As Nigel Lawson dates a woman 33 years his junior, one woman celebrates the irresistible sexiness of the much older man

Rachel Ragg


22:02 GMT, 21 March 2012



22:02 GMT, 21 March 2012

What do I have in common with a former Chancellor’s girlfriend, a comedy legend’s fiancee and the wife of a rock star often called the coolest man in Britain

Well it certainly isn’t a bulging bank balance, jet-setting lifestyle or a wardrobe full of designer clothes.

But it turns out we do share a fundamental interest — we have all fallen in love with much older men.

Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, 80, spoke of his happiness with his new partner, 47-year-old academic Tina Jennings

Former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, 80, spoke of his happiness with his new partner, 47-year-old academic Tina Jennings

Last week former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, 80, spoke of his happiness with his new partner, 47-year-old academic Tina Jennings. Then Monty Python’s Terry Jones, 70, proposed to Anna Soderstrom, 41 years his junior. In January, 66-year-old Bryan Ferry wed Amanda Sheppard, 29.

As ever, cynics are quick to attribute these relationships to the men’s fame — and bank balances. After all, they say, why else would these attractive women choose to attach themselves to wrinkly men old enough to be their fathers

But I think if you want passion and someone who will make you feel like the only woman on the planet, then only an older man will do. I felt this way even before I met and fell in love with my husband Anthony — who at 70 is 30 years my senior.

As teenagers, my friends were drawing hearts around pictures of Jason Donovan, but my first crush, at 13, was on the manager of the hotel in Torquay where we spent family holidays.

Rachel Ragg, 40, with her 70-year-old husband and two children

Rachel Ragg, 40, with her 70-year-old husband and two children

Impossibly glamorous — with a yacht, a Ferrari and a permanent tan — Charles was 28. I still have a four-sentence letter from him. ‘Of course I remember you. We don’t have that many pretty girls staying with us, you know,’ he wrote in response to the clumsy postcard I sent him.

Of course, he was just being kind — but I was convinced that it was the greatest love letter of all time. It lived in my lunchbox by day, and under my pillow by night. At 16, I was breakfasting with friends in a cafe on a school trip to Berlin when I noticed the man at the next table. He was good-looking, well dressed — and at least 55. We exchanged lingering looks; he came over and spoke to me in French.

Then he gently brushed my cheek and told me I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen before walking away. Of course I never saw him again, but that same day, I sent a postcard to the 17-year-old friend who had been failing for months to persuade me to go on a date to McDonald’s. ‘I’m sorry,’ I wrote. ‘It’s not you — it’s me.’

He was a perfectly nice boy — but he was a boy. I didn’t want a monologue about the football league from someone who smelled of cheap spray-on deodorant; I wanted someone to make me feel special and wrap me up in his Chanel-scented cashmere coat, as I imagined my Frenchman would.

Then, aged 18, I started a degree at Liverpool University. I had done my research at open days, and chosen Liverpool largely because of the high proportion of attractive fifty-something men who would be teaching me Victorian literature.

Despite never giving boys my age a thought, I was popular with them. They would chat me up in the students’ union and coffee bars, but I wasn’t attracted to drunken teenagers who slept in their clothes and ran up frightening overdrafts buying obscure 12-inch singles.

At 16 I noticed the man at the next
table. He was good-looking, well dressed – and at least 55. We exchanged
lingering looks…

Instead, I waited for a tutor to sweep me off my feet and spend eternity reading Keats to me. When this failed to happen, aged 21, I got together with Jim, a 24-year-old PhD student. I hoped his intellect might outweigh his youth. It didn’t. I quickly tired of Jim’s lack of drive. And, unfortunately for Jim, his shortcomings were brought into sharp focus by Anthony.

At 52, Anthony had been our head of department, and was now supervising my PhD. Tall, clever and charismatic, he was also handsome, well-travelled, and worldly. His ties were made of silk; Jim didn’t own a tie. He could recite poetry; Jim could recite text-books. He wrote in fountain pen; Jim used Biro. He had a brand new car bought with book royalties;

Jim thought that cars were an ecological obscenity. Recently divorced, and with children older than I was, Anthony lived in a beautiful waterfront warehouse conversion with real art on the walls. Jim lived in a bedsit. Poor Jim didn’t stand a chance.

Unlike the boys who came lurching across a crowded pub to slur something clumsy, Anthony seduced me with mere eye contact. When he invited me to his apartment for supper, he already knew I would say yes.
This supper was followed by fabulous love letters that made me feel as I’d always wanted: like the only girl who had ever walked the earth.

I was hooked. Who wouldn’t be My family, for one. They feared I might get hurt. One worried friend took me out for coffee. ‘But what about children’ she asked. ‘He won’t want to do that again.’ In fact, children and a career were the very last things on my mind. I was far too busy enjoying holidays in Alsace and lunch at the Tate. Six months later, I moved in with him.

There were initial surprises. Anthony’s apartment was beautiful, but his Chinese rugs reminded me of my grandparents’ house. There was nothing tacky or fun. Trashy TV — even watched ironically — was a mystery to him; pop music happened after his time. His friends, many of whom knew his first wife, seemed old. Some were openly suspicious. (‘How many weeks do you think this will last’ one asked me.)

Yet, while there was much we didn’t have in common, our relationship worked. Most importantly, our views on the things that really matter — politics, education, gender roles — were pretty much identical. He was an older man with relatively modern views; I was a young woman with relatively old-fashioned views. We met perfectly in the middle.

I’d wanted a dynamic man; Anthony’s dynamism took us to Cornwall for two years, where we rebuilt a holiday house. By the time that was finished, my friend’s prediction had come true and I was thinking about babies.

Anthony had mixed feelings. He had been there and done that — but didn’t want to deny me a family. In 2002, we moved back to my home county of Yorkshire, and quietly married just before William was born. Anthony was 61. Two years later, Matilda came along, and today we’re still ridiculously happy together.

So what is it about older men Or, more precisely, older Alpha men (I can’t imagine being attracted to a Beta male of any age.) They are definitely not father substitutes. I have always had a great relationship with my kind, funny father, and have no desire to replicate that. Nor am I a gold-digger (if I were, I wouldn’t have married a divorced Arts professor).

In my experience, older men have a direction that younger ones lack. Many of my male contemporaries even now seem to be floundering. I can’t imagine them looking after themselves, never mind a wife and family. They may lack the baggage that older men carry around — but by the same token, they lack the experience and confidence that makes older men attractive.

Coming from a different generation, older men are more likely to want to take on the traditional role that I find reassuring. I know I can sort out bills because I’ve done so — but that doesn’t mean I want to. Nor do I want the symbolic independence of separate bank accounts or a husband who’s been conditioned to think that it’s sexist to lift heavy things for me.

For me, Anthony’s self-assured charm means that I don’t notice the white hair and wrinkles. And however old I think I look, I’m still an attractive young woman to him! Intimacy has never been a problem; although after 17 years and two children, we tend to relish a decent night’s sleep above all else — but I dare say the same would be true if we were both 40.

Of course, there are problems. I am likely to be widowed early — worse, our children are likely to be bereaved young. I am aware that I might end up caring for him — but that’s the meaning of ‘for better, for worse’. In any case, being a young father is sadly no defence against horrendous twists of fate. A friend of mine lost her husband to a heart attack when they were both 42.

We have had our happy times and our tricky times — but this has nothing to do with age. It’s just a normal part of any marriage. If the high-profile May to September couplings have as much happiness together as we have enjoyed, then they will be very content indeed.