- The mother-of-two said she’s been blessed with good genes
- She’s never had surgery and uses supermarket moisturisers
- She said long hair makes her look youthful
- Keeps fit by dog-walking and having regular sex
- She said age is about ‘attitude and energy’
Take a look at this photo. What do you see? A good pair of pins, probably, and an enviable head of glossy, youthful blonde hair.
You might also take in the smooth face, athletic, nipped-in waist and taut, toned arms. Trust me, the best bit is hidden – that’s the coltish little bottom, hiding discreetly under the girlish frock. Like two peaches in a handkerchief, I think it would be fair to describe it.
It’s difficult to gauge from a photograph, I know, but were you in the room when this picture was taken, you’d get a sense of the happiness and sense of humour behind those twinkling eyes. The voice is light and bright, too.
I am the lucky woman in this photo. Now try to guess how old I am (you don’t have to be kind).
Whenever I’ve played this precarious game, even the least complimentary rarely get to 40. Most guess around the 35 mark, although I have been taken for much younger.
I am 54. That’s correct. Not yet a grandmother but, with a 25-year-old daughter and a 23-year-old son, easily old enough to be one.
If you’re not itching to punch me in my smug face yet, read on: I haven’t had any surgery whatsoever. No Botox, no fillers, nothing scraped back, tucked in or plumped out. Everything I have comes from within.
But there is another area in which I am very lucky: other women seem to like me, and I like them.
I don’t inspire envy and resentment. I honestly have never suffered a catty remark about my preternatural grip on youth. That, I think, has to be one of the greatest gifts of all.
Most women, on finding out my true age, seem eager to know how I do it. In New York, where I spend a lot of time – I’m a Londoner, but my 57-year-old husband Charlie works as an American TV producer – people automatically assume I’ve had work done and ask for the name of my plastic surgeon.
Strangers can react in bizarre and interesting ways: last week, a young man came to the door selling tea-towels. I answered wearing my dog-walking uniform of jeans, baseball cap and hair in a ponytail. When I politely turned him away he asked to see my mother, presuming I wasn’t the grown-up of the house.
Then there was the time I was leaving trendy Shoreditch House in the East End with my 25-year-old daughter Catherine, and, while she went off to get a cab, a group of 20-something men invited me to a party. When Catherine returned and called me ‘Mum’, the look on these men’s faces was priceless.
I’ve even been asked for ID when buying alcohol. Yes, really.
I joke that the secret of looking young is ‘good lighting’ – indeed, more people mistake me for being younger when I’m out at night than during the day.
But I have to confess I have been lucky. When I look at this photo, although I have lived every one of my 54 years, I can’t see them. I think I look about 30.
As a teenager, I was built like a colt – all gangly arms and legs. After having Catherine at the age of 28, my body snapped back immediately. The same happened after my son James was born 21 months later. Since then, I’ve remained a size 10-12 and around 9st, which is just about right for my 5ft 6in frame.
My husband says I don’t have the ageing gene. He credits my youthful looks to what he calls my ‘seagull’ eyebrows, which give the illusion that I’m always perky.
It drives him nuts when I visit him at his office and sail past the security guards with nothing more than a flirtatious smile, while he still has to show his ID badge, even though he has worked there for more than a decade.
He’s right that I’m fortunate in my parentage. My 78-year-old father Frank O’Mahony was a professional footballer for Chelsea in his youth and is still very fit. A few years ago, he put my 78-year-old mother Betty on a weightlifting regimen when she complained about her flabby arms.
It ended with her crushing the wind out of her grandchildren when she hugged them. They could both easily pass for people in their 50s or early-60s.
But other than my fortunate genetic inheritance, how do I do it?
I am fanatical about spreading the message to women that the secret to looking young on the outside absolutely must come from within. It is a mistake to try to paper over cracks in one’s veneer when, in reality, as with an old building, you really need to work on the foundations.
Instead of consulting a plastic surgeon at 53, when I first noticed the signs of ageing, I spent my money on seeing a nutritionist.
At that point I’d just been through the menopause and developed some food intolerances, which meant that I suffered badly from bloating. My skin was dehydrated. I felt tired all the time, my memory was terrible and I’d started to lose weight.
My GP carried out tests, which all came back negative. So I decided to see if diet was to blame. I consulted nutritionist Justine Evans, who discovered that I’d developed an intolerance to milk.
It also turned out that I had very low levels of stomach acid, which meant I couldn’t digest my food or kill the bad bacteria that live naturally in our gut. It’s a common problem in women over 40 who are under stress, apparently. As a result, my body was low in minerals including magnesium and B vitamins, as I was unable to absorb nutrients however healthily I ate. This also accounted for my loss of memory, dry hair and ridged nails.
Justine suggested I take capsules of hydrochloric acid with pepsin with my meals, which help people with my sort of digestive problems. Within days of taking them I began to feel more like my old self. I also made a few tweaks to my diet. I eat good-quality protein such as organic chicken or fish, and organic vegetables every day. I always eat organic food where possible.
Within a month of starting this new regimen my skin was clearer and more luminous. I had so much more energy and my bloating disappeared.
My cosmetic routine is simple. I’m not fanatical about skincare and it’s been years since I had a facial. I use a cheap supermarket moisturiser and stopped putting my face in the sun when I hit 40. I only wish I’d done it sooner.
But there are other cosmetic ways to cheat the ageing process. I’ve been having highlights for decades, but when I turned 40 I switched from bleach-blonde hair dye, which can look harsh, to more forgiving caramel tones, which look warmer.
Many women decide to go for the chop after the age of 40, believing that long hair won’t suit them any more. This is nonsense. You can definitely get away with long hair, as long as it’s not stringy or dried out.
My teeth are one part of me that I’m tempted to ‘upgrade’ by bleaching them back to their original baby white. I have typically imperfect British teeth and when I’m with American girlfriends – all porcelain veneers and bleached white incisors – I’m tempted to visit the dentist, too.
But I’m put off by the fact that those same girlfriends’ teeth are so brilliantly white that they actually glow in the dark. Moderation is the key.
Exercise is important not just to keep me fit physically but because it really makes me feel good emotionally, and I have so much more energy when I do it.
Yoga and Pilates are great for women of my age, but I love walking. When I was at the height of menopause mayhem, my husband bought me an adorable chocolate labrador called Bailey – no doubt in a bid to get me out of the house. I go on a brisk hour-long walk with him every morning and another in the afternoon.
Then, of course, there is sex – another tricky area where I may incur the wrath of the sisterhood.
I say keep it going: fluctuating hormones during menopause can destroy libido and self-confidence, but I urge every woman to put aside time to deal with this and fight against it. It’s so important to keep the connection with your partner – and once you get back into the swing, you wonder why you avoided it for so long.
Attitude is just as important as any changes you make on the outside. Although my children are young adults now, I love spending time with them and their friends.
Age is all about attitude and energy, not a number. I don’t long to be in my 20s, 30s or even 40s. I have experienced life and hopefully have some wisdom and, in turn, confidence.
Ageing is something we do if we are lucky. And if you can do it while looking decades younger, you are doubly blessed.