She’s head-over-heels in lust with her new husband, inspiring a trend for getting hitched over 70. But now, in an uproarious encounter Bake Off Queen Prue Leith pleads…Don’t call me the poster girl for geriatric sex!
- Prue Leith, 79, met second husband John Playfair, at a dinner party in 2011
- Bake Off star and John married in 2016 and she said they couldn’t be happier
- They still live in their separate properties as Prue is a neat freak and he is untidy
Today and every day, Prue Leith is on a mission to get older women like me to cheer up, buck up, ditch the witch in our wardrobe and embrace colour into our lives.
For on screen and off, the 79-year-old Great British Bake Off judge is noted for favouring the brightest of bright outfits; her trademark look is a kaleidoscope of strong hues, statement spectacles, outlandish jewellery and rainbow outfits.
She says that women are always telling her how much they admire her for wearing bright colours, but that they can’t do it themselves. Why is that?
‘Because they want to be invisible,’ she says. ‘I mean, I don’t want to insult you.’ Uh oh.
‘But look at you. You are wearing black. Top to toe. And the older I get, the more militant I am about the fact that older women seem to think they have to live in black. Or white. They won’t wear colour. They say they feel like mutton dressed as lamb.
Bake Off star Prue Leith has said the older she gets the more militant she is with the fact that older women seem to think they have to live in black. Or white
‘I tell them that’s absolute baloney. You should be more confident. One of life’s pleasures is feeling that you look good.’
But Prue, I protest. In the great aviary of life some of us are more sparrow than peacock. Some of us are quite happy to blend into the background in our blacks and navys and neutrals.
I am always going to be a blackbird — and what is wrong with that? Everything, apparently.
‘I hate this idea that older women are supposed to take a background seat, that the world belongs to the youth.
If you put on a yellow coat on a miserable morning, it cheers you up. Colour has a psychological lift, Jan! You know that thing when you go to a dinner party and the guy on one side of you doesn’t talk to you?’
‘Well, this might sound big-headed, but I don’t bother about that. I just think, well he is missing something. I think older women are more interesting than most people imagine, and that we should dress accordingly.’
To this end she has even collated a new range of knock ’em dead jewellery for semi-precious gemstone specialists, Lola Rose.
Prue, who said women should instead feel more confident with age, met her second husband, the Scottish fashion designer John Playfair (left), at a dinner party in 2011 and the pair got married in 2016
The cook and writer (pictured with daughter Li-Da Kruger,left, son Danny Kruger and his wife Emma, right) said she hated this idea that older women are supposed to take a background seat
For years Prue’s most flamboyant necklaces were made of plastic, but that is no longer ecologically acceptable.
In fact, it was getting embarrassing. When she was wearing one of her bolder pieces at a party recently, someone said to her; ‘So that’s where all the plastic straws went.’ A change was a-coming and it came in the form of magnesite and quartzite, jasper and agates.
‘As I am passing from 70 to 80, I’ve decided it’s time to be a bit classier. And the wonderful thing about Lola Rose is that it is not pompous jewellery.
It is not: ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to get my diamonds out of the safe and wear them.’ Anyway, how many people can afford diamonds?’
Well indeed! And wearing colour and those statement necklaces is only the beginning of it. We should also be open to the prospect of fresh outlooks, new husbands and more sex. Prue!
‘Well. I remember writing an article once about late life love. I got into trouble with my family and I don’t want to be the poster girl for geriatric sex, so let’s not go on about this.
‘My family have suffered enough! However I don’t know how long my sex life will go on for, but as far as I am concerned, the longer the better.’
She met her second husband, the Scottish fashion designer John Playfair, at a dinner party in 2011.
They were neighbours in the Cotswolds, but had somehow never met. He is seven years younger, rather dashing and wooed her with haggis dinners and gifts of daisy-shaped earrings from Chelsea jewellery mecca Butler & Wilson.
They married in 2016 and she couldn’t be happier.
