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Age is but a Number

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So this blog was triggered by a few things – some light weight and some more poignant but all of them share a common theme.

Let’s start with the fluff… I was watching “Frankie and Grace” on Netflix starring the inimitable quartet of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston. With a combined age of 306, these actors bring credibility to an unlikely story line. Created by TV veteran Marta Kauffman who has a stellar roster of hits under her belt including “Friends” and “Veronica’s Closet”, this show reveals that even in your 70’s the same life issues around love, sex, self esteem and hope remain a challenge and a source of brilliant comedy. The show has been commissioned for its third series and has resonated across generations giving the wonderful stars who are all in their 70’s an extended blast of career energy. Age is but a number.

On a personal basis two women close to me have turned 80 this year. One is my mum. Born in NYC, she ended up making her home in London from 1958 after falling for my Dad. She is sassy and fun – a party girl who still keeps an action-packed social life, leads Big Band evenings and volunteers as a waitress in the church coffee shop. All this despite losing her husband, her soulmate and my Dad, 15 years ago. And what a loss he was. He was 21 years older than my mum, and well meaning but ill advised friends mentioned to her when he got sick, “well you must have know this would happen when you married him”. No she didn’t. She fell in love and made a terrific life. Age was but a number. And at the age of 80 she has just ferociously negotiated her first flat purchase, dealt with all the paper work and is now making a whole new home.

The other lady is my Auntie Bette who, lucky for me, became my aunt when I got married. She and her husband Alf ran a business together and were together 24/7 for nearly 60 years. When Alf died last December none of us were sure how Bette would cope. But this elegant and strong lady has wowed us all, nailing many tough ‘firsts’, learning tai chi and just this week hosting a dinner party to mark her special birthday complete with a heartbreaking speech. Age is but a number.

My Dad was 47 when he had me. He told me that my mum and me were the best and most unexpected thing that happened to him. He was an old school gentleman, not dissimilar in looks to David Niven and an entrepreneur. He set up his last business in marketing at the age of 69 and sold it a few years later. Despite then having a serious stroke that paralysed him, he spent years working in the city of London as an enterprise advisor for young businesses. He said he’d watch people’s faces fall when they would come into the office and see an “old guy in a wheelchair” but very soon they would realise that his wit, brain and experience was sharp and beneficial. Age was but a number.

This week we saw the launch of Ron Howard’s documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years” with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reuniting for the launch and Yoko Ono attending along with Madonna. The Beatles continue to hold such passion and respect all these years later and these two (brown haired!) stars made widespread and celebratory media coverage. Similarly the brilliant “Exhibitionsim ” Rolling Stones installation at the Saatchi gallery was packed by all ages – their cultural impact universally resonating. Age is but a number.

So by now we know the theme of this blog. But what triggered it is that this older generation have so much to give and this age slot is only going to increase.

Those 80 or over are now only slightly more than 1 per cent of the total human population. This proportion is projected to increase almost fourfold over the next 50 years, to reach 4.1 per cent in 2050. Currently, only one country, Sweden, has more than 5 per cent in this age group. By 2050 the over-80 age group is projected to number almost 379 million worldwide, about 5.5 times as many as in 2000 (69 million persons). In 1950, persons over 80 numbered less than 14 million (source Un.org).

What bothers me is that in the worlds of tech, marketing and culture, we are inspired by and so strongly pivot towards the young. What are we missing by not embracing, learning and hearing stories from our vintage folk? I loved reading about an old people’s home in Holland that enable students to stay for free in return for spending time with inhabitants. The older generation have learned about tech and social networks and the students have lost their fear of aging and listened to stories of romance, war and priceless experience.

So age is but a number. We should embrace the opportunities that are afforded by this vibrant and rich older generation. And in the words of Sophia Loren, “ There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”

Jackie Cooper is global chair, creative strategy.

Image: mar_chm1982 / Shutterstock.com
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