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Who cares if flirting is feminist, Mariella?


Overlooked: Mariella Frostrup may just need to raise her gaze. Photo: Getty

Overlooked: Mariella Frostrup may just need to raise her gaze. Photo: Getty

Getty Images

Overlooked: Mariella Frostrup may just need to raise her gaze. Photo: Getty

On my way back from two tremendously entertaining days in Tel Aviv (more of which later), I chanced upon the news headlines that broadcaster Mariella Frostrup is feeling melancholy about the lack of male attention she gets now that she's 54.

"When you get to my age, you think any attention is welcome," she sighed. "And you feel really stupid turning it down in the past by thinking: 'Don't say that about me, I am a feminist…'"

The sisterhood will be divided between those who will be sympathetic because they know exactly what she means, and sourpusses who will be unsympathetic because, although they also know exactly what she means, they don't approve of what she means.

I fall firmly into the former camp. Yes, the parallel requires a little extra imagination; after all, Frostrup is a cool, alabaster-skinned Nordic blonde with the rough yet sensuous voice of a cat's tongue, once reportedly courted by George Clooney. I, on the other hand, am an overexcitable Irish brunette who got a kiss off Meryl Streep at the Oscars (don't ask).

It's not nice to feel overlooked, especially as we should be collectively rejoicing now that 50 is the new fabulous and we're supposed to be Having a Moment.

Everybody says so - and I think, for once, everybody might just be right. If we're not being 'silver entrepreneurs' (no appointment with an eye-wateringly expensive colourist will ever make that tag acceptable…), we're calling ourselves 'midults', a newly minted title to describe those of us who look like we're in charge but still feel 28 inside.

We were the talk of the fashion world last week when Dries van Noten marked his 100th fashion show in Paris by casting some of his favourite older models, including Cecilia Chancellor, a 50-year-old Brit. Designer Simone Rocha also sent older models down the catwalk at London Fashion Week.

Cosmetics brands have stopped using dewy teenagers to advertise mature skin products because… well, because it's a bit stupid, and we're nobody's fools, thanks all the same.

OK, so Dame Helen Mirren (71) has been wheeled out again for L'Oreal's latest 'Because We're Worth It' campaign, but that's taken as read - as, indeed, is the BBC's insistence that giving Mary Berry her own cookery show at the age of 81 is proof of diversity in its programming.

If Kirsty Wark can bear to talk about her menopause and still kick ass at 62, well, there's hope for all of us, I say.

I might not yet have been offered my own television series (I'm honestly not sure why, because I can work on the overexcitability), but I am thinking of setting up a kitchen-table business.

I'm not sure what kind of kitchen-table business yet - maybe I'll invent a tidy for all the junk (the modelling clay, the school leaflets, the Medusa-like tangle of mobile phone chargers…) that gathers on the kitchen table, or some sort of shelf thing underneath that slides out to sweep the junk on to whenever it's teatime. But do it I will. Because I've reached that juncture in my life where I'm feeling who-gives-a-monkey's-invincible. It's a stage-of-life thing that women hit, and giddily exciting it is, too. So all the more crushing, then, to be, or at least to feel, invisible to the opposite sex.

Except - and this could be a uniquely personal thing - in Tel Aviv. There, I am considered a radiant beauty. Nowhere else. Just Tel Aviv.

I have no idea why, but it first happened 25 years ago when an Israeli man saw me in a hotel bar and experienced a coup de foudre. He sent flowers to my room. Then the fruit basket. The kosher wine came next. He telephoned me in dismay to say that he had had to fly away on business.

His name was Gary. He was pretty big in the sanitaryware business. We spoke on the phone, but we never met. To this day, I have no idea what he looked like (this was pre-smartphones). It was the most glorious holiday romance imaginable.

A quarter of a century on, I still have it, whatever it was. Last week, an elderly Israeli gentleman stopped me to tell me emphatically: "You are so pretty and alive - you still have time." Afterwards, I realised he was referring to the fact that I don't wear a wedding ring.

"I am jealous of your husband as I have never been jealous before. If you were mine, I would give you the sun, the moon and the stars…" was another hyperbolic compliment from a random admirer. I'll take that, thanks very much.

Another man cycled past as I stood sunning myself in the harbour of Old Jaffa, did a U-turn, came back and asked me out. I explained I was flying home later that day; he still wanted to buy me lunch.

I chose to lunch alone. But even then, after I left the restaurant, the young Arab waiter (see, my charms are ecumenical) took his break, followed me out and sat with me by the water. Creepy? Not a bit. We mostly talked about geopolitics and then I took my leave. Was it superficial of me to feel buoyed? Is flirtation a feminist issue?

I'm too old to care. But not old enough to not care. It's complicated. Women are, regardless of their age.

So my advice to Mariella is this: go find your city, whether it's Tashkent or Quito. Raise your gaze, lower your expectations - oh, and if you come across Gary in Tel Aviv, tell him I haven't changed since the day we never met.