Our ten most inspirational people over 50

We unveil the front runners among the 50-plus figures of the year: from stern sportsmen to screen sirens. But who has taken the top spot?

On Tuesday, we released the first 40 names on our list of the 50 most influential, inspirational and innovative 50-somethings of the past year.

Some of them are familiar friends of high50: Kate Percival, Meredith Bowles, Nicholas Coleridge. Some are superstars: Johnny Depp, Alan Partridge, Holly Hunter. Some – such as Michael Grandage, Fran Cutler and Tessa Ross – are known to those in the know.

But what they all have in common (apart from a bias towards Britain) is a level of achievement in the past 12 months that deserves recognition from their peers.

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Our victor is someone who sums up what high50 is all about: rebooting and rebranding, embracing new challenges

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Percival, for example, reinvented the idea of the members’-only club for women. Coleridge masterfully steered a print publisher through the stormy waters of the new digital age. Ross produced films that filled cinemas. Partridge revolutionised radio in East Anglia.

So the question facing our panel (among them our own Mariella Frostrup, who we therefore excluded from the list) was: who could beat THAT and make the top ten?

Well, how about the man who won Wimbledon back for Britain? Not that surly Scot, but the 53-year-old trainer who gave him the tools to triumph.

Or the musician who came back from cancer at the end of his fifties and changed the soundtrack of the summer.

Or the artist who genuinely communicated intelligently with a mass audience and still retained his integrity.

They’re all in our top ten (below). But our top three has outshone even them.

In third place is Peter Capaldi, whose engagement as the next Doctor Who had commentators in hyper-drive, claiming he presaged a welcome move towards maturity in British politics.

The runner-up is actress Helen Hunt, for breaking boundaries and raising awareness in a way that only someone completely comfortable in her own 50-year-old skin could. (Simulate sex with a polio patient, anyone?)

But at the apex of our triangle is someone who sums up what high50 is all about: rebooting and rebranding, embracing new challenges, outperforming other generations, creating an ageless lifestyle that applies the experience of years to the excitement of contemporary culture.

And though not chosen for gender reasons, in a year which has seen feminism back on the agenda (particularly in the business world), how appropriate that our winner is a woman.

Step forward, Angela Ahrendts, not just the UK’s highest-paid female executive, but the highest-paid in the country.

Boy, did you lean in, Angie. You didn’t just show the men a thing or two. You showed all those grey suits, and all those pushy young pretenders in their forties, that the drama really is in life’s second act.

You are the flag-bearer for all our ’50 over 50’; for all our readers and members; for all the millions of Britons in our generation who are changing perceptions and making a different society.

We salute you.


---Andrew Marr. BBC News. BBC Pictures. Credit Rolf Marriott-BBC_10010. Andrew Marr, journalist/broadcaster, 53

Welcome back, bat ears. From next month, we can return to our Sunday morning ritual: you on the telly, us on the sofa. What high50 admires about Marr’s recovery from a stroke this year is not just his tenacity – he updated his book on Scotland’s politics while on sick leave – but also his new humility and his resolve to re-prioritise. Saying, “I’ve had a life of over-reaching,” he went on to castigate himself for being nasty, self-obsessed, impatient and abrasive, then promised to be sweeter to everyone from now on. Yeah, Andy, share the love. In your fifties, that’s cool.

---Ivan Lendl_2012 US Open. Photo astrix611-Flickr_1009. Ivan Lendl, tennis coach, 53

As the nation erupted in patriotic fervour over Murray’s Wimbledon win, his usually solemn-faced coach allowed himself an uncharacteristic grin. In just over a year, Ivan Lendl – in his first ever coaching role – has taken Murray’s raw talent and added a steely determination and some physical might, resulting in that sought-after victory. While all the calls are for a Murray knighthood, perhaps it’s the Czech-born, Eighties tennis ace on whom honours should be bestowed?

nile-rodgers-video-grab_1008. Nile Rodgers, disco pioneer, 60

It took just a few bars of Nile Rodgers’ unmistakable choppy guitar on Daft Punk’s first Random Access Memory teasers to send the entire internet delirious and return the dreadlocked disco don to his throne of cool. That his collaboration had every DJ reaching for their ‘Le Freak’ 45s and kickstarting a disco revival, has proved just what an influential figure he is. Now happily cancer-free, Rodgers and Chic have spent a summer topping festival bills, proving their adage correct: “Young and old are doing it, I’m told. Just one try, and you too will be sold.”

