50th birthdays: many happy returns!

Turning 50 (or more) never used to be an excuse to party. Now we feel younger, look younger and want to dance. Mid-life party promoter Nikki Spencer reports

A lunchtime buffet with some fancier-than-usual wine – or maybe a barbecue with a ‘surprise’ cake – was about as exciting as it got when the rare 50th birthday party invite used to arrive. But things are changing: packed dancefloors with DJs spinning tunes until the wee small hours; grand house parties with marquees, caterers and live music; and weekend-long birthday festivals complete with a line-up of bands and trapeze acts. That’s how we are marking the half century now.

Personally, I am no stranger to that feeling that you are nowhere near ready to grow old gracefully. Two years ago, as I was about to hit my fifties, I launched Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet, a south London Seventies and Eighties soul, funk and disco night for people who aren’t quite ready to call it a day on the dancefloor.

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I felt more grown-up and serious when I hit 40 than I do now. I had two small children then and felt very mumsy, whereas now they are older I am getting my social life back

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At the time, I didn’t know if it was just me and a few friends who still wanted to party beyond the traditional clubbing age. But the response has been phenomenal. We run packed-out nights, and are looking to expand to other area of London and the UK. Now, by popular demand, we have started doing 50th birthday parties.

Worth celebrating

Annemarie Hennessy, who hired us for her 50th in February, explains the attraction. “I think that now, when you hit 50, you want to let your hair down. A retro night works really well, as everyone can go to town dressing up, and the music makes you feel young again.”

However, according to Annemarie, feeling old is less of an issue than it used to be. “It may sound strange, but I actually felt more grown-up and serious when I hit 40 than I do now. I had two small children then and felt very mumsy, whereas now they are older I am getting my social life back.

“You are also aware that, if you get to this age with all your arms and legs and kids and everything in one piece, that is something worth celebrating.”

She thinks it helps that, while we may be 50, we don’t look quite the way our parents did. “I look back at my mum and when she was in her fifties she was in her curlers. Now women are still in their skinny jeans and platforms.”

As Annemarie’s friends ably demonstrated (some of whom came from as far afield as Spain to celebrate with her), 50-somethings sure know how to party. Nearly all the 50ths I have been to recently have been far rockier affairs than any 40ths I can recall.

My own 40th was a rather conservative champagne tea at The Waldorf. But my 50th party included numerous DJs, singers, dancers and 200-plus guests.

Festival fun at 50

That pales into insignificance next to my cousin Lucy’s 50th celebrations last summer, which consisted of a weekend-long festival for family and friends in a field next to her parents’ house in Somerset.

Lucy, a chef and events caterer from Brighton, says that as she has got older her zest for fun and partying has grown: “Until my 40s I had never done any festivals at all. But then I started going to The Big Chill and loved it so decided to do a mini version for my 50th.”

Lucy’s birthday is in March but she held her celebration in July and was rewarded with a gloriously sunny weekend. “It was the best thing ever!” she declares.

“Close family came on Friday to help and then most people arrived at lunchtime on Saturday. Everyone helped put all the tents up – we had a prize for the best decorated tent – and then after tea and cake we got into our glad rags and started partying.”

Prior to the festival, Lucy scoured local pubs and clubs in Brighton looking for performers. “At one point I went into a bar and asked the DJ for his number. He did a double take, until I explained that I wanted it for an event!”

As well as a variety of musicians, there was a trapeze artist (booked as a surprise by Lucy’s daughter, Jess) who performed from a huge oak tree and then juggled with burning hoops to the live music as night fell.

After these kind of celebrations, the big question, of course, is: what will be doing for our 60ths? I don’t know about anyone else but, for me – fingers crossed I am still here – chances are it won’t be a quiet affair.

Special offer Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet! (HSDY!) is giving high50 readers 15 per cent off 50th (and over) birthday parties, on proof of the celebrant’s age. Email Nikki at [email protected]