Charles, ignore the baby doomers. 70 is the age of boom and bloom
Just because the Prince of Wales doesn't like hitting the big seven-oh-no doesn't mean you have to
As a loyal British subject (also, half Welsh), I was looking forward to wishing Prince Charles a very happy 70th birthday on Wednesday, but then I read he may not be as happy about getting to this milestone as we think.
Speaking at an event in Brisbane, Australia, in April, the heir to the throne confessed he did not feel like it was that long since his parents were 70, remarking: “I do know and understand the strange feeling of disbelief that this is actually happening and that never again, for instance, will it be possible to squeeze into a pair of budgie-smugglers ... I don’t know about you, ladies and gentlemen, but now bits of me keep falling off at regular intervals.”
Since that interview, we have learnt via John Bridcut’s brilliant documentary, Prince, Son and Heir: Charles at 70, that he also shows no sign of slowing down, and can often be found face down in his notes on his desk when it is long past his bedtime. According to his eldest son, he also still manages to be “brilliant” with all three of his grandchildren.
Of course, it is common to have mixed feelings about a big birthday, but I have always been of the belief that 70 is merely 58 plus VAT. Having also celebrated (yes, I do mean that) my 70th recently, I think we need to embrace threescore years and 10 with optimism and positivity, and here’s why.
Most of us are convinced that with age comes forgetfulness and rusty memory cogs. Not true. In fact, research at the University of California showed that as you get older, your vocabulary, emotional intelligence and social skills often get better. Expertise and knowledge is not lost with age, but retained and recalled.
Also, research by Lewis Wolpert, emeritus professor of biology at University College London, concluded that you may be entering the happiest time of your life. “From their mid-40s, people tend to become more cheerful and optimistic, perhaps reaching a maximum happy level in their late 70s or 80s.”
Bar the odd Victor Meldrew among us, the ones who really cope the best with the passage of time are the ones that keep their sense of humour.
Prince Charles obviously has one, and even attempted a terrible joke about his age: “People keep telling me that I have brilliant genes – but I can't get into them either!”
As a comedy writer, I believe this sense of fun is the only sane way to cope with the inevitability of ageing – knowing that everyone is dealing with the same things.
I love the greetings card on which a seventy-something chap is standing at the foot of the stairs as his wife calls down: “I want you to come upstairs and make love to me!” His reply? “It’ll have to be one or the other!”
Susan Harris, the writer, realised this more than 25 years ago when she created the magnificent comedy The Golden Girls. Their stories and dramas were the same as any age group with the additional acknowledgement of the effects of old age. Remember Dorothy advising flighty Blanche to look down on to a mirror? When Blanche recoiled at her wrinkles, Dorothy observed: “That’s what you’ll look like from below. Never go on top!”
It’s also my observation that those who age best are those still working, in a job they love – still curious, with questing minds. Larry David and Billy Crystal, 71 and 70 respectively, reflect the reality and the truth, which is that we don’t feel any different inside, even though we may look different to everyone else.
Look at Sir David Attenborough – he’ll never retire and, for Prince Charles, the ultimate promotion still beckons.
Sir Mick Jagger, aged 75, still struts around the stage like a man several decades younger, and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, 70 this year, took on a new musical challenge, collaborating with the much-younger Alison Krauss.
Taking on new challenges at this age doesn't have to be climbing Everest or running the London Marathon. Just before my 70th, I moved to Suffolk, having spent my life in Surrey. We didn’t know a soul, but I wanted to live by the seaside and now, every morning, whatever the weather, I swim in the North Sea.
Our generation has changed the world – in terms of music, health and equal rights – and now it is up to us to change attitudes to ageing.
OK, there might be a spot of gum recession, trifocal glasses and few of us can get out of a chair without a groan but, inside, we’re dancing to the beat of Martha and the Vandellas even if some of us have had to pack away the budgie-smugglers for good. And that is something all of us should celebrate.
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