Pure (pictured with Paul Hollywood and Bake Off winner David Atherton, centre) said she was delighted she had become a statistical trend when it came to the proportion over 70 walking down the aisle
‘I am giddy with the joy of it,’ she said back then. ‘Why shouldn’t we oldies be happy, fall in love, feel that rush of unadulterated happiness again? There’s nothing in the world like it — and it’s the same at 70 as it was at 17.’
They still live in their separate properties because he is so untidy and she is a neat freak.
‘He’s got hundreds of pairs of shoes, he is like Imelda Marcos,’ she tuts.
However, she has knocked down an old farmhouse on her estate and they are building a new home there which they will eventually move into together.
‘We call it our eventide home,’ she says. ‘And I tell Johnny that he is my current husband, not my second husband. But it is a joke because I hope he is a keeper. Oh, he is so lovely!’
To her delight, she has also become the name of a statistical trend. While the proportion of women in the UK who are married has dropped below 50 per cent, the ‘Prue Leith effect’ has seen an increase in women over 70 walking down the aisle.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 49.5 per cent of women were married in 2018, which was down from 50.8 per cent in 2008. However the proportion of women aged 70 and above marrying increased from 50.3 to 55.8 per cent.
‘Wonderful!’ says Prue. ‘And why not? Lots of older women say to me, I’d love to find love again. I miss the sex and I miss the cuddly companionship.
‘They are always asking if Johnny has a twin brother and please can’t you find me one just like him? My next business is going to be a dating agency for oldies. It would be a smash.’
Prue said she and her husband still live in their separate properties but are planning on moving in together when their new home is built (pictured together in 2016)
We meet for breakfast in London. Prue may have put on at least half a stone since she snapped her Achilles tendon earlier this year, but that is not going to stop her having a croissant this fine morning.
‘I put the weight on instantly because I was in a wheelchair for eight weeks. Then I thought, when I come out of the wheelchair and then off the crutches I will be good, but here I am, stuffing my face,’ she says cheerfully.
The accident happened when she was recording a Wizard Of Oz-themed trailer for The Great British Bake Off. Dressed as the Cowardly Lion at the time, she had to leap into the air on the yellow brick road and start roaring, but crash-landed awkwardly.
There is a metaphor for life in there somewhere, but the end result is that her left leg is still enclosed in an air boot and her normally effusive wardrobe is restricted to sombre plum- coloured tunic and navy trousers. ‘This is as muted as I get,’ she says.
Prue Leith has certainly found a late-life dazzle as one of the Bake Off judges — the latest series crowned its winner, David Atherton, last week, and she’s also a judge on Junior Bake Off, which started on Monday. Yet the amazing truth is that this is almost the least interesting thing about her.
In her 2012 autobiography Relish she revealed that as a young woman, she had a raging 13-year affair with author and businessman Rayne Kruger, who was not just almost 20 years older than she, but also the husband of her mother’s best friend and practically her godfather.
They eventually married in 1974, shortly after his divorce and three days before she gave birth to their son Danny.
A year later they adopted Li-Da, a 17-month-old Cambodian orphan. (Li-Da is now a documentary maker and Daniel was a speechwriter for David Cameron, responsible for the ‘hug a hoodie’ phrase. He now runs a charity for ex-offenders.)
After a long illness Rayne died of emphysema in 2002, when Prue was 62. Unhappy and in mourning, she thought the chapter of her life called romance had closed forever.
‘When he was really ill during the last few years of his life, I just thought that the sex part of my life was definitely over. I just did not feel any desire at all, not for other people, not for him. I just felt affectionate and loving.’
The last thing she expected was a renaissance of lust. Yet four years after Rayne died she fell in love with an old friend, businessman Sir Ernest Hall.
It had been ten years since she had sex and as she points out in Relish, ‘no sexual gratification could compensate for the embarrassment that undressing would have brought.’
Yet their romance lasted for three years; they even planned to marry. ‘He was wonderful,’ she says today.
