That time of year came round again last month. Our distinguished panel met and, in conditions of utmost secrecy, debated who had been the 50 most influential, inspirational and innovative people over 50 (with a bias towards Britain) in the past year.
Ballots were cast and papers burned. White smoke was spotted spilling from the chimneys of high50 Towers. Yes, our annual list of ’50 over 50’ had been compiled and numbered, and the first 40 – see below – could now be named.
But what were their qualifications for inclusion? Well, doing something for the first time got points, as did doing something different. Doing something at 50-plus that inspired the emulation of others in our peer group was key, too, as was refining mid-lifers’ tastes and opinions. So was being in the news. Or sometimes just turning 50, and thus giving hope to future members of generation high50.
As for present members – well, if you disagree with our choices or want to make suggestions of your own, the comment box at the end of this feature is there for you to vent on. So do tell us what you think.
Meanwhile, you may wonder why the wonderful Mariella Frostrup is not on the list. After all, she’s done great service to our generation this year, banging the drum for our club since she became one of us last November.
But Mariella works with us – as a contributor and ‘ambassadress’ – and she’s too modest, and we’re too honest, to let that pass. (What’s more, she was one of our judging panel, which obviously made her ineligible for the list…)
So you won’t see her in our top ten – which we’re waiting until Friday to publish. You can come back then to see who we have deemed the toppermost. But to discover who’s at numbers 50 to 11, read on…
50. Alan Partridge, broadcaster, 55
The Partridge has landed. His fans were dismayed some years ago, when TV’s Norwich-born chief of chat returned to his first love, radio. But we hailed his far-sighted realisation that ‘keeping it local’ would be at the heart of the new media order – and so it has proved. As a new documentary shows, Alpha Papa has been instrumental in turning steam-driven North Norfolk Radio into go-ahead Shape digital (with no small heroics on the side!). We include Partridge in this list, though, for emulating the humble toenail and ‘growing into himself’. As a young man, AP said his fifties’ dream would be a brand new Range Rover, towing a speedboat. Check a certain drive in Unthank Road to see if he achieved it. Back of the net.
49. Fran Cutler, party planner, 50
If at the end of 2013 you Google ‘party of the year’, chances are Ms Cutler’s half-century shindig will be very top of the pile. But then, parties are Cutler’s currency. Fran was the lynchpin of the Primrose Hill set in the Nineties and best mates with Kate Moss, and still wields the most-connected address book in town. It’s Fran you call if you want a star-studded soirée. As for her Eighties-themed 50th, it not only brought out the debauched best in Mossy, Stella and Sadie, but also attracted the current crop of young starlets – Cara D, Grimmy, Pixie Geldof et al – proving that cool no longer has age barriers.
48. Irvine Welsh, author and screenwriter, 54
With many of Welsh’s characters already written into popular cultural history (he’s the “poet laureate of the chemical generation”, claimed The Face), a life of royalty cheques and sub-standard facsimiles could have followed. But Welsh respects his own work too much, and clearly loves the scumbags who inhibit his novels, with many of them cropping up in numerous works (see last year’s Trainspotting prequel, Skagboys). This year, he’s set to win a new generation of fans, as he has adapted Filth – his story of the unravelling of an abusive Machiavellian Scottish detective – for the screen, and is doing the same for Porno, Trainspotting’s sequel.
47. Tracey Emin, artist, 50
Our Trace doesn’t have to make anything, she just has to be, and the result is an event. In fact, although she hasn’t shown anything of import since the summer of 2012, it has still been an eventful year for the Mouth of Margate. She’s been awarded a CBE, put on the Woman’s Hour power list and reached the big five-oh. Becoming a Marks and Spencer pin-up may not be so good for her hip credentials – but isn’t her point to surprise? And anyway, we could divine a new seriousness from her birthday party invitation. Guests were told, ‘Don’t bring Charlie’, a substance – we mean, person – that was always such a feature of the YBA scene.
