Making fun of Madonna for daring to look good in middle age merely shows how envious we are

High-profile women over 50 generally start to fade out of the nation’s consciousness, whereas men can go on

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The Independent Online

I never thought I’d write these words, but I feel (a little bit) sorry for Madge. A 56-year-old woman has a nasty fall, and instead of sympathy, she’s an object of fun – the butt of jokes featuring stairlifts. She could have broken her back, for God’s sake.

Madonna is in a no-win situation. Her crime is to be middle-aged in a business driven by youth. Cynics are of the opinion that she’s desperate for attention, and will do anything to hog headlines, even to potentially faking what might have been a dangerous accident.

As another “elderly” person, I sympathise with Madonna. Twitter trolls regularly accuse me of being old any time I take issue with an airhead like reality “star” Kendra Wilkinson or an unpleasant individual like Katie Hopkins. At an age when some women are grannies, Madonna is flashing her bits and having sex with young men.

Before her wardrobe malfunction at the Brits, she’d already been targeted by Jimmy Carr. Presenting an award, Mr Controversial claimed Madonna’s dressing room “was full of drugs … but don’t worry, it’s all HRT”. As Richard Madeley correctly pointed out that, not only was this unfunny, but it was anti-women.

Madonna might be arrogant, manipulative, self-obsessed and narcissistic, but millions of album sales and countless tours attest to a phenomenally successful business, a brand that’s lasted three decades. Compare her career with that of top athletes and sportspeople who routinely sign off after 10 years and then spend their time endorsing products and trying to get gigs as commentators.

Madge (along with Elton, Mick, Bowie, Paul McCartney and plenty of other musicians of her generation) proves that if you’re good enough, you don’t stop selling tickets just because you’ve hit 50. Madonna was topping the bill at the Brits because everyone in the music business wanted to see her act. The resultant furore and tasteless jokes demonstrate our two-faced attitude to age.


High-profile women over 50 generally start to fade out of the nation’s consciousness, whereas men can go on and even sire more kids with younger replacement wives. Madonna is an uncomfortable (for some) reminder that it doesn’t have to be like that. She’s a poster girl for older women, yet she’s talked about as if it’s a “struggle” to look young, firm, fit and on trend.

Since the start of her career, she’s been utterly consistent, so why portray her life as a battle against time? As for picking a younger bloke, so what? In my forties I spent five years with one who was 23 and then picked a husband aged 26. Like Madonna, I do the same things I’ve always done and wear more or less the same clothes. Call it arrested development, but don’t pity us for behaving like teenagers. We are comfortable in our own skin.

Unlike, say, Kendra Wilkinson (who turned up at the Playboy mansion aged 18, posed nude at a party except for body paint), who shagged Hugh Hefner when he was in his eighties, Madonna actually enriches people’s lives. Her music has been the soundtrack to their happy and sad and special moments. Why mock a successful businesswoman for being “old”? Is it because we are secretly jealous?

Here’s the science of  death in a nutshell

A woman faces the camera and recounts the heartbreaking search for her brother – one of Chile’s “disappeared” – in the remote Atacama desert. On a windswept plateau 10,000ft above sea level, she describes finding his foot, still in a maroon sock, part of his nose, a few teeth and a section of smashed skull, with two bullet holes.

The legacy of the country’s 1973 military coup lives on, as grieving relatives comb through the stones searching for bones, now polished smooth by the elements. This sequence, from a film by Patricio Guzman, is pretty disturbing, and one of the reasons why a visit to the new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection is not for anyone with a nervous disposition.

Using artworks, historical specimens and photography, it traces the development of forensic science to solve crimes and reminds us of some uncomfortable truths about the inevitability of decomposition and decay.

In the 1940s, Chicago heiress Frances Glessner Lee built 18 exquisite dioramas – tiny dolls’ houses – depicting unsolved murders, known as the Nutshell studies, and they are still used today by Baltimore police to train detectives. Corinne May Botz spent seven years photographing the Nutshells, and her images are the highlight of this disturbing exhibition. Much stronger stuff than any episode of CSI.

It’s not all fluff and fun in the West End – and about time

Another unsettling experience, this time at the theatre. I’ve complained about the number of musicals and revivals in the West End, not to mention numerous lightweight shows based on movies, and I failed to warm to the RSC’s version of Wolf Hall, not a patch on the book. Thank goodness for The Nether, which has just transferred from the Royal Court to the Duke of York’s for a limited season.

Jennifer Haley’s award-winning play deals with a topical subject – the moral issues raised when people live out their revolting fantasies, role-playing on the internet. This single-act drama is a tough but thought-provoking watch, and the hi‑tech design and cast are superb.

The next day I read that a paedophile was awarded £20,000 in a landmark court ruling, after claiming his right to privacy had been breached by a Facebook page called Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators 2. The Nether asks us whether it’s acceptable for people to live out their fantasies online. Should they be protected by anonymity, or have their right to internet access denied? There are no easy answers.

Remember when land  was used to grow food?

Last year, Environment Secretary Liz Truss said that onshore solar farms were harming British food production and that the Government would be halting the subsidies (farmers get a grant of £100 an acre from a fund worth about £2m) this coming April. Hurrah!

Of course, the green lobby set about trashing Truss’s case, claiming there was no research to back her statement. Why are members of the green lobby such environmental philistines? Our precious countryside has already been blighted by wind farms, and now these monstrosities, plus a further 250 solar farms, the size of 10,000 football pitches, are in the pipeline.

Driving through Kent last weekend, I saw acres of agricultural land in the prime fruit- and vegetable-growing area of the UK covered with ugly panels. Land that used to be ancient orchards, and now we import a third of our apples.

The National Farmers’ Union says solar farms can coexist with livestock and arable farming. (Sheep can graze around the panels.) Will it say anything to get its members a subsidy? Funnily enough, the NFU has just issued a report claiming that in 25 years’ time, only half the UK’s food will be grown here, so why endorse solar farms?

I’d go further and make it mandatory for all new buildings and retail outlets to be covered in solar panels. And I’d pay farmers to return land to growing fruit and veg.