I am 60 this year, and it’s making me think more than any looming birthday has before. People make a lot of fuss about 50, but beyond the mathematical fact of the half-century, it’s hard to see why. At 50, I was a middle-aged man, no more and no less. But 60 signals, surely, the end of middle age and the start of something else. What, though?
The range of role models is extraordinary. The simple fact that the famous men assembled over these pages are 60 doesn’t surprise me. Unlike Jeremy Clarkson, I am not enraged or perplexed by my age – although, like many middle-aged men, I am grateful to him for demonstrating that one can look like a paunchy wreck and still be twinkly and (sort of) attractive.
I’m not amazed that these guys are 60 – for reasons to do with the laws of physics I have been the same age as them all my life – but look at the variety: Barack Obama, who effortlessly upstaged his successor at a White House event earlier this month and who many people still wish was the most powerful man in the world; George Clooney, as suave and as seemingly lucratively underemployed as ever; the many others who are notable not only for their remarkable achievements, but also for their extraordinary diversity in outlook, style and appearance.
Let’s be clear: I don’t feel that I am in competition with these fellows. I don’t measure my appearance against Clooney, or my achievements against Obama – just as well, of course. Nor do I feel obliged to put my musical talents up against Boy George, Billy Ray Cyrus or Axl Rose, take on Tom Ford in the sartorial stakes, or audition against actors Tim Roth, Tom Cruise, Woody Harrelson and Matthew Broderick, all, like me, 60 this year. I’m not in the same league as this lot, have never aimed to be and it doesn’t bother me that I never will be.
What gives me pause for thought is the many different kinds of man that one can be at 60 – and that is before also considering the unfamous folk who, by definition, don’t figure in any list of celebrity 60-year-olds.
There are a lot of us about. More than ever, in fact. Through the latter half of the 20th century, the population of the UK has been steadily getting older, and the baby boomers and their elders (people of 60 and over) now make up more than 20 per cent of the population – a powerful and relatively wealthy cohort that is still becoming larger, as a segment of the total population, every year. We are numerous, varied and versatile.
I’m sure this wasn’t always the case. My father turned 60 when I was at university in the 1980s. He had just retired from his main career but, unusually for his generation, went on to work as a freelancer for another 25 years. It was much more in character for his contemporaries to treat 60 as the signpost for the sidelines – time to slip on the Hush Puppies or the golf shoes, light up a pipe of Old Holborn and pop that Val Doonican album on the hi-fi.
Sixty is different now. It’s true that I have friends who have retired to cultivate their gardens, explore ancient buildings or work on their French. But many others are highly, if not always wisely, active: chasing yet another million – or another wife – or chasing their new toddlers around a playground.
Still others are locked in dogged pursuit of new ambitions and new milestones: another mountain to climb, route to cycle, tech innovation to be mastered. And there are one or two who have succumbed along the way to drink and drugs, divorce, remorse and financial chaos.
Some of us – not all, clearly – have learned the Dos and Don’ts of late middle age male life, which mostly revolve around wardrobe… and how to respond to other people’s wardrobes. Twenty-something friends of offspring in skimpy outfits? Don’t gawp. Don’t comment. Creepy old man has never been an attractive lifestyle choice, and if creepy behaviour is less acceptable now than ever before, that’s really no bad thing.
So… where am I in all of this? And how do I measure up? We’ll keep this brisk, to avoid any hint of smugness or suggestion of group therapy. I am healthy, solvent, in full-time employment, happily married and contentedly housed. I have grown-up children who not only love but also, I think, like me (and I them, of course).
For all of this I am appropriately, but not loudly, grateful. Is it enough? Do I feel successful? Happy? Fulfilled? Do I feel, crucially, that beyond the age of 60 there are good things yet to come? Have I, not to put too fine point on it, peaked?
Probably. I’m not going to become a CEO – or any kind of O, come to that. I’m unlikely to write the Great Novel or to become significantly richer or fitter. And I don’t expect, or want, dramatic romantic adventures with a new love.
I’m not ruling anything out – that would be too depressing. I’ll be happy to try new pastimes, visit new places and acquire new skills. But it’s clear, nonetheless, that in many ways this is as good as it is going to get. And that is OK.
The path this far has not always been smooth: I wouldn’t want to revisit my stressy, messy 40s. But after plenty of careful thought in my 50s, and conversations with people older than me who seem to be contented, it belatedly began to dawn on me that the way to be happy, and stay happy, is to align as far as possible what I want with what I can get. Even if the rest of my life looks like what archaeologists sometimes call “managed decline”, at least I am the kind of 60-year-old man that I truly wish to be.