46. Kate Percival, well-being entrepreneur, 54
Kate has become a bit of a pin-up for a new generation of ‘power women’ who, like her former self, have got everything right in their lives except the work-life balance and the support they need to enjoy it. Hence Grace, her members’-only women’s club in London, where the sorority can not only eat delicious and healthy food, network, shop and work, but also nurture their minds and bodies through a huge programme of five-star therapies and health practitioners. “I want to make a difference,” says Kate. Since turning 50, the former marketing whizz has embarked on a whole new journey; now she wants the sisters to do the same for themselves.
45. Holly Hunter, actress, 55
Recent BBC mini-series Top Of The Lake reunited Ms Hunter with Jane Campion, the Academy Award-winning director who cast her in The Piano 20 years ago. It’s a further example of Hollywood heavyweights choosing ‘event TV’ over the silver screen. As the androgynous, silver haired commune leader GJ, Hunter reminded us just what a beguiling screen presence she is, and sans wig she remains as disarmingly attractive as ever. Not that she’d tell you her anti-ageing secrets; she guards her private life so fiercely, she has previously refused even to admit whether or not she has children.
44. Meredith Bowles, architect, 50
The hair, the goatee, the earring: he may look like a Covent Garden busker, but Bowles charts with us for his vision of ‘transition’ architecture: designing homes for pre-Boomers that offer a new way of life and not just a passage to the grave. The Isaac Newton Teaching Fellow at Cambridge – who would have guessed? – found this route in 2004, after building his own place and winning the RIBA award for the best one-off house in Britain. Impressed, his parents gave him a commission, and a new discipline was born. The Telegraph has called him ‘one of the UK’s top 20 top-notch architects’. We’d say top ten.
43. Charlotte Green, radio broadcaster, 57
So she’s going to read the Saturday football scores on R5 Live? Whoop-di-doo. Of course, there’s nothing special about a woman getting a job in her chosen profession – even if she has wanted it for 51 years. But what we like about Green is the way she still knows her own worth. It was canny to take voluntary redundo from the Beeb in January, nip up the road to Classic FM and wait for Auntie to come crawling back, all tearful and tokenist. And while we miss her on the Shipping Forecast, we’re sure she’ll soon be back on R4’s News Quiz, giggling at the double entendres. After all, she said she wanted to. And this is a woman who gets what she wants.
42. Karl Hyde, musician/filmmaker/artist, 55
Hearty thanks were sent in the direction of Hyde (and musical partner Rick Smith) for overseeing the stirring music at last summer’s Olympic opening ceremony. As frontman of dance pioneers Underworld, Hyde is used to stirring crowds. But this year he took a more understated approach on his first solo LP, Edgelands, a concept album about his native Essex. He partnered it with a touching documentary, proving that there’s more to the Thames estuary than fake tan and vajazzling.
41. Arpad Busson, financier, 50
It would be easy to sneer at Busson, with his swarthy looks, his superstar girlfriends and his preposterously named children (Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson, anyone?), but his philanthropic record speaks for itself. As the founder of international children’s charity ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), he has helped to change the educational landscape with state-of-the-art schools across Britain, as well as aiding child protection in Eastern Europe and funding AIDS projects in Africa. His approach – “applying the entrepreneurial principles of business to charity” – has reaped rewards for those who need it most.
40. Belinda Earl, Marks and Spencer style director, 51
When she announced that sleeves would be re-entering Marks and Spencer’s repertoire, a generation of women waved their arms in the air for the first time in many a moon. (Anyone who helps in the battle against bingo wings is OK by us.) When the Daily Mail’s Liz Jones actually wrote nice things about her, we thought she must be a miracle worker. Now the Mail has turned on her – How could she dump Twiggy for some new icons of British womanhood? – but we’re sticking to our guns. Getting that bunch in the same boat simultaneously deserves a medal in itself.
39. Trevor Beattie, advertising exec, 54
Why? Well, he cherishes his late parents, and their generation. He’s not half as bumptious as he was (so one can change one’s spots!), he puts his money where his mouth is and delivers what he promises. Yes, he remains a paid-up member of the attention-seeking awkward squad (viz: he’s booked the first ‘civvy’ ticket into space on the Virgin Galactica rocket) but we salute Beattie for making the first year of the Jack and Ada Beattie Foundation a great one, not least in the support it has given to the remaining veterans of D-Day.
