How I developed late-onset sex appeal at 60

I went to a 40th birthday dinner a few weeks ago. It was fun. I was in a room full of people I didn’t know, apart from the birthday girl, and that in itself was quite liberating. I sat next to one of her best male friends. He was attractive and chatty. We laughed and told stories about our “wild days”.

I really like meeting new people. It makes me put my best foot forward. No tired gossip or vague boredom as someone I’ve known forever trots out the usual stories. When my new friend got on to the subject of age – easily done at a birthday party – he started to say he couldn’t believe he was already in his early 40s. He talked about the importance of keeping fit so he could play football and teach his two young kids, to whom he was a single father, to be sporty. I said I had a couple of kids too and my son loves football. “How old is your son?” he asked. “Twenty-six,” I replied. I saw him pause, calculating… I thought I would save him the bother. “I’m going to be 60,” I said. “In May.”

I have to admit I wasn’t looking at all bad that night. I was wearing an old Céline red-silk shirt and a pair of very wide-leg trousers, also from the Phoebe Philo days, with trainers. I was not long back from my first holiday in the sun in three years, and still tanned. I watched my new friend rearrange his expression as he tried to compute that I was 60; I don’t think he thought I was the same age as him, but this is surely the age of a near-elderly person?

“Oh, I mean you just don’t seem… I mean you look… I mean you don’t feel…” Hmm, I thought. I think what he was probably trying to say was that he couldn’t work out how I could be both this age and attractive. I was delighted. The next morning, the birthday girl texted me that my companion had messaged her describing me as “elegant, funny and super-hot”. I told my husband and we were both thrilled.

When I compare the way I feel in the run-up to 60, it is so utterly different to the way I felt about my 50th. I think the run-up to my 50s was the hardest time of my life. I was a hormonal hot mess; there was no Mariella Frostrup ­bestseller to tell me how to “crack the menopause” and that I wasn’t actually mad to be having the feelings I was experiencing. I was suffering from depression, exhaustion, hopelessness and back fat. I couldn’t tell what was real and what was hormones.

I was also asking myself a lot of questions about my work life. I was editor-at-large of British Vogue – a dream job. But I had been there 26 years and was asking myself if this was something I wanted to continue with. The meaning of my job, my marriage and my sense of self were all things I was struggling with.

I left Vogue in 2017, when I was 54. It was harder than I thought it would be for many reasons that I had not allowed for and I went through a period of mourning. I felt invisible; my job was all about knowing what was going on and being at the centre of things. I felt drained, unattractive and certainly not sexy. But what doesn’t kill you etc, and so I had an impulsive – gift to self – half facelift with the brilliant and very sensible Dr Rajiv Grover who doesn’t operate on women under 50, and I actually started to feel a whole lot better.

I’m not stupid and I know that how one looks is not the key to happiness, but keeping myself looking decent was good for me and my mental state. I was open about it and even wrote about it. Some women made snarky comments about what I had done – so much for the sisterhood – but my phone still rings at least twice a month with friends asking me for advice as the results were so natural.

Afterwards, the good news has been that I barely need to do anything to my face except the very occasional tweak, moisturising Profhilo injections with Dr Maryam Zamani and regular facials with Joanne Evans at Skin Matters in Holland Park. I have been seeing her every few months for 20 years. Her brilliant hands and state-of-the-art equipment have kept the quality of my skin really good.

As much as I think having a procedure was responsible for taking a few years off my face, I believe that once I was out of the hormonal brain fog and the post-job malaise, I started to have fun and that took years off my mind. I started a beauty podcast with Dr Zamani, I opened and shut a shop during lockdown and I started a community market with my friend Cathy St Germans in Cornwall.

I had such fun doing these projects and I realised that my brain was still very productive. The more I let myself try new things, the more I was able to let go of my old life. It had given me so much, but I wanted to see what else there was.

My relationship with my husband has helped me out of my fug, too. We are best friends, we bicker and b—h, but we also gossip and laugh and share the same values. We started to work on a project together and discovered entirely new aspects of the other’s personality. It’s been fun and creative and often frustrating – but not boring. He tells me I look nice when we’re going out, and tells me I still make him laugh, which is what made him fall in love with me in the first place. He doesn’t do these things every day – nor do I need him to after 27 years – but he makes me feel attractive and desirable, and that means something.

When I was young I thought there was something slightly “off” about the idea of being older and sexy. But it’s a state of mind, not body.

I grew up in the era of artists like Madonna being so sexually liberated. She said and did whatever she wanted and still does. Her look in her 60s is not for everyone – to me, it just feels a lot like hard work – but I am happy we live in a time when we can express ourselves however we wish. Personally, I would aspire to be more Julianne Moore if I were looking for a role model. I don’t need to be found sexy, but I like to be seen. It’s different.

My mother died when she was 64. That is just four years older than I will be next month, yet I think of her as having been much older. She was very fat, but she was fun and naughty. She had a spirit that drew people to her; she was camp and funny and, to my amazement, for many years after she and my father divorced, seemed to have a string of admirers. She never questioned herself physically or, now that I think of it, in any other way. She wasn’t into fashion but she had huge charisma and that’s what people responded to.

She wore full make-up, backcombed her brassy blonde hair and wore tent dresses and what I would call sensible, bashed-up shoes.

Mostly I dress like my kids: jeans, trainers, hoodies; and if I need to be smarter it’s well-cut trousers with a good shirt (I still have all my clothes from my Vogue life and they serve me well) or a pin-striped suit with a Patti Smith T-shirt and a pair of Converse. I stopped highlighting my hair during lockdown and now I have my own base colour with a blonde under-colour. By which I mean the bright blonde I used to have all over is just around the edges of my face and under my hair. I think it looks cool without being too try-hard.

Am I excited to be turning 60? I certainly feel freer than I have for years. Sexy is a state of mind and I love that I can go out and someone makes me feel seen; I love that my husband is secure enough in our relationship to enjoy that fact on my behalf. And while sometimes my joints might not be quite as limber as I’d like them to be, I think that on the night of my birthday I might just go out dancing.

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