Age is but a number, according to Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren, who wasn’t pulling any punches discussing ageism and gender inequality when HELLO! Sat down with her in London.
“Whether you’re 25, 45 or 85, you look great for who you are, not for how old you are,” the star of The Queen said at a L’Oréal Paris event, for whom she stars in the Age Perfect campaign, shining the spotlight on mature skin.
At 78, Dame Helen is being true to her word, becoming a role model for older women and refusing to conform to society’s expectations about what she should wear or how she should look.
She’s now in her tenth year as an ambassador for beauty brand L’Oréal Paris and is using her platform to speak out about the double standards women face. We caught up with her to find out more…
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Dame Helen, how would you like to change society’s view of growing older?
I say celebrate it; don’t fight it. You die young or you get old and I don’t want to die young. I’m too interested in life. It’s wonderful, so celebrate that and enjoy it.
Have you ever felt judged for your age rather than your ability?
In my industry, there is an uncomfortable moment when you realise: ‘Oh, they didn’t want me because I was good, they wanted me because I was young.’ It hits you around your mid-30s. My mid-30s was over 30 years ago and it was a whole different attitude and understanding in those days. That was a pretty awful moment, actually, but I don’t think that’s the case any more. Life has changed considerably, for all kinds of reasons.
Have you experienced self-doubt?
Enormously – and I still do. I don’t know why human beings struggle through life questioning ourselves all the time. We all do.
In my whole career, the thing that has scared me the most is the thing that I feel I should do. The thing that looks like the most dangerous, the thing that I’m most likely to fail at, is the thing that I should jump into and attempt. If I fail or not, it doesn’t really matter. It’s the journey rather than the arrival, as they say.
Does that fear fade as you get older?
I don’t know if the fear gets less; we learn how to handle our fear, I guess that’s what it is. And you learn that it becomes less about you, which is one of the great advantages of getting older – you’re not so self-concerned all the time. It’s not all about you, it becomes about the wider world and it’s so much more interesting. You look outward much more than you look inward. It is completely liberating.
How old is the inner you?-
I’ve always said I’m not growing old, I’m growing up. I feel the age I am in the fullest possible sense, with all the curiosity, knowledge and fear I have about life. I love being the age I am. Why would I want to be someone else? I don’t.
Actor John Gilbert [a star of the silent film era] said: ‘It’s all in the spine,’ and it’s very true. I want you to do something right now: sit up and the energy immediately changes.
“t’s amazing. That feeling of: ‘This is my space. I’m taking it and filling it up,’ makes an enormous difference. So as you travel through life, keep taking your space and don’t let anyone else take it. There’s no one else in the world like you.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t smoke, it’s terrible for everything. And wear SPF.
When did you decide to embrace your silver hair?
I’ve been at the forefront of letting your hair do its thing and not being a slave to having your roots done. For some people, that’s great – I’m not making rules for anyone. I grew my hair long deliberately because I knew it was an unacceptable thing: old women with long grey hair. It’s good to break the rules, isn’t it? Just be a rule-breaker; it’s always a good idea.
Have you always experimented with your beauty routine?
I just don’t obey rules of any sort. And I love make-up. I love the way mascara can completely make your face look different. I just love playing around – I think that’s my actressy thing. I’m constantly wearing things that are completely inappropriate, but I love shaking it up.
I wasn’t so careful [with my skin] when I was young. I realise you have to care more and I do now. As an actor, wearing make-up every day, you have to take it off properly. I use a cleanser, a night cream and a day cream: L’Oréal Paris Midnight Night Cream for the evening and Golden Age Rosy Day Cream for the morning.
What’s the most liberating thing about getting older?
Having a sense of humour about the whole thing, if you can manage that. There’s nothing like having a good old chit-chat with someone of your own age over a few bottles of wine and having a laugh about it.
What messages should we pass on about ageing?
We absolutely need to change the language around ageing. Part of life is getting older, so the vocabulary is incredibly important. Without a doubt, as you get older, your confidence grows. One of the elements of getting older that makes you happy is you let go of those terrible, ridiculous insecurities you have when you’re young.
My mum always said to me: ‘Darling, never worry about getting older. When you’re 20, the thought of being 40 is terrifying but when you get to 40, you won’t want to be 20 again because you’ve gained more wonderful advantages.