To hell with the rocking chair. You're never too old for sizzling sex! As it's revealed Fifty Shades of Grey is a hit among over-70s, ESTHER RANTZEN makes a rather frank confession
00:42 GMT, 17 August 2012
Esther Rantzen is still feeling racy after all these years
Curled up on the sofa, I was so engrossed in my novel that I found my cup of tea going cold and the light fading around me.
I was utterly transported to another world, one of glamour, seduction and sex — lots of it.
The book I was reading The erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey. Up to now it’s been described as ‘mummy porn’ — but it seems I’m not the only grand-mummy enjoying it.
As the Mail reported yesterday, ladies of 70-plus with failing eyesight have been queuing up to request audio versions of the novel.
Horror of horrors! Grannies who should be dozing in their rocking chairs and cuddling their cats instead are putting on their headphones and fantasising about the wicked, delightful Mr Christian Grey having his way with the (rather irritating) virginal Anastasia. Surely they should be past all that by now
No, they should not. I’m 72 years old and my daughter gave me a copy of Fifty Shades because she thought I’d enjoy it.
She was right — I did. I found it fun. More than that, I found it sexy, and I’m happy to admit it.
Not that I was excited by the notorious scenes of sadomasochism. To be frank, I yawned my way through them.
But I lingered over the romantic seduction, the scenes of slow love-making which brought back some of my happiest memories.
Because, as my daughter realised, while I may be a single old widow, I’m still a woman. I’m still alive below the neck and, not only do I have happy memories, I still have sexual fantasies.
At one point reading the novel, I found myself saying — like the middle-aged lady in the cafe with Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally — ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’
We older women have suppressed our sexual thoughts and feelings for years. So I for one am thankful that good old E.L. James has come along and — by creating a book which has soared to the top of the bestseller charts and sparked national debate — finally given us permission to express it.
Today’s world doesn’t like the idea that a woman with middle-aged spread and laughter lines around her eyes is still a sexual being. That has become a great taboo. To be a sexy woman, you have to be, above all, young.
Esther said E L James, pictured right, the author of best selling book, 50 Shades of Grey, pictured left, has given older women permission to express their sexual thoughts
Apart from the wonderful Joan Collins, who must have a portrait in her attic, and Madonna, who devotes her working life to keeping her muscles toned and her young lovers satisfied, women over 50 aren’t allowed to demonstrate that they still have active hormones — and the urges that accompany them.
Which leaves the rest of us having to obey convention and pretend we are sexless.
It is this facade which makes the story about elderly women reading Fifty Shades news. The fact is that 70-year-old hearts still flutter — not just with tachycardia, but with passion. And why not
Catherine the Great at 67 had a lover in his 20s, an officer in the guards. Mae West had her own harem of bodybuilders when she was in her 80s.
'Had I met Mr Grey, I have no doubt I, too, would have surrendered
Even older women who are neither empresses nor Hollywood icons can have romantic feelings — which most of us never express, for fear of causing offence or, more likely, being ridiculed.
For while inside our hearts we are the 20-year-olds we once were, our skin and bones tell a different story.
Our party tops must have sleeves to cover our bingo wings, and our tummies need careful draping to cover the curves. Each time we pass a mirror, a stranger gazes back at us; we don’t look anything like as young as we feel.
But we do feel young. Seventy is the new 50, we are told, and it is worth bearing in mind that today’s 70-year-olds are very different from their parents at the same age.
We were only 20 when the Swinging Sixties dawned and, as a result, we are not easily shocked.
We experienced the great liberations, the discovery of the Pill, the emergence of youth culture.
We went from Fifties twinset and pearls to Sixties miniskirts and The Beatles. We were starting out on our own great journeys then and even if we weren’t ravers ourselves, we noticed that the world was raving around us.
Esther said the novel's villainous hero Mr Grey has awakened her optimism
In 1962, I was like E.L. James’s
heroine Anastasia, irritatingly virginal, but fascinated by wicked older
men, just as she is. Had I met Mr Grey, I have no doubt I, too, would
have surrendered to his irresistible combination of copper hair, grey
eyes and a bulging wallet.
Mr Grey himself didn’t come my way, but
there were one or two not dissimilar. I remember the occasional
all-night ball, roses in moonlight, moments on a Mediterranean beach.
Then, as with all my generation, life intervened and such moments were consigned to the memory bank. The decades of our middle age were spent performing serious roles like wife, mother, nurse, cook, washer-up, career woman, carer, with moments of fun squashed around the edges.
And now we are OAPs we find ourselves with a bit more time and perhaps a little money left in our piggy banks, and we want to fully embrace the last chapter of our lives — sex and love included.
While I haven’t had a lover since my beloved husband Desmond died in 2000, I have many friends in their 70s who won’t accept their cloak of invisibility and refuse to slip into comfortable carpet slippers.
Pensioners they may be, but they lie about their age, force their bunions into killer heels and hobble out on dates.
Some women I know surf the internet for escorts, while others illustrate their Facebook profiles with 20-year-old photographs to attract new partners.
Some widows I know have recovered from their bereavement with renewed zest, and have happily fallen into the arms of new men.
One woman, aged 72, told me how determined she is to prove she is ‘still a player’. She meant she can still play the field and has enough sex appeal to attract a man.
Personally, I’m terrified of appearing ridiculous. Recently, I was asked to judge a summer fete parade alongside a 29-year-old 6ft 5ins Greek god of a soldier, who looked ridiculously dashing in his uniform. Not being Catherine the Great, I stayed at least a yard away from him, just in case he mistook me for a cougar.
But there are advantages in cougars, I’m told, and some men prefer their women older.
'Us older women still have our energy — what else should we do with it all'
On one speed-dating evening I attended (for professional reasons, of course), I was told by a young man that he prefers ‘a grateful old lady’ because we older women have the confidence to know what we like, ask for it — and give positive feedback.
Frankly, if the villainous hero Mr Grey threatened me now with his ‘Red Room of Pain’, I’d get out a paint brush, cover the walls with a trendy beige from Farrow & Ball, tell Christian to hang up his whip and handcuffs and suggest we get back to the slow, gentle love-making we used to enjoy in our youth. Or at least I did.
As far as I’m concerned, the fictional Mr Grey is (for the time being) the only man in my life. But he has awakened my optimism. Maybe there is someone out there who could remind me that ‘I’m still a player’.
Now many of us older women are retired, we have far more time than ever before, and if we still have our energy — what else should we do with it all
Good works, perhaps, and acceptable pursuits like going to classic plays and reading good books. And the occasional treat of a bad, naughty book, like this one. Which may shock the young men sitting next to us on the bus, but certainly doesn’t shock us.