Grayson Perry 2013 Corbis_1007. Grayson Perry, artist/presenter, 53

Fresh from his own tapestry room at the RA Summer Exhibition, and with four more tapestries gifted to the nation and touring, Britain’s best-loved tranny has hardly abandoned the creative process. He has, however, massively increased his following through a BAFTA-winning TV series on ‘taste tribes’ (and another in production). He has also been announced as this year’s BBC Reith Lecturer and – yet more prestige – been given a CBE. What we love most, though, is the way Grayson pays back. His eponymous ‘project’, with its prize of a Golden Claire, is an annual delight.

Tilda Swinton 2013 by Lucie Ottobruc-Flickr_1006. Tilda Swinton, actress, 52

Ol’ man Bowie can still pick a winner. Though his new album was a bit meh, the videos – the best starring his semi-clone Swinton – were, like, wow. But she scores for lots of reasons this year – among them waving a rainbow flag outside the Kremlin in support of Russian LGBTs (which could have got her jailed), and becoming the face of Chanel’s pre-fall Paris-Edimbourg collection in a great shoot by her mate Karl Lagerfeld. What a Scot. If she were a Nationalist, next year’s independence vote would be a foregone conclusion. But she’s too independent for that. Freedom!

EL James Sept 2012 Corbis_1005. EL James, author, 50

Though it pains us to say so, we’re bound to admit that EL  – real name Erika Mitchell – marked her half-century with a bang (plus some spanking, a drop of baby oil and two silver balls). Last year’s airport read became the biggest- and fastest selling paperback of all time, winning her two prestigious industry awards and a heap of contumely and scorn. The former TV exec called the Grey trilogy her “mid-life crisis writ large”. With her earnings reckoned at £65.5 million last year – putting her top of Forbes’ authors list – we were most aroused by the size of her royalty cheques.

4. Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC manager, 50

Taking on Man Utd at 50, David Moyes looked set for inclusion in this list. But with a magnificent slide, Jose Mourinho beat him to the ball. The Special One’s return to Stamford Bridge surely heralds a return to form for the lacklustre Blues, and he claims that, toughened by his exiles with Inter and Real Madrid, he will bring a ‘more mature approach’ to his job. Proof that, in the game of two halves, life really does begin at 50.

Peter Capaldi Aug 2013 Corbis_1003. Peter Capaldi, actor, 55

For being the new Doctor Who? Sort of. After his success in The Thick of It, Capaldi could have played a psychotic baddie for the rest of his career. Instead, he has continued to innovate and experiment. (Remember, he played a transvestite in Prime Suspect 3.) When dreadful young people complained Capaldi was too old, we knew the Beeb had made a good call. In its 50th anniversary year, the series has come full circle – the first Time Lord was also 55 – and dispensed with such dreamboats as Smith and Tennant. The Doctor has authority again. Let’s hope the scripts reflect that.

Helen Hunt_2012 Corbis_1002. Helen Hunt, actress/producer, 50

If we praised an actress just for taking her kit off, we’d pick Sharon Stone. But in The Sessions, Hunt didn’t just flash the flesh; she played a sex therapist, entirely naked, for intimate scenes with her polio-stricken patient. A challenge for anyone, but Hunt, in her 50th year, sparkled, changing perceptions of the ‘older actress’ and grabbing an Oscar nomination for her efforts. She is now writing, producing, directing and starring in Ride, a surf movie which (pap shots prove) features some of her own board-riding. Her wave of success is a long way from breaking yet.

Angela Ahrendts Burberry Prorsum at LFW Sept 2011 Corbis 42-29558178_1001. Angela Ahrendts, Burberry CEO, 53

The fashion honcho credited with rescuing Burberry from chav-outfitter status became the UK’s best paid chief exec last year, taking home nearly £17m after delivering record profits. This glass-ceiling-smasher is also one of only three women whose firms feature in the FTSE 100; not that she lets herself be defined as such, saying that businesses should:  “Just put the best person into the job. It is not about gender”. Inspirational nonetheless, not least for her rise from backwoods Indiana. A quick note though: Angela, could we see a few older models in your campaigns next year?

Now read: numbers 50 to 11