Do ya think I'm sixty?

Rachel Hunter's decision to leave her husband Rod Stewart in order to `find herself' is another poignant reminder of the plight of the ageing rock star.

It's a tough life being an ageing rock megastar. One minute you're trolling round the stadia of America and Britain, singing, "Do ya think I'm sexy?" Then the next, your wife replies with, "Well, no I don't, now you come to mention it," and heads off to "find herself" without you.

And so it was that Rachel Hunter walked out on Rod Stewart, an event so momentous that it was announced on Radio 4's Today programme, right up there with the crisis in Sierra Leone and the latest disasters in Kosovo. Some might see this as another example of the BBC's infamous dumbing-down, a pathetic attempt to be trendy and demotic, like the church's equation of Jesus Christ and Che Guevara. But that would be to misunderstand the deeper significance of Rod's tragic love-split.

Here is a man who, barely three years ago, was getting togged up in a cream satin frock-coat to re-pledge his troth to his wife (in wedding- dress and fur-trimmed cloak), while Hello! magazine observed: "Their children, family and friends gather to witness the singer and his wife repeat their wedding vows in a romantic winter ceremony."

Just last August, he was telling Q magazine that "Rachel's a great woman. I can't find any fault with her." He boasted that, "I'm still very rampant, very horny all the time." And if the sex and rock 'n' roll were still in working order, so were the drugs. "I haven't stopped drinking, because she likes drinking too. She lets me do a little bit of substance. I never carry it, but if someone's got some I'll have a little line, and that will be the end of it."

You couldn't have hoped to find a happier rock hubby. But if Rod was contented, Rachel was not. Unattributed "friends" have told the tabloids that the Kiwi cutie was bored by her husband's lifestyle. When not working, he liked to sit around the house, tinkering with his train-set or watching the TV. From time to time, he'd get the lads round to kick a ball about the 118 x 84 yard football pitch he'd had specially-built at his Essex mansion, or take his Californian ex-pat pals off on football tours of the States. Trips to the pub would be spent "telling old war-stories and boozing" with his mates.

No wonder his pretty young bride felt dissatisfied, yearned to break free, longed for a world in which one could talk about something other than Scotland's World Cup campaigns, 1974-98. And here we get to the nub of it, the skull beneath the media skin. For the parting of the 54-year- old warbler and his 30-year-old spouse is not only a salutary warning to all rich middle-aged men contemplating the acquisition of a trophy wife, but also an elegiac reflection of passing time, worthy of deeper contemplation.

Rod is typical of an entire generation of rockers whose reputations were founded on youthful hedonism, but whose every instinct now cries out for a calmer life of carpet slippers and quiet nights in.

These are groovers who'd rather be geezers. They may have ludicrous amounts of money (Stewart's own fortune is estimated at between pounds 50-60m: he last year received pounds 9.2m for the rights to his next 12 years of publishing income), but their tastes and inclinations were formed almost half a century ago, in very different conditions to the ones they now inhabit.

Rod's friend and former band member Ronnie Wood, for example, will happily spend an afternoon in a Dublin pub, drinking Guinness, chatting about his dogs and his horses and the blues band he plays in with his brothers Art and Ted, both of whom are in their sixties. Ron would natter away all night, except that the missus tends to drag him back home, whereupon he trots off behind her like a penitent Afghan hound.

Similarly, Ron's current musical partner, Keith Richards, reminisces about the days of rationing, National Service, and a boyhood spent playing around old bomb-sites and gun-emplacements. When the last Stones tour ended, he wound down at his home in West Wittering, down on the Sussex retirement coast: "God's little acre," he calls it. Keith's a familiar figure in the Wittering pubs. He gave pounds 30,000 to the village-hall appeal. The locals love him.

Men like that should be settling down with sensible women, of their own age, who are happy to get on with their own interests - gardening, say, or charity work - while their partners play at being rock stars, or chunter with their chums in the pub. But a rock star's career depends on the illusion, however faded, of youthful vigour. His image, as well as his ego, demands a constant supply of fresh young flesh.

And so we have the tragic sight of Mick Jagger - a natural Tory, an expert on antiques, loves to spend a day at the cricket - getting himself caught up in a pathetic paternity case because he simply couldn't say no to a quickie with a Brazilian bimbo. So, too, the end of Rod Stewart's marriage will surely be followed by a binge of blonde models that will be as embarrassing for us to behold as it will be dissatisfying for him.

Rod knows this. Before he met Rachel Hunter, he was "flying birds in from everywhere and shagging them - I was so unhappy".

He is condemned to repeat this torment again. And yet, all the while, he will be longing for the days when he could play with his model trains, have a pint with his mates and then come home to the missus. Thus it is that the rake's progress comes, as always, to a miserable end. Pity poor Rodney. His situation is, by any definition, tragic.

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