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50 over 50: day five
March 11, 2011 | By: High50

This week we are listing, in reverse order of age, the 50 public figures over 50 who we feel have most made their mark on the world. Read the final ten

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Wayne Coyne, 13 January 1961

Usually when a band is labelled as avant garde you can bet your socks you won’t be singing along to their songs, but the Flaming Lips are a happy exception to this rule. Epic, psychedelic and utterly tuneful, they’re also so out there they’re almost stellar thanks to frontman Wayne Coyne’s limitless imagination. Long before zorbing was commonplace he was rolling over his audiences in a clear plastic ball. Fan participation is encouraged, whether invited on stage to dress up and dance as a yeti, alien or furry animal, or to take part in sonic experiences such as The Parking Lot Experiment, where car cassette players were transformed into an automobile symphony. Most weirdly, Coyne has been pictured on Google Streetview in his bath on the lawn of his house in Oklahoma City. Glad to see he’s growing up disgracefully.


Wayne Hemingway, 19 January 1961

Wayne Hemingway’s achievements, which include being a recent high50 contributor, are almost too plentiful to list. Hemingway, born in the cockle-picking paradise of Morecambe, somewhat inexplicably to a Native American father, headed to London as a young man. Camden market to be precise, where he and wife Gerardine flogged the contents of their wardrobe for cash. Before long they had founded fashion label Red or Dead (the ‘Red’ from ‘Red Indian’) and Wayne picked up the British Fashion Council’s Streetstyle Designer of the Year Award for three consecutive years in the Nineties. After selling Red or Dead, he set up HemingwayDesign and specialised in socially minded urban design. Right now, he’ll be recovering from the second annual Vintage festival, where the genial Lancastrian curated, gave tours, DJed and answered silly questions from the likes of us. And now his kids are old enough to be involved with the business, it’s nice to see someone keep things in the family.

Ali Hewson, 23 March 1961

When your husband is a multimillionaire musician who is as much at home hob-nobbing with the leader of the free world as he is with rock royalty, you might feel a tad overshadowed or even just inclined to blow all that moolah on clothes, champagne and Chihuahuas. But Ali Hewson (Mrs Bono to you) has seized an opportunity by using those contacts to drive through a number of philanthropic projects. She is a patron of Chernobyl Children’s Project International, and campaigns for Greenpeace and against third world poverty. She has co-founded a fashion line that encourages fair trade with third world nations and the abolition of sweatshops and child labour. And she has one of the longest-lasting relationships in rockdom: they’ve been together for 36 years, married for 29. Let’s hope for her sake Bono takes off his shades when he goes to bed.

Beeban Kidron, 2 May 1961

Kidron has been a player for decades. Having worked with legendary photographer Eve Arnold while still a teenager, film school followed and then began an acclaimed career as a director. Variety is the name of the game: television documentaries and drama (Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit , which she directed, has been named the eighth best TV series of all time), as well as cinema blockbusters such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. In the same way that Jamie Oliver is on a mission to inspire kids to cook, Kidron wants to get them behind the camera. She is a founder of FilmClub, an educational charity that runs more than 5,000 after-school film clubs across the UK. Its resounding success has proved, she says, that children have an appetite for film. Hollywood, watch out.

George Clooney, 6 May 1961

It will come as no surprise to you that Mr Clooney is on this list. In fact, barring his commitment-hungry ex-girlfriends, it’s hard to think of anyone – male or female – who dislikes George. Much like good friend Brad Pitt, he has proved time and time again that he’s got actual talent to compliment that handsome face. His growing preference for indie flicks has shown off his acting prowess. In fact, if you want a masterclass in screen chemistry, just watch Clooney sizzle with J-Lo in the boot of a car in 1998’s Out Of Sight. As a director, his gorgeously-shot Goodnight & Good Luck landed him Oscar nominations, while his name appears as producer on some of the edgiest films of the past few years. Away from all things filmic, his political clout earns him audiences with the President due to his work in the Sudan, and he’s recently been linked romantically to a female wrestler. Time magazine regularly includes him in its list of the world’s most influential people. He is funny and charming in every interview he gives. He is willing to send himself up. He likes animals…. Everyone loves him, is what we’re getting at. And deservedly so.