I’m not having such a wild and crazy time as I was when I was 20, but I know how daft I would be to try. And I’m a great deal happier, healthier and less financially frazzled than I was when I was 40, largely because I’m no longer trying to be what I’m not.
As a fortunate 60-year-old man, life is what I make of it, and if I can avoid making an idiot of myself in the process, that will do nicely.
Gym wardrobe: “I have the body of a man half my age. Here, feel this…”
Like iron, isn’t it? Solid iron. Or carbon fibre, maybe, which is lighter and has 10 times more strength for its weight. Yeah. Abs of carbon fibre. A six-pack like a superhero’s forcefield.
They say it gets harder to stay fit as you get older, but I’m living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way. I bench- press twice my weight and do 50 chin-ups to a high bar before breakfast. Stamina, too – Ironmans, the tougher the better. Age is just a number, and the numbers that count for me are mileage, or reps of a circuit.
Input counts. For me it’s protein shakes, carb mixes, maximised vitamin serums. Restaurants are out – I can’t spend that long sitting down, really, I just seize up – and, let’s face it, the pub is for losers. I used to go clubbing years ago, to show off my physique – the disco years were fantastic. My glutes are still firm enough for shorts, no question. Go on, have a feel. No? Suit yourself. But my hearing’s not what it was.
People – mainly my husband, Ralph – say that I never talk about anything else but workouts and fitness. To be frank, that’s probably true. But I just find my health and my physical condition, and especially my abs, fascinating, and so does Ralph, at least when I ask him for an opinion on my latest area of physical sculpting.
I’m not bothered about conversation much, anyway. I spend most of my spare time in the gym, where most people are too busy working out to talk.
Dad again: “My second family has given me a new lease of life. Who needs sleep, anyway?”
Children are the greatest gift that life can bestow. An expensive gift, you might say, especially if they have to be privately educated because your older children were too, but truly priceless, except in financial terms. I could give you an annotated price list, if you’ve got time.
Time – that’s not something I have much of! I love getting up with the twins – they’re nearly three, can you believe it? – around dawn and chasing them around for a couple of hours, getting them fed and dressed and then cycling them to nursery in the safety pod of the tricycle.
I quickly agreed when Sonia suggested that I should do the early shift – she needs to conserve her energy to steer our legal practice. It’s incredible to think that she was just a junior clerk when we met, seven or eight years ago. I was in charge then, mid-50s, still married to Pauline of course, and the boys were off at boarding school.
That’s all changed now. The boys are both at uni – aren’t those fees a scandal? – and Pauline seems to be doing really well with the yoga practice that she set up with our settlement. Turns out she knew plenty about the law, for a humble lawyer’s wife! Ex-wife, I mean.
Anyway, Sonia is hard at it in the office now, and with her taking on so many of my former clients it’s easiest if I do the pick-up from nursery and take the twins to the park. I’m not so fast on that replacement left hip, but the right is fine, though I think my knee might be going on that side. After the park I fix their tea, get them in and out of the bath and ready for bed. Sonia insists on reading the bedtime story, though – she’s hands-on in that sense! Even if it’s sometimes on Zoom.
I must say it makes me think a little when I compare notes with my mates in the pub once every other week. Kids grown and flown, off on mini-breaks all the time, out for dinner with their wives or girlfriends. Lucky buggers! Only kidding. Blink and you miss these early years, all the mothers at the school gate agree, and I hardly saw the boys at all when they were toddlers – too busy making money and having fun! I won’t make that mistake again. No chance.
Alternatively employed: “For me, the spiritual means more than the financial”
When my firm told me at 57 that I’d be leaving to pursue new challenges I was surprised and I found it hard to think what these challenges might be. It was certainly challenging to find another job!
Then it dawned on me that my days as a conventional member of the workforce might be behind me, and I suddenly felt this wonderful sense of freedom. Since then I have really thrown myself into the volunteering community, and I’m retraining as a career counsellor – unpaid, at present! – so that I can help others to follow my path to spiritual happiness.
I wouldn’t see myself as retired as such. Though a lot of men do take early retirement at 60 or even earlier – nothing wrong with that – I don’t feel like one of them. I’d say that I’ve embarked on a second career, it’s just one that doesn’t involve making money.
I find that giving something back is much better for what you might call my soul than just taking wages from an employer, and my new way of life is so rewarding that I no longer feel the need for expensive luxuries such as foreign holidays, meals in restaurants and central heating.
It’s funny that my wife is taking the opposite path and looking for full-time work, even talking about going on holiday by herself, when she has the money! But each to their own… maybe, deep down, we’re just spiritually different.
