8 min read

Britain’s most inspiring female role models over 50

When looking at female role models who are over 50, there seems to be an awful lot of emphasis on glamour. Whilst we take our hats off to those that still look fab in their fifties and beyond, why are most of these role models defined by their beauty and not their brains? 

An older woman in a winter coat, talking on her mobile phone while standing the driveway of a large house.

We’ve looked a little deeper into what being ‘fabulous over 50’ means. Focusing on what women stand for and their contribution in their field of expertise, as well as any other roles they choose to take up.

There are lots of things that you can be inspirational for, but we’ve focused on the most extreme. Looking at women who are not afraid to touch on controversial topics, and those that are just simply passionate about what they believe in. They prove that making your mark as well as looking good can be achieved at any age.

Joanna Lumley OBE FRGs (68)

Joanna Lumley has had her fair share of slightly edgy roles in her time. She is most famous for playing Edina Monsoon’s best friend, Patsy Stone in the outrageous Absolutely Fabulous. A series which epitomizes our topic, especially as it propelled her back into the TV world in her fifties.

She is no stranger to the big or small screen, as the cool and capable Purdy in The New Avengers and the sci-fi heroin in Sapphire & Steel. Not to mention her roles in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Trail of the Pink Panther and James and the Giant Peach.

But it’s not just her acting prowess that gets her on our top five list. Behind her quiet exterior is a lady with a strong sense of character. In February 2013, she was named as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK by Woman’s Hour. This is possibly due to her passion for people. Lumley is best known for her support for Gurkhas, the exiled Tibetan people and government, the Kondha indigenous people of India and the Prospect Burma charity, which offers grants to Burmese students, for whom she broadcast a BBC Radio 4 charity appeal in 2001. Her father (a decorated Gurkha officer who fought in World War II), must have inspired her love for the Gurkhas. She has spoken out as a human rights activist for Survival International and the Gurkha Justice Campaign and is now considered a national treasure of Nepal.

Carol Vordeman MBE (53)

Best known for co-hosting the popular game show Countdown for 26 years, where her maths skills earned her a lot of respect from both her co-hosts and the public, she subsequently authored books on the subject, and secured a place in our hearts as the lady with the brains and the looks. The role and her subsequent work to help make maths simple and achievable by all, afforded her an Honorary Fellow at Bangor University in North Wales, and an Honorary Degree from the University of Bath.

Controversially, she left the show when a much younger model was recruited in her place. This fact has since been forgotten, as Carol re-invented herself with fitness regimes and a healthy eating plan. She not only proved that she has what it takes to turn things round, but she is arguably looking younger now than she was more than a decade ago.

Carol is currently co-presenting the Late Lunch, but clearly has an adventurous side to her as she recently became a pilot and there are rumours of an imminent solo flight across the Atlantic. She was voted UK Female Rear of the Year in 2011 and she became the first celebrity to win the award twice in 2014.

Mary Berry CBE (79)

Mary Berry is a late contender in many ways. She has only recently come to the forefront as a force to be reckoned with on The Great British Bake Off. However, she’s been a long established cookery presenter and author for years, with more than 70 cookery books under her belt. As an occasional contributor to Woman’s Hour and Saturday Kitchen, Mary has won the hearts of so many who covet her cooking skills. Mary’s quintessential British-ness is a great bonus for the Bake off. Wouldn’t we all just love a grandma like her.

Janet Street Porter (67)

Nothing more or less than a treasured great British Battle Axe. Known for her outlandish and outspoken nature, Janet started out life as a journalist and eventually rose to Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She relinquished in favour of Editor at Large in 2002.  In 2000, she was nominated for the Mae West Award for the Most Outspoken Woman in the Industry at Carlton Television’s Women in Film and Television Awards.

She has fixed views on animal welfare and shares these regularly with anyone who will listen. A trait that possibly gained her the role as a field correspondent on the F-Word in 2002. In this capacity, it was her job to locate unusual food such as crocodile for example, and then tempt diners to have a taste. In the third series of the show, she caused controversy when she attempted to serve up horse meat at Cheltenham Racecourse. She was thwarted by the police, who described the stunt as highly provocative, and was forced to dish the meat out elsewhere.

Janet is most recently known for her controversial views as a panellist on the Late Lunch, and was once the President of The Ramblers Association.

Vivienne Westwood OBE, RDI (73)

Dame Vivienne Westwood is probably one of the most controversial English fashion designers and businesswomen of this century. She is largely responsible for making modern punk and new wave fashions mainstream. As well as adorning many celebs and royals, Westwood’s designs were featured in the 2008 Sex and the City film.

In April 1989, Westwood appeared on the cover of Tatler dressed as then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The suit that Westwood wore had been ordered for Thatcher but had not yet been delivered. In 1992, Westwood was awarded an OBE, which she collected from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. At the ceremony, Westwood was knicker-less.

These strong ladies have used very different approaches to reach the top of their game. You have to be comfortable in your skin, and these women all seem like they have their own version of what that feels like.

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