Drink, drugs, clubs - some people just don't grow out of it, says Eleanor Bailey
"Last weekend was a real bruiser. I only got 12 hours sleep over three nights," says Michael proudly. "I was at a party on Friday night until Saturday lunchtime. I went to a club on Saturday night and, thanks to a large amount of illegal substances, I kept going till Sunday breakfast time. Then, I just stayed up till Sunday night." Aah. Bless him. How wonderful to be young, enjoying the thrill of staying up all night! Only all is not as it seems. For this man is not 16, he's 33.

While students and young people are said to be becoming ever more sensible, bogged down by debts and career sweats, it is the solvent thirtysomethings who are enjoying a hedonistic renaissance. Over 30s with a job and no children are living it up with drink, drugs, clubs and casinos - as a way of life. "Faced with uncertainties in all areas of life, many thirtysomethings are holding onto an extended period of adolescence," says Andy Pemberton, assistant editor of Mixmag, the dance culture magazine. "For people who started going out in the late Eighties, drug use is part of the culture. It's so widespread it's not something they want to 'give up'. It's not like the Sixties generation who experimented a little then largely gave up."

It's all part of the phenomenon of generation-blurring started by the baby boomers, who weren't ready to spread comfortably into middle age at their natural time. They still wanted to be agenda setting. Now, the generation after them (always more interested in benders than agendas) sees no reason to stop a dissolute hedonistic lifestyle just because tradition dictates that it is time to settle down and be sensible.

The new freedom years are also a by-product of unpredictability. No- one knows what tomorrow will bring, so commitments are avoided. Thirtysomethings are less likely to have children, less likely to be married and less likely to be mortgaged to the hilt than previous generations, so there is a lot of spare cash around. Some of it may go into pension plans, but what's left goes into hedonism. "Thirtysomethings have more disposable income and leisure time," explains Professor John Collings, psychologist at Leeds Metropolitan University. "Often divorced or separated or just still single, they suddenly find themselves without responsibilities. There is no need to 'grow up'."

"I go to the casino a few times a week," says Shawna, 35. "I got into it after my divorce. I was married for six years and was very sensible and into decorating. After it was over, I went mad. I just wanted to enjoy myself. I thought, "I'm still young, why should I start behaving like my mother?" I am fairly well paid, I rent a flat with a friend, which is quite cheap, and I have a lot of spare time. Some of my friends have children and can't have the lifestyle I do. I can go out all Friday night and collapse all weekend eating chocolate and getting stoned. Maybe I should have grown out of it, but I haven't."

Men and women appear to be equally unwilling to take on the burden of children. Rachel, 32, is in PR. "I was a yuppie in my 20s. I beavered away at my 'career' job and I paid the mortgage and lived with my partner. When we split up, I stopped playing grown-up. I couldn't sell the flat because I was hit with massive negative equity. For the past two years I have been renting and the flat is let. It's made me take everything a lot less seriously. I got sick of the whole responsibility thing. I haven't been in a relationship since. I go out almost every night. I even dress younger. I have friends who've settled down and done the baby thing and I think 'Thank Christ I escaped'."

Her views are shared by Ben, 33, a journalist. "You'd probably look a bit sad at 50 if you were still off your face every weekend, but you can extend youth a lot longer these days. Plenty of my friends are in their late 30s and still take coke every weekend. I love having plenty of money and nothing but me to spend it on. The idea of having a wife and children is as alien now as it was when I was 18. I know I should save for a pension but, hey, I'm young. I do my job during the week and at weekends I go out and enjoy it."

Thirtysomethings are also staying abreast of new culture. They are more likely to enjoy new music than seek out a "late-Eighties night". Matthew Collin, author of Altered State, A History Of Acid House (Serpent's Tail), says this generation is able to "evolve" musically because they remain used to change. "They don't settle down into a long-term career or job for life anymore. People are becoming used to having to reinvent themselves and this applies to culture as well as work."

A mushrooming club culture means that there is something for everyone. There is no longer a club retirement age. "Saturday-night clubs with girls in fluffy bras and guys in satin shirts might not be the province of the thirtysomething," says Pemberton, "but there is a bunch of other niches in clubbing that appeal to older people. The Blue Note is a classic case of a club that is far more mellow, catering for older clientele."

"There is a hedonism industry now," says Professor Collings, "but in the past it simply wasn't possible for people to continue to do things as they got older."

There is, of course, a downside. Extending adolescence also means putting health at risk. Andrew McNeill, co-director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, says that the elongating of the single, heavy drinking years is a significant societal change and cause for concern. "Age groups have broken down and adolescence has extended into the 20s and 30s. You only have to look at the rise of the alcopops. People complained that it was aimed at teenagers, but the model was, in fact, 30 years old. The fact that someone is 30 no longer means that you can have any expectations about their lifestyle becoming more 'sensible'. Age is more to do with mentality now. People may be at greater risk of alcoholism but they are also becoming hooked on the lifestyle."


Joan Smith, journalist, 43, still goes clubbing with friends. "At an age when our mothers had settled down to a middle-aged lifestyle, which definitely didn't involve dating, staying out late and swopping stories about boyfriends, we're still having fun. Fun and sex."

Simon Hughes MP, 45, and Labour Party PR supremo Peter Mandelson, 43, are both regulars at the Ministry of Sound. Mandelson also has use of the chauffeur-driven limo donated by the Ministry to the Labour Party, which is pretty hedonistic, too.

Marie Helvin, model, 44, haunts parties, launches, openings, often accompanied by best-friend Jerry Hall (similar vintage). She wore a pounds 1,100 Versace number to Tiffany's tenth anniversary in Bond Street last year; has been spotted at Ministry of Sound.

Andrew Neil, journalist, 47, is a well-known habitue of clubs such as Annabel's and Tramp.

Liz Brewer, PR and social fixer "admits to being fortysomething", clocks up as many as 200 invitations a week and thinks nothing of going to a dozen parties or more.

Jon Snow, news presenter, 50, who still plays in a rock band, recently wrote about the joys of being a "new oldie". "External age has yet to cramp our mental style," he explained enthusiastically.

Dai Llewellyn, socialite, 50, is a frisky member of Annabel's and one of the founders of Kartouche, the "It Girl" hang-out in Fulham. Once, last year, however, door-staff failed to recognise him. "I suppose I must have looked prehistoric - some sort of daddy-generation person," he sighed.

Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer, 56, is a fan of "salon culture", but she has even been known to get up on the stage herself in an impromptu cabaret at Ruby's club in London's Soho.

Jibby Beane, gallery owner and club hostess, 55, is an enthusiastic goer- out and has been seen at the Disobey Club and the Met Bar among many others. "Middle age is just a silly label!" she says.

Peter Stringfellow, nightclub owner, 56 - enough said.