Editor-At-Large: Over 50, overweight and want a good job? Fat chance

"When you've a poor education, no cooking skills and think nutrition is a cream you slap on your face, counting calories, choosing fresh veg over frozen and cos lettuce over chips is a non-starter "
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The Independent Online

As the battle in Cabinet raged over demonising smokers last week, it's worth remembering that there's one group of people in Britain who truly are reviled: the obese. One in five adults is considered obese, and the Government is so concerned about overweight children that directives about school meals and vending machines spew from the Department for Education and Skills.

Now a survey reveals that more than nine out of 10 bosses would choose to hire a thin person over a fat one, even when they've got similar qualifications. Fatties are so bad for business that one in 10 of these bosses said they wouldn't want a large person to meet a client, and would even contemplate sacking a worker for being overweight. When 2,000 personnel officers were questioned, half of them thought the work of obese staff wouldn't be up to the standard of other employees of "normal size".

Doesn't this confirm that, in spite of all the hot air and management-speak about objectives, targets, qualifications and people skills, many employers look only for people that are easy on the eye? Fatties are generally excluded from mainstream TV (none on Strictly Come Dancing, for example) apart from comedies such as The Vicar of Dibley and the early-morning sofa.

Apart from being fat, the other big disqualification to getting a job today is being old (I mean over 40). If you are seeking an executive position, being female is often a disadvantage, too. In fact, if you want to be completely unemployable today, you'd be an overweight smoker over 50, like Ken Clarke, or an overweight woman over 50; step forward Ann Widdecombe.

Diddy Dave Cameron ticks all the right boxes: youthful, rides a bike, and most definitely isn't fat. Although he has been spotted puffing on the odd ciggie or two, apparently he is "trying to give up". As a survey shows, there are probably more people taking drugs in Britain today than there are smoking cigarettes. Of course, if you're a man who owns a successful company, size doesn't matter; Philip Green isn't exactly a streamlined non-smoker, is he? In the US, the huge retailing chain Wal-Mart (which owns Asda in the UK) has come under intense criticism because a secret memo revealed the company's vice-president talked of ways to discourage overweight people and those over 40 from applying for jobs.

Wal-Mart is known as a mean employer, and this memo discussed how the company could drive down its bill for staff healthcare and benefits by discouraging unhealthy people from working there. The company made £5bn profit last year, and is trying to rebuild its image with PR initiatives. Although it is notorious for its low rates of pay, it had the cheek to ask Congress to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour, saying millions of its customers were "struggling" to make ends meet. It didn't mention the fact that many of its workforce faced exactly the same problem.

But every political leader knows that to be seen as fat is a non-starter. So Tony Blair plays tennis, and Bill Clinton is like an evangelist with his post-heart op low-fat diet and daily golf. The truth is that being able to choose whether to be fat or thin is not an option for those coping in Britain on our pitiful minimum wage. Walk around any council estate in Sunderland or Manchester and almost every young girl is carrying rolls of excess fat. When you've got a poor education, no cooking skills and think nutrition is a cream you slap on your face, the idea of counting calories, choosing fresh veg over frozen and cos lettuce over chips is a non-starter. Our minimum wage will buy a healthy diet, if you've got the knowledge to know what foods to buy - and the time to find them and prepare them.

Why not take a stroll down to the National Gallery and worship the acres of dimpled pink flesh that fill room after room in the new Rubens exhibition. Far from being unemployable, these chunky women were exactly the right shape to serve as models for goddesses, mythical heroines, royals and saints. Next door, in the National Portrait Gallery, enjoy the buxom charms of Diana Dors photographed by Cornel Lucas. There's a wo-man who never lifted more than a ciggie and a pink gin, and she looks utterly desirable. Unlike our 21st-century equivalent, Madonna, Dors represents effortless femininity.

It's hypocritical: Double chin and bald on TV, those were the days

Clive James has a new book of essays out and one of them is about celebrity culture. Clive reckons we live in the age of the parasite: "Our best hope is that the celebrity culture is already discrediting itself. We should help it on its way downhill." Can this really be the same Clive James with whom I made a television series in 1978 called 'Saturday Night People'? The man who became so obsessed with how he looked that for one of his series a dozen chairs were purchased to try to stop him slumping and looking even fatter? The man who annoyed the cameraman so much that he yelled at him: "Look Clive, what do you want me to eliminate, the double chin or the bald head? I can't do both."

It's cynical: Charles flies in the face of his global warning

The Prince of Wales's moans about global warming seem a bit cynical when you consider he's flying to America for his state visit in a private jet. While he might drive an eco-friendly Prius in London, there are also the Aston Martin, the Bentley and several Range Rovers when he's out of town.

It's great! Unforgettable night at the theatre

Last night was the final performance this season at the English National Opera of Phyllida Lloyd's mesmeric production of Poulenc's 'The Carmelites'. The story of the execution of a group of nuns during the French Revolution doesn't sound like a promising plot, but the three hours were spellbinding: an unforgettable night in the theatre. After all the criticism, the ENO is having a good run and the rumours are that Anthony Minghella's new production of 'Madame Butterfly' which opens on 5 November is going to be sensational.