38. Kevin Eldon, comedian and actor, 53
Despite owning one of the most recognisable faces in British comedy, Kevin Eldon had always lurked just outside the spotlight. But this year the BBC took the wise move of giving him his own sketch show, the freewheelingly silly It’s Kevin. It featured inspired skits such as the Amish Sex Pistols and The Outraged Seventies Sitcom Vicar Playoffs, and a cast that included the likes of Bill Bailey and Paul Whitehouse. Proof that fresh, inventive comedy doesn’t have to come from a skinny-jeaned tween.
37. Johnny Depp, actor/producer, 50
Look, we like the guy, OK? We’re delighted that this symbol of uber-cool mid-life has joined our club. And if he’s made a few boo-boos since last summer, well, haven’t we all? Sure, the ongoing Pirates franchise is tired. Sure, his Tonto was a let-down. And was it wise to trade in Vanessa Paradis for a younger model? Nonetheless, the word is that – now the birthday crisis is over – we’ll see him back on his mettle in next year’s Into the Woods. After that, he claims, he might do ‘quieter things’ than acting. (We respect that, too.) And, like he says about his first half-century: “I could not have turned 50. Now that would be a real drag.”
36. Michel Roux Jr, chef/TV presenter, 53
His cousin Alain may have one more Michelin star than he does, but Michel Jr’s services to the restaurant industry are extraordinary. This year, he celebrated 20 years at the helm of Mayfair’s double-starred La Gavroche, fronted The Chef’s Protegé (a new TV search for culinary talent), nurtured the latest in the Roux family dynasty – his daughter Emily – and personally ran his one-day South London cookery schools (£895 to cook like MRJr? Sounds like a bargain to us). He completed his 12th London Marathon, too. And all in that entirely un-chef-like polite and charming manner of his.
35. Steven Soderbergh, film director, 50
He has downgraded claims that he is entering full retirement to a mere ‘sabbatical’, but the garlanded Behind the Candelabra, avoided by many Hollywood studios for being “too gay” (what exactly were they expecting from a Liberace biopic?), was a helluva swansong. That it earned record-breaking viewing figures on HBO suggests those studios are rueing their decision, and will be clamouring for the services of one of cinema’s most versatile directors as soon as he gets bored with all that free time.
34. Elizabeth McGovern, actress/musician, 52
After the unprecedented success of Downton Abbey, you could forgive McGovern for settling into her Lady Grantham ways. Instead, though, she took to clubs, pubs and tour vans as frontwoman of her country-tinged band, Sadie & The Hotheads, last week performing a week’s residency at the Edinburgh Fringe. Not something you’d catch Maggie Smith doing, we’d hazard.
33. Emma Freud, broadcaster, 51
When a legend such as Al Pacino comes to town to share his stories, who better to sit in the interviewer’s chair than the ebullient Ms Freud? Though her gag about ‘cheap seats’ on the sold-out evening required a Twitter explanation, her publicly confessed desire to lick Pacino’s face was a memorable one. Her tireless work for Red Nose Day – for which she and her husband Richard Curtis earned OBEs – was again on show this year, as Comic Relief celebrated its quarter-century, and a staggering £600m raised. As script editor, she was back on duty, too, for Curtis’ forthcoming About Time, which, by all accounts, is not without merit.
32. Dinos Chapman, artist/musician, 51
It’s all very well pursuing a musical sideline if you’re one half of bothersome Brit art brothers The Chapmans, but to produce an album in your spare time good enough to warrant a slot at legendary electronic festival Sonar, alongside Kraftwerk and the Pet Shop Boys, is worthy of a raised glass. So too, is Dinos’ and Jake’s decision to exhibit their grotesquery in recent shows as far-flung as Hong Kong and Ukraine, as well as their contributions to art shows in aid of the Peace One Day campaign.
31. Willem Dafoe, actor, 57
From blockbuster baddies to arthouse outsiders, few traverse the many lanes of cinema’s highway as well or as effortlessly as Willem Dafoe. This year he’s gone from starring in Disney’s sci-fi ultra-flop, John Carter, to filming Lars Von Trier’s sexually explicit Nymphomaniac, which is applause-worthy in itself. But chuck in his fondness of experimental theatre, his Prada modelling and his voicing of Clarence, the Birds Eye bear, and you get the sense Dafoe is admirably game. “To a fault,” he recently said.