Party animal: “I find I can drink as much as I like, these days. As long as I have enough coke.”
Yolo, right? Yo f---ing lo. Right? Have another? Don’t mind if I do…
Drink problem? Bulls---. Any problem I have, I fix myself a drink – tada! No problem. No problemo. I gave up listening to my GP years ago… cut down on this, cut down on that… boring! I told him, I’m in a people business – PR is fundamentally a people business, right? And people like to have a drink, do a line or two, go to a fun place afterwards, have another drink, another line. You just meet people who are more interesting in those kinds of places, people with stories to tell, people who have lived a little, you know?
Yellow cards, warnings… I’ve seen them all. Pals, good mates, really good mates… blokes who, let’s face it, couldn’t stand the pace, chucked it in, gave it up, fell down dead. Some even went to rehab! Jesus, who needs that?
Not me, for sure. No way. I’m lucky – I just don’t have that kind of addictive personality. I don’t have to drink all the time and take drugs. I choose to. Right? I can totally take it or leave it. I just like to have fun, to be honest, and I run on pretty heavy fuel… Those 12-steppers, This Anonymous, That Anonymous – people who go in for that nonsense, they’re a bunch of losers who ran out of energy, and that is never going to be my problem…
These days I find I’m the oldest guy on the dance floor at a club by a long way, but the girls don’t care. They think I’m a scream, can’t believe I’m 60. Not that I tell them. In the dark, who’s gonna know? This girl last night, great girl, remember her name in a minute, she said: “You know what? You’re disgraceful!” She was going to call the police and everything. Hilarious!
My secret? The key – let me whisper in your ear – is to do drink and drugs. One without the other... that’s no good at all. A few years back I used to find I was wilting after the third bottle, but if you time the toots right you can keep going all night. And in the morning, a blast from the oxygen canister by the bed and I’m right as rain. Amazing, isn’t it? If I do enough drugs, I can drink as much as I like.
Someone in a club the other night – I can’t remember which club, or which night to be honest – couldn’t believe I was still at it at my age. I told them I could quit any time – any time I want. But I don’t want to quit. Yo f---ing lo, am I right?
Devoted husband: “I don’t know how long we’ve been married. Decades. Aeons.”
People are always amazed when they hear that me and Tanya have been married 34 years. Oh, 37, is it love? 37. My god. And you know we’ve actually been together even longer? We met at uni. It’s incredible to think of all our friends who have been through break-ups and divorces, found new partners and started new lives and new families, and here we are just the two of us – now the kids have moved out – and we’re still together, just like we’ve always been together, and still just as much in love as we were all those years ago. Well, I’d say at least as much in love as we were, say, 20 years ago… 25. It’s a hard thing to quantify, love, isn’t it? We’re good friends, anyway, not the kind of friend that you see once in a while and have a laugh with, but the kind you see all the time and kind of… get used to. Rely on.
Predictability. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? No nasty surprises, like moving house or going on holiday somewhere different. Perhaps that’s why we’re still in the same jobs, as well, after all this time. Some people scamper up that career ladder so fast that they fall off the top! That’s not our way. We’ve both been middle managers at the same company for ages now, and nobody seems in a hurry to get rid of us! Or promote us…
So, 35 years together, is it? Amazing. 37? Right. Separate hobbies, of course – and interests. That’s important. And televisions – the iPad is a godsend for that kind of thing, isn’t it? Especially in bed. Beds, I mean. I guess in the end it’s all down to imagination. I just can’t imagine being with anyone except Tan. Not even when I try.
60 years old in 2022 – and on top of their game
Still looking remarkably youthful for a man who stopped being leader of the free world five years ago, Obama may well be the coolest elder statesman in the world.
Life has not always been kind to the former Culture Club singer, but George was way ahead of his time with gender-flexible style and still blazes his own unique trail. Do we really want to to hurt him? No!
The clown prince of awkwardness put Slough on the map with The Office and has moved even further west – to Los Angeles – to make them feel uncomfortable, too. Is he still a bit smug, or is it all part of the act?
Has made the mission of maintaining his career at the top level look anything but impossible. The diminutive action hero is managing the transition from Top Gun to suited smoothie with ease.
Things for men of 60 and over to avoid
You will almost certainly have misunderstood them.
Don’t waste your precious time.
Really. Chinos are acceptable.
One word: hair.
Unless you actually play baseball.
Nobody cares if you think they’re funny.
Even if – especially if – you know all the words.
Those gilets with loads of pockets that photographers wear
“So practical” is no excuse.
Glasses with brightly coloured frames
You’re not Prue Leith.