‘I did fall totally in love with him and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.’ When they threw a mutual birthday party at his home in Lanzarote, she thought life was perfect — yet a month later she was gone. ‘I walked out on him.
‘Poor Ernest had really bad bipolar. I said to him, I can’t do this unless you keep taking your medication.’
He didn’t, they had a terrible quarrel and she left.
Prue has been a mother, cook, restaurateur, businesswoman, novelist and broadcaster — and she has made a success of them all, one brilliant career folding seamlessly into the next.
She joined Bake Off when it moved from BBC1 to C4 in 2017, when few believed that this posh, bespectacled woman who seized the pastry halo from the sainted Mary Berry would be a hit.
Yet viewers took to her, proving there is no business like choux business.
Last week’s finale drew a live audience of nearly seven million, but there are problems.
The addition of something called a ‘dairy week,’ Paul Hollywood’s fake huff when he stormed off the set (plus his remarks about diabetes), a strange lack of older female contestants and over-elaborate bakes in the technical challenges are just a few of the complaints about this year’s series.
‘Paul wasn’t being serious. He is a joker, is Paul. And I know that people sometimes say we’re getting too complicated but if we just made sponge cakes all the time they would be bored,’ rebuts Prue.
‘Channel 4 are always so careful about gender and age things. I honestly don’t know if it was an oversight but it certainly wouldn’t have been intentional to exclude women.’
She quotes positive statistics about audience share and says fewer people are watching television generally — but viewers do seem less engaged with the show this year.
For many of us, the gilt may be off the Bake Off gingerbread for ever, but Prue is not leaving any time soon. ‘I’m too competitive. Mary Berry was on it for seven years. I have done three, so I have to do another four at least.’
She only watches the programme if Johnny insists, because she absolutely hates seeing herself on television.
‘I am so vain,’ she wails. ‘All I can do is look at myself and think my gosh, she’s got too many chins. I look at my neck and go ‘owwww’. I think, do I look better smiling or not? Then the camera goes around the back and films all my fat places. It is a torture.’
She had her eyes done when she was 50 (‘I had these Irene Handl bags under my eyes. I looked like Nora Batty’), but thinks that women have more interesting faces if they have lived a bit. ‘It is a different kind of beauty.
I prefer it when they have a bit of lines on their faces and they are not all filled to hell. I have seen too many women who look like aliens.’
If she could wave a magic wand and look 20 years younger? ‘I’d probably do it. But what I tell myself is that Bake Off has been a huge success and people are really nice about me. They know what I look like from every angle and they don’t mind.
So why the hell should I? My husband loves me and he sees me first thing in the morning, with no slap on at all.’
The biggest beneficiary of the Prue Leith effect seems to be Prue Leith herself, despite her admission that ‘I can no longer pretend to be middle-aged, I am old.
I will be 80 soon.’ Yet in her case, living a younger life is all about attitude. She believes that a lot of older women ‘just think about themselves wrong’.
That they should not be content ‘in the backseat’ or give themselves over to grannydom.
‘Fine if you love it, but it doesn’t have to be your entire role.’
It is not something she excelled at herself.
‘Sometimes you have to do your granny duty and get strong-armed into watching a play or ballet or something, but I draw the line at the touchline. I’m not going to ever watch a rugby match in the freezing cold. I didn’t do it with my children and I am not going to do it now,’ she says.
What should older women be doing? ‘They should be having a bit of fun. Carve out a bit of me time. Say I’m going off to Spain, I’m going dancing, I’m buying a new wardrobe. A colourful wardrobe.’
We talk about the one non-black item in my wardrobe, a mint green coat I bought in a moment of madness. ‘Wear it,’ orders Prue. No, I argue. It is too loud. I don’t want to look like a Liquorice Allsort. I feel self-conscious.
‘Self-conscious is one way of putting it. Strutting your stuff is another. Jan, promise me you will wear it. Be the lady in the loud coat! Why ever not?’
Prue x Lola Rose Collection available at lolarose.co.uk
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