30. Bobby Gillespie, musician, 52
He had a tough gig this year: supporting the Stones at Glasto. But rather than win over the crowd with greatest hits, his band Primal Scream opted to challenge them with material from their heavily political new album, More Light. Unrepentant, Gillespie declared: “Festivals are like shopping malls now. People just want what they know from the brand.” But frankly, Bobby will diss anybody who disappoints, as he proved at Christmas, when discussing the government. “Fucking insane quasi-fascists in their mid-forties,” he called them. “Punk rock never affected those people… They could have been touched by acid house… Because of the ecstasy it was really all about communications. Guys like Cameron, they’re untouched by it. From day one, they always wanted to be part of an Establishment.” Long may he remain detached.
29. Camila Batmanghelidjh, children’s charitista, 50
A well-deserved CBE and a place on the Women’s Hour power list for the Kids’ Company founder this year (even though, with her government funding cut in April, she’d have probably preferred some cash). Still, the ‘Angel of Peckham’ will stop at nothing for her charges, and she soon co-opted famous figures including Coldplay and Gok Wan to cover the shortfall. While every little act of love she has given to thousands and thousands of vulnerable children is worth an award, her harrowing new book Mind That Child wins her high50 recognition – and a welcome to the club.
28. Justine Picardie, editor, 53
Harper’s Bazaar has had a tough time in recent years, outgunned by Vogue’s full-on flashiness. The last editor, young Lucy Yeomans, restored its fashion credentials before departing for Net-a-Porter, but was not yet of an age to really speak to the worldly, 50-plus sophisticates who are the magazine’s best bet. It looks like Picardie may just fill those hand-made, high-heeled shoes to perfection. Terrifically connected, remarried to a rich man with a castle in Scotland, author of well-reviewed books on everything from cancer to Coco Chanel: she embodies the high50 woman, applying experience to new challenges.
27. Tracey Thorn, singer/author, 50
Bedsit Disco Queen, Thorn’s memoir, was one of this year’s most enjoyable reads, thanks to its down-home honesty and descriptions of the “violent lifestyle changes from luxury to squalor and back again, sometimes within minutes” that came with being an ‘accidental’ pop star in Everything But The Girl. Her written voice turned out to be just as enjoyable as her singing one. These days she revels in domestic bliss with husband Ben Watt and their three children, all of whom popped up on Tinsel And Lights, her outstanding Christmas album.
26. Michael Kors, fashion designer, 53
As the shapely Sandra Bullock approaches 50, she has found that Kors is one of her favourite designers. First Lady Obama, too. And so many people in the Eastern markets have fallen for his ‘casual luxe’ style – or is it ‘luxury casual? – that the New York designer doubled his profits in Q1 of 2013. The former Project Runway judge was named a ‘Titan’ in this year’s Time 100 and attributed with a ‘buzz factor’ by the Wall Street Journal. The tubby Titan also has an agreeable twinkle to him; only a designer who really understood women of his own generation could say: “No woman is too fat for a nice handbag.”
25. Daniel Day-Lewis, actor, 56
Stars in movie, praised by critics, takes home Oscar; you could argue that the past year were par for the Day-Lewis course. But what we enjoyed most about him this year was his deconstruction of his own master-of-method mythology. In his Lincoln interviews, he claimed simply that he enjoys his work. “It pleases me to take time over it. It’s pure joy for me. It’s a game, and I’ve never thought to obscure that fact. But, for whatever reason, that image persists of some sort of lonely, strange figure.” As he proclaims that he’s taking five years off to learn stonemasonry, perhaps his best character yet is his own: affable, charming, down-to-earth family man, who just likes to graft.
24. Kelly Hoppen, interior designer/entrepreneur, 53
Being tipped as the designer of baby Prince George’s nursery is reason enough to have her on our list. But being the first remotely cool panellist on Dragon’s Den is the clincher. Never mind her considerable business attributes, nor her exquisitely beige taste. Physically, she’s a great advert for our 50-plus generation, and an impressive leader by example. If all it takes to have her success is a personal trainer and a body sculptor to take you through a mix of Pilates, cardio, boxing, running and weights at 6am every day – plus a strictly alkaline diet and no chocolate – then hand us that greasy pole. We want to get climbing!
