Angela's not one for a change
Angela Rippon talks to Noreen Barr about conquering life, love and the menopause, with equal gusto. Now happy to be single and happy to be 60, she is out to banish Victorian ideas surrounding the change?
Angela Rippon hoots with laughter as she describes a recent episode of the television show she adores - Desperate Housewives. Bree, she recounts gleefully, spanked, actually put over her knee and spanked, one of her neighbour's tearaway kids. And she mimes the chastisement for extra effect. It's hard to imagine the immaculate Angela - the BBC's first woman newsreader - doing anything so slovenly as slumping down on her sofa to watch trash TV.
At 60, she still looks fabulous and is flawlessly groomed. The legs, that stunned the nation in the 70s when they emerged from behind her newsdesk to high-kick on a Morecambe And Wise Show, are still in perfect shape. Her body is trim and toned in a creaseless powder-blue trouser suit. Not a hair on her head dares to be out of place and her cheeks are silky smooth, even if there is now a crisscross of crow's feet around her eyes. "Morning miracle with the Polyfilla and the hair lacquer," she says dismissively, when asked how she manages to keep herself so glamorous.
I suspect that her sternly disciplined exercise regime and diet have more to do with it. Especially as she is lunching on a salad, with a banana for afters and renounces tea to sip cups of hot water. Angela is talking to us today, in a bid to sweep aside negative, Victorian ideas about the menopause and show that a woman's life is far from over when she hits the first hot flush. Forget worrying about mood swings, followed by a descent into brittle bones and little old ladyhood - her message is that modern women can "deal with it" and get on with their busy lives.
"If I thought about it at all it was in a positive way. I can't prevent it, I can't stop it, it's natural, it's going to happen because I'm a woman and that's what happens."
When Angela was facing the menopause a decade ago, she did not even consider the fears that seem to affect many other women. "If I thought about it at all," she says brightly, "it was in a positive way - I can't prevent it, I can't stop it, it's natural, it's going to happen because I'm a woman and that's what happens. I suppose I just thought, 'Great, no more periods. That'll be fine.' I didn't think about the rest of it. I just thought, 'Probably, I'll get hot flushes, I don't know, but whatever it is, I'll deal with it.'"
In the event, she took HRT for five years - but only because she is lactose intolerant so eats no dairy products and her doctor was worried that a resultant lack of calcium in her diet could lead to osteoporosis. The drugs were prescribed to keep her bones strong. "When I stopped taking HRT, I had a few hot flushes but I started taking red clover as an alternative and it managed my menopause. If I had a hot flush, it was like 30 seconds. I would sometimes sit in a taxi and think, 'It's a bit hot in here,' but that's fine."
Aside from that, she says, "I've just gone on being me really." And she adds gamely, "The menopause should be something you don't care about." But Angela, let's face it, has always had something of the Girl Guide about her. Always looking on the bright side, not showing any vulnerability, chivvying along the rest of the troops.
In 1989, when she was 45-years-old, she was left by her engineer husband, Chris Dare. He was her childhood sweetheart, she'd fallen in love with him at a YMCA dance when she was 17, wed him at 22 and they'd spent their married life in an idyllic 17th century cottage on the edge of Dartmoor. She kept her chin up in public and didn't announce the breakup for more than a year, by which time Chris was sharing his life with a local divorcee, Judy Gray and her two teenage children. When she reached her menopause a few years later, I muse, surely her unexpectedly single status must have made going through the change more difficult, especially as Angela and Chris never had children and when she wanted to adopt, he didn't. "I don't think it did because it wasn't an acrimonious split," she insists. "It was a stress, of course it was. It was a very stressful period for all sorts of reasons. My immediate feeling was, 'Oh God, I've failed at this.' "But in fact, he and I are still good friends. I talk to him on the phone a couple of times a month. We email each other. He lives in Spain now with his partner, with Judy. We exchange cards at birthdays and Christmas. "Judy kind of updates me on what they're doing with their home down in Spain. It's a good relationship for all of us."
