least shown the world that oldsters can cut the mustard on the campaign trail.

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Donald Trump is 70 and would be the oldest person to be elected to the White House, were he to succeed (even if the prospect is somewhat alarming). Hillary will be 69 in October and would be well into her 70th year when inaugurated. So whatever their policies or their personalities, they could both be seen as role models for Active Older People, specifically for next Saturday's UN World International Day for Older Persons.

As for Bernie Sanders - the socialist outsider who has been so popular with younger voters, especially young women - he's even more of a senior citizen at 75.

And although ruled out from the presidential campaign, he is by no means finished as a political figure. He could still have a great future before him.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, the most talked-about current television celebrity is, arguably Mary Berry, the matriarch of 'The Great British Bake-Off'.

She is now expected to launch a new series of re-cast baking programmes with the BBC - at the age of 80. The franchise for this hugely successful TV series - a wholesome alternative to glitzier and sexier reality shows, which proved to be such a surprise hit - has been purchased by Channel 4 for a staggering £75m (€87m).

But as Mary Berry (along with colleagues Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc) has refused to transfer to Channel 4, the deal is regarded as a catastrophe - more of a flop than a collapsed lemon soufflé. Because the format so depends upon the presence of 80-year-old Mary.

The UN theme for this year's Day for Older Persons is 'Stand Up Against Ageism': but one example is worth a thousand precepts and it's surely encouraging to see outstanding older people still bidding to change the world, still very much involved with politics or the arts or entertainment or any branch of activity, be it professional or voluntary.

Many of the reports published about older people in general highlight problems of old age, loneliness, lack of mobility and healthcare. And these are all perfectly legitimate. Older people can experience more loneliness - they've mourned the loss, through death, of friends and contemporaries, while family links may be thinned out by geographical displacement.

Life also becomes more restricted once you stop driving and although oldsters are no less safe on the roads, night vision deteriorates with age and that is frequently a consideration. There are always concerns about deteriorating health - indeed, after Hillary Clinton's dismaying collapse on September 11, the question of her health moved right to the top of the agenda.

But older people can be extremely fit: Uachtarán Michael D Higgins shows no signs of diminishing purpose at 75, he seems quite healthy enough to run for a second term if he chooses - and Queen Elizabeth is admirably energetic and has retained her sharp eye for detail at the age of 90.

Dublin City University - which is proud of its status as the world's first Age Friendly University - will be hosting an intergenerational event next Saturday called 'Operation Conversation'. It's a free family day, promoted by Third Age, whose aim is to combat social isolation among the old and promote greater understanding between the generations. It's a nice way to support older people who may fear becoming more isolated and also to encourage employers not to exclude candidates from jobs just because they are older (and age discrimination can, informally, begin with people in their forties.)

Naturally, not everybody can do every kind of job: athletic physical endurance, swift reactions and up-to-the-minute techie expertise often sits better with youth. But experience and patience can bring a lot to the table too and it's a pity when these are discounted.

Yet some oldies can still cut a dash in careers which traditionally depend on youth and beauty: Lauren Hutton, aged 72, was a star of the catwalk at Milan Fashion Week last week. (Maybe a good business move too, because older women also buy fashion clothes and some older women have more disposable income to spend on couture garments.)

Despite the problems that older people may encounter, we have good reason to emphasise the positive, by underlining the role models and examples of active and energetic oldsters. The writer, TV presenter and poet Clive James, though afflicted with emphysema and leukaemia, has published four books over the last year and is writing the best poetry of his life.

It's great to see Joan Collins, aged 83, embarking on a one-woman show this autumn and let's also salute Petula Clark, 84, currently undertaking a solo singing tour: she was pictured dancing with my elder brother when she first visited Dublin back in 1947!

Meanwhile, Edna O'Brien is still writing fresh novels with new themes coming up to 86.

And we can't surely omit those bad boys of rock from any pantheon of oldie role models - the septuagenarian Rolling Stones. Still in performance as weather-beaten old grandpappies and still fathering new babies too at their advanced vintage.

It has been reported that when they drop anchor at a posh hotel, they now leave a note for the management to "please explain how to work the TV remote".

We can all identify with the enigmatic technology of the latest TV remotes: but by rocking away, refusing to give up, they're surely a light to their generation.


If you'd like to join the programme at DCU next Saturday at 2pm, contact Yvonne at or ring 046 955 7766.

Irish Independent

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