23. Chris Morris, satirist, 50
Morris’ grade-A lampooning of pompous news shows (The Day Today), morally superior affairs programmes (Brass Eye), Shoreditch twattery (Nathan Barley) and even terrorism (Four Lions) is unlikely to be bettered. For every dark, twisted exploit (Jam, My Wrongs #8245–8249 & 117) he’ll confound you with something as conventional as his turn in The IT Crowd. But, this year, Morris’ efforts have been largely undetected on these shores, as he popped up as co-director of Armando Iannucci’s praise-laden VEEP for HBO in the US. Here, meanwhile, rumours circulate that he’s working on an extraordinary rendition-themed musical, which sure beats Mamma Mia.
22. Jon Stewart, US satirist-in-chief, 50
His hosting of The Daily Show has raised the also-ran actor to a national political force. For a show that ridicules news – from Red and Blue camps – it actually, conversely, serves as one of the best sources of American news, driven by Stewart’s impassioned and astute rants. This year, he graciously let his hot seat be filled (ably) by John Oliver – a Brit, no less! – while he took time out to explore a new medium, directing the film version of Then They Came For Me, the story of an Iranian journalist’s imprisonment. He makes Ian Hislop and his HIGNFY friends look like satirical small fry.
21. Michael Grandage, theatre producer and director, 51
Just over a decade ago, Grandage was tasked with filling the shoes of Sam Mendes as artistic director of London’s Donmar Warehouse. Under his ten-year tenure, the brand extended overseas, purchased a new HQ, brought on young talent and won a veritable deluge of awards, so consider those shoes well and truly filled. Last year, he left the Donmar to start his own company, and tickets for his productions – featuring the likes of Judi Dench and Daniel Radcliffe – have been some of the most sought-after in years. That more than 100,000 of them went on sale for a tenner has been credited with a theatreland boom, for which Mr Grandage should take a well-earned bow.
20. Eddie Izzard, comedian/actor/activist, 51
His shows have one-word titles, and the one we’d choose for him is ‘unstoppable’. Though ill health and injury prevented him completing his 27 Mandela Marathons across South Africa – the next 23 are now rescheduled – he soon found new challenges. He embarked on the biggest world tour by a stand-up ever – resolving to gig in all 50 of the United States en route – and having ‘mastered’ French and German, said he would also perform in Russian, Arabic and Spanish. Meanwhile, he wants to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor in 2020. And if that doesn’t come off? “Then I’ll stand for Parliament.” Maybe ‘driven’ would be a better description?
19. Emmanuelle Béart, actress and campaigner, 50
The Gallic beauty caused many a jaw-to-the-floor moment when she appeared nude on screen in Manon des Sources, the breakthrough role which won her a César award. She went on to become one of French cinema’s biggest stars and hailed as one of the world’s most desirable women. But with the passing of the years, her lips appeared decidedly trout pouty and surgery rumours abounded. Recently, she’s admitted not only to having the work done, but to its botched nature; and has resolved, admirably, to campaign against the perils of such procedures. A pertinent mid-life topic to add to her activist causes.
18. Nicholas Coleridge, publishing exec, 56
The President of Condé Nast International carries off an English-gent persona that belies the mind-bogglingly modern ways he’s expanding his brand. Vogue College for example, which gives well-heeled young women a network, some knowledge and a step up in the industry. Or the chain of restaurants in the Ukraine, Turkey and Russia, branded by Vogue and GQ. Meanwhile, the Bowie-loving publisher has played a masterly game with his own content, maintaining sky-high circulations, compared with most print titles, and thinking through his digital strategy to his company’s best advantage. Coleridge’s recent career in fiction must please him, too: The Adventuress, about a 21st-century gold-digger, was probably his best-received novel yet.