For some childless women, reaching the menopause is difficult because it means that their chance of having a family is gone forever. But Angela insists it made no difference to her because she is "blessed" with a wonderful godson and two honorary goddaughters, the children of her two closest friends. She says: "I've had young people around me. I was there when they were babies and I've seen them grow up so I feel as if I've got a kind of surrogate family. So much so that we were talking, a couple of years ago, about growing old. I said, 'Don't worry, darlings, when I grow old I shall look after myself.' And my godchildren who were there said: 'That's all right, Auntie Ang, we've already decided, we'll take care of you.'" She breaks into peals of laughter at this thought and points out they'll have their own parents to look after. Indeed, it's hard to imagine her ever becoming a little old lady in need of care. Still full of vigour, she presents a three-hour news and current affairs programme, Live With Angela Rippon, every Saturday and Sunday on the ITV News Channel, which she describes as "one hell of a roller coaster". And as a contributor to the BBC Holiday programme, she has abseiled down Table Mountain and gone diving with great white sharks.
These days, she says, she is much more confident than when she as younger and can even take making mistakes in her stride. "By the time you reach my age, you think, 'Well I'm still here so I must have done something right so it's not the end of the world, dig yourself out of that hole."
"I have a very absorbing and fulfilling career in television, I have lots of outside interests and I have the most wonderful collection of friends. So I have a great single woman's life, actually."
Even being single is apparently lovely: "If I wasn't going to be married, then the lifestyle I've got is wonderful. "I have a very absorbing and fulfilling career in television, I have lots of outside interests and I have the most wonderful collection of friends, down in Devon still, in France where I spend part of the year, in London. So I have a great single woman's life, actually."
She has "lots of wonderful men friends", but she steadfastly refuses to be drawn on whether there is someone particularly special. Putting on her brightest, don't-mess smile, she pronounces: "Even if I did, I wouldn't say. I never do. I'm very discreet." But love, she admits, does still matter to her. "I think it's totally different when you're 60. The passion can still be there and is still there but when you're young, I think, perhaps lust overtakes an awful lot of people, rather than love very often.
"At 60, you have life experience so I think you look for different things in a relationship. You look for companionship, you're more interested in being with someone who shares the same ideas and lifestyle that you do. Someone you know you can be happy with for the rest of your life." But it's not as if sexual attraction doesn't come into it, she says: "I think men and women can be very sexy when they're older. I don't think age has anything to do with being sexy. I think younger people think being sexy means just having sex, whereas when you get older it doesn't have to mean that at all.
Angela, still has that x-factor herself, though when I suggest it, she laughs: "Oh, I've no idea!" But she does work hard on her appearance. There's her strict exercise regime, that begins every morning with at least 10 minutes of yoga and a series of stretching exercises. She plays "a good four hours" of tennis each week and swims 40 lengths at least a couple of times a week, more in the summer. In winter, she skis and she still occasionally goes horse-riding. There's her admirable diet. She avoids wheat as well as dairy products and eats lots of fresh fruit and veg. And to keep strong post-menopause, she takes a range of supplements, including red clover each day, cod liver oil and calcium tablets.
On the beauty front, she relies on acupuncture sessions every six weeks on the muscle points on her face. "It just kind of keeps the muscles toned." Botox, she says with a grimace, is not for her. "I did it once for an article but I'd never do it again. It was like having a plaster on my forehead all the time for two months because the skin was pulled taut. If you've got an expressive face, I don't see the point of having it like a flat mask." But Angela stresses that she would never say others shouldn't do it. The same goes for plastic surgery. Though she has no interest in going under the knife she says others should go ahead if that's what they want. And she adds: "Maybe if I'm 70 and still leading the life of Riley, I may think, 'Oh yes, I'll have the odd nip and tuck."
Angela - who is promoting a report, entitled Menopause Redefined: time for a positive change, which was written by a Scottish GP and looks at why negative, Victorian attitudes about the menopause still exist. Though life during and after the menopause has been great for her, she realises that some struggle with the change. One lady, whom she met recently, sobbed with fear at the thought of what was about to happen to her. But 21st century women, she says, have HRT, alternative remedies and a wealth of scientific knowledge to help them deal with it and if a sympathetic prod from Angela helps, that's all to the good. "I've met women who just need someone to say, 'It's all right,' she soothes, "and if that person has to be me, that's fine."
And how could you not have hope, when you see just how sexy Angela is at 60?
Anyone wishing to read the Menopause Redefined report or find out how they can help treat their menopause they should call 0845 3303230 or visit www.menopauseredefined.com
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