You're only as old as the woman you feel

And in the case of 84-year-old Hugh Hefner, that's 24 – the age of his latest wife-to-be

Proving it is never too late to find love, Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine – and the most famous wearer of dressing gowns in America – has become engaged again at the advanced age of 84, making this what he says is "the happiest Christmas weekend in memory".

The octogenarian lothario popped the question to his current "number one girlfriend", Crystal Harris, at the Playboy Mansion on Christmas Eve, meaning that the British-American glamour model, singer and actress will soon become the third Mrs Hefner.

Ms Harris is 24 years old and the daughter of two British amusement park entertainers who moved to the United States.

In the new year, there will be issues of romantic disentanglement and questions over the future of Hefner's reality TV show, The Girls Next Door, which follows life at the mansion and the legendary womaniser's relationship with a trio of girlfriends, who – as well as Ms Harris – include the 21-year-old identical twins, Kristina and Karissa Shannon. For now, though, all is giddy excitement in the mansion, at least according to Hefner's Twitter feed, where he hinted at his latest engagement on Christmas Day.

"After the movie tonight, Crystal & I exchanged gifts. I gave Crystal a ring. A truly memorable Christmas Eve," he wrote, adding: "When I gave Crystal the ring, she burst into tears. This is the happiest Christmas weekend in memory." And yesterday, he made it unambiguous: "Yes, the ring I gave Crystal is an engagement ring. I didn't mean to make a mystery out of it. A very merry Christmas to all."

Ms Harris caught Hefner's eye in 2008, while she was studying psychology at San Diego University and was modelling on the side. She met the entrepreneur that year and the pair quickly became romantically involved. This time last year she was feted as Playmate of the Month in his magazine and had joined the cast of Playboy Bunnies living at the mansion and featured in The Girls Next Door. A YouTube clip of her trying on sexy Halloween outfits for her husband-to-be was a minor internet sensation earlier this year.

Hefner divorced his second wife – another former Playmate Kimberley Conrad and 36 years his junior, with whom he had two of his four children – last year. They had split up 11 years earlier, but she and their children had continued to live in a cottage next door to the Playboy mansion.

The impresario was first married to his university sweetheart Mildred Williams, who was the mother of his first son and daughter, for 10 years in the fifties. While Hefner is living out his eighties as a reality TV saga and Twitter phenomenon, his business empire has lost much of its glamour and shine, as the deluge of free pornography on the internet rendered his flagship magazine and pay-TV channels like something from a bygone era. The company is trying to turn itself – rather like "Hef" himself – into a brand, which can license the Playboy bunny logo for use on casinos, nightclubs, clothing lines and other merchandising.

Age is nothing but a number

* Anna Nicole Smith and J Howard Marshall: 62-year gap

Putting even Hefner and Harris in the shade with an age gap five years bigger, the 1994 marriage between model Smith and oil tycoon Marshall ended with his death at 90. Although Smith herself is now dead, the legal wrangle over her husband's estate is still ongoing.

* Peter Stringfellow and Bella Wright: 43 years

The UK's closest equivalent to Hefner, the 70-year-old strip club owner married Wright, a 27-year-old former Royal Ballet dancer, last year.

* Sam Taylor-Wood and Aaron Johnson: 23 years

The 43-year-old film-maker and artist announced her engagement to Mr Johnson, 20, in October last year. Taylor-Wood said: "We're in a loving relationship. We're engaged. Everyone who matters is happy. Hang on... exactly which bit of that do I have to defend or apologise for?"

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