17. Nick Jones, social entrepreneur, 50
Given how hard he has worked to expand his mainly-members-only empire in recent years, the founder of Soho House and its semi-clones around the world is to be congratulated on making a half-century at all. (So your listed picturehouse in Notting Hill burns down? You refurbish it, even better.) But we really want to praise Jones for his group’s adventurous events programme. To rock festivals, cooking weekends, ‘edible cinema’ screening and session recordings he has added… vinyl listening clubs, in association with high50! And what a hit they’ve been. Lou Reed turned up to our New York bash, and Phil Manzanera formed a TV supergroup through a chap he met at the Roxy night. Now watch out for the Abbey Road event. (We’re expecting John and George …)
16. Mary Beard, media don, 58
Made an OBE this year – yes, another one – we love Mary a little for her mission to bring the ancient world alive (in bronze hi-top trainers); a lot for her hugely entertaining blog, and most of all for standing up to bullies. Last year, she and her fans dealt with the dimly offensive TV critic AA Gill. This year – called a “filthy old slut” by Twitter troll Oliver Rawlings – she re-tweeted his text and left him to the outrage of her followers. After his tweet came down, she said she’d like to take Rawlings “out for a drink and smack his bottom… If you’ve lived a little and you’ve got a thick skin, you’re able to say no, I’m not having this. I’m going to do something about it.” Way to go, prof.
15. Carine Roitfeld, fashionista, 58
We’d list the former editor of Vogue Paris just for becoming the world’s most glamorous granny. Or for some of this year’s soundbites. (On ageing: “I’m less beautiful than I was in my twenties but I’m more fun at the table”; on the digital world: “Go with it or go home.”) But what a career surge! As well as starting her own magazine, CR Fashion Book, she has become global fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar, producing stories that go into all 26 of its international versions. Meanwhile, look out for a documentary about her next month, Mademoiselle C.
14. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actress/producer, 52
As of this year, Louis-Dreyfus is the most-Emmy-nominated comedic actress in history, thanks to her role as inept vice-president Selina Mayer in VEEP (sample quote on meeting the public: “We’re gonna go mix with the hicks!”), which she also produces. She was spotted doing theatre in Chicago, and rose through the ranks of Saturday Night Live before becoming a staple in Seinfeld and starring in The New Adventures of Old Christine, a host of movies, securing a (misspelt) Hollywood star along the way, and inspiring Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon character in 30 Rock. She’ll next be seen in Enough Said, alongside the late James Gandolfini, which might just be the first truly 50-something rom-com.
13. Tom Ford, designer/director, 51
Our generation’s most able multi-tasker added yet another role to his CV last September, when he and partner Richard Buckley became parents to baby Jack. Naturally, Ford took to feeding, changing, playing with and, of course, dressing his scion – surely the world’s most stylish toddler – while keeping him well out of the spotlight. We should be flattered, too, that he’s got London in his sights for bringing up his boy, much as we were when he picked our fashion week to launch his women’s collection, pissing off the Milanese. Jay Z even immortalised him in verse, saying, “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford”, which sounded like shorthand for growing-up to us.
12. Tessa Ross, controller of Film4, 52
Modest and friendly to a fault, the controller of Film Four earns our respect as not only the producer of mainstream black comedy Seven Psychopaths, but of the whimsical Hyde Park on the Hudson and the Paul Raymond Britfilm, The Look of Love. And that’s just in the past six months. With such credits to her name as Slumdog Millionaire, Billy Elliott and The Last King of Scotland, one wonders why BAFTA waited until 2013 to give Ross its annual award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema. The essence of her creative energy should be bottled and sold to all those macho bosses who walk so much taller and achieve so much less.
11. Nick Cave, singer/songwriter/screenwriter, 55
He and his fellow Bad Seeds stepped back from their garage-rock alter-ego Grinderman to produce the hushed masterpiece Push the Sky Away, an album laced with menace and humour as dark as Cave’s dyed-black hair. Such traits were apparent in his acclaimed Lawless screenplay, too. Further props this year for his sarky Twitter responses, and for revealing the preposterous detail of his Gladiator sequel script. And we eagerly await forthcoming documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, charting a fictionalised 24 hours in Cave’s life, which apparently features him chauffeuring Ray Winstone and Kylie around Brighton.
Now read: the top ten most inspirational over-50s