I Want to be Helen Mirren

A few weeks ago, on an uncharacteristically warm February morning, I woke up with the realisation that I was now fifty years old. How did that happen? One minute I was in my school uniform, smoking behind the bike sheds and discussing whether or not our games teacher was a lesbian (she was), and the next minute I’m a fifty-year-old mother of three with a balding (but lovely) husband.

WTF? As my children would say.

There’s no denying it; it won’t be long before I am officially old. Although, as a breast cancer survivor, that’s by no means a certainty. But presuming I’m lucky enough to get much older, I thought it would be worth considering what kind of woman I want to be in my third act.

My first thought was Meryl Streep. I mean, who doesn’t love Meryl? She’s so gorgeous and poised and wise. But I couldn’t picture myself as Meryl. She’s just too aloof and elusive. 

I’ve always aspired to be elusive. When I turned up on my first day at University, that was my main aim. I wanted people to say “Do you know Clare Pooley?” and the response to be “Nobody really knows Clare Pooley.” Needless to say, by the end of Fresher’s Week, I’d told everyone my life story and innermost secrets, and here I am, three decades later, still over-sharing.

So Meryl is just too unattainable, and I’ve decided that Helen Mirren is who I’m going to be. Here’s why:

Helen Mirren would never wear beige

Once you get past fifty, people expect you to blend into the background, to start dressing for comfort rather than style, to wear beige. Helen Mirren is seventy-three, but would never be seen in elasticated waists or orthopeadic shoes, oh no.

In fact, when Helen was sixty-two, a photo of her on holiday in Puglia, wearing a bright red bikini on the beach made the front pages all over the world. And she looked amazing. She didn’t have a perfect body, obviously, but she wore the one she had with such panache.

So, from now on, whenever I’m buying clothes, I’m going to ask myself would Helen wear it? And I’m going to carry on wearing a bikini, however much my children grimace, and despite the fact that I only have 1.75 breasts (see above re breast cancer).

Helen Mirren swears like a trooper

I’ve never been a big fan of swearing. I’ve always thought it a bit obvious, expected and lazy. If I’m going to shout at someone, I like to do it with a little more originality. 

However, as you get older, people stop expecting you to swear. They expect you to say ‘gosh’ or ‘blimey’. Not Helen. She says fuck. Loudly, unapologetically and a lot. On live TV even. She says women have got to stop being polite. If I ever had children, which I don’t, the first thing I’d teach a girl of mine is the words ‘f-off.’ 

But never make the mistake of calling Helen ‘feisty.’ She says two phrases I hate in reference to female characters are ‘strong’ and ‘feisty.’ They really annoy me. It’s the most condescending thing. You say that about a three-year-old. It infantilises women. 

That told you.

So, in my sixth decade, I am going to drop the f-bomb with style. Regularly.

Helen Mirren is a girl’s girl

Helen likes men. She lived with the utterly gorgeous Liam Neeson for four years, back in the eighties, and has been married for over twenty years. But she says In my heart of hearts I love women more than I love men. I mean, sexuality aside – I loved my friend I had in college because there was a sense of camaraderie and physical closeness that doesn’t have to be sexual.

I totally agree, and I think that menopause, like puberty, is a time when female friendships are crucial. Who else can really understand what we’re going through?

Helen Mirren makes being child-free cool

I have no maternal instinct whatsoever, says Helen. Motherhood holds no interest for me…. I am so happy that I didn’t have children. Well, you know, because I’ve had freedom. And I’ve so loved my freedom.

For those of us without children, and those of us who are worrying about the ones we have leaving home, this is hugely refreshing. Instead of dreading empty-nest syndrome, I’m starting to think about all the things I could do and the places I could go.

Helen says I still have a Gypsy sense of adventure. I don’t think I have slept in the same bed for more than three or four months my whole life.

I have slept in the same bed for eighteen years. I obviously need to sleep in more beds.

Helen Mirren fights through fear

You’d think that after decades on film and the stage, Helen would have bags of confidence, but she says I still suffer terribly from stage fright. I get sick with fear…You just have to cope with it – take it on the chin and work through it, trying to use the adrenalin to perform.

And that’s what I’m going to do with the next decade. I’m going to take it on the chin and work through it. I’m going to perform. I’m going to cherish my girlfriends, and swear copiously, while travelling the world dressed in a bikini.

Just don’t call me feisty.

You can find all my blog posts on the ups and downs of life 45+ on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page, along with relevant newspaper articles and posts from contributing writers like the fabulous Lisa Timoney. 

Coming up next week: PELVIC FLOORED!