Aaron Sorkin, 9 June 1961

Given that our panel is made up of writers, the sense of reverence in the room when Sorkin’s name came up was palpable. The screenwriter extraordinaire has an unrivalled knack of crafting some of the finest on-screen dialogue ever witnessed; at turns literate, polemical, witty, dumb and poignant at a rate of knots, and often in the same line. As a graduate in New York, the young Aaron Sorkin was a promising playwright. But it was when he adapted his play A Few Good Men for the big screen, complete with its famed “you can’t handle the truth!” speech, that he truly arrived. Some years later came The West Wing, perhaps one of the finest shows of our time. Its frantic scripts were often written by a drug-addled Sorkin just hours before filming began. After overcoming long-term addiction problems (something addressed in the underrated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,) he returned to film work and won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for last year’s The Social Network. The fact he is currently working on a new show set in a newsroom has got us all aquiver. Our TV screens need you Aaron!

Ricky Gervais, 24 June 1961

Fifteen years ago, he was a failed musician, who seemed to be taking the same route in radio. Five years later, the little fat man was being hailed as the genius behind The Office, and we wondered if he had peaked. Today, he is a worldwide star, with swanky homes in London and America (where he has franchised his first show and landed roles in several Hollywood movies). He holds the record for the most-downloaded podcast of all time, has written a series of best-selling Flanimals books and proved to be one of the best stand-ups in the English-speaking world. You could forgive him for being self-satisfied, yet Gervais is still full of surprises. When criticised for his ticket prices at the Edinburgh Festival, he held firm, but gave his take to charity. His compering of the Golden Globes this year was a celebrity ego-puncturing tour de force. And as our own Guy Evans wrote on this site: “How can you resist an entertainer who puts a quote from a Daily Mail review – ‘Tasteless and unfunny’ – on the publicity billboards for one of his own DVDs?” The little fat man who started late has become a big, big star.

Meera Syal, 27 June 1961

Not many 40-year-old actresses would relish being best known for donning the guise of a cranky old granny, which is what Meera Syal did when she created the character Sushil Ummi Kumar, who she played for five years in award-winning comedy The Kumars at No 42. But for Syal, acting is not about the glitz. “I’m a character actress,” she says. “It used to be seen as a derogatory term but I’d rather play interesting women than be window dressing.” As a jobbing actress, she has appeared in TV shows including Holby City, Minder, Bad Girls and Doctor Who as well as numerous character roles in film. As a writer she has penned two movie screenplays, several TV series and five productions for theatre; two novels (one of which is part of the English syllabus) and many radio documentaries. Did we mention the number one hit record? Clever, funny and hard-working: a winning combination.

Carl Lewis, 1 July 1961

This is the second entrant on our list who has gone from athletics to politics, this time on the other side of the Atlantic. In Birmingham, Alabama, at age 13, a leggy young boy by the name of Frederick Carlton Lewis started to compete in the long jump at his parent’s athletics club. His prowess led him to the University of Texas and the tutelage of Tom Tellez, telling him upon meeting: “I want to be a millionaire and I don’t ever want a proper job.” He got his wish and as the Eighties arrived Lewis had developed into a prodigious sprinter as well as racking up numerous long jump records and an impressive four gold medals in the 1984 Olympics. His self-congratulatory manner rubbed some up the wrong way but he brought showmanship and flair to a flagging sport. He suffered the seemingly compulsory drug ban after taking cold medication, but rose above it to be named Olympian of the Century by Sports Illustrated. Such is his popularity that his latest race, for Democratic senator in New Jersey State, was won uncontested.

Tom Ford, 27 August 1961

Much is written about the cultural impact of New York’s legendary Studio 54 club. Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Mick ’n’ Bianca and Debbie Harry were just a few of its famous regulars, but frequenting the dancefloor in its later years was a young Texan who would change the face of modern fashion. Thomas Carlyle Ford was an architecture student at the time but a stint interning in the press office of French couturiers Chloé set him on a path of sartorial success. After bombarding sportswear company Cathy Hardwick with daily phone calls, he landed a post-university job as design assistant. Four years later he was hired by Gucci, becoming creative director in 1994 and transforming the company’s fortune. His own label, Tom Ford, followed, to great acclaim, and in 2009 he moved effortlessly into film directing with A Single Man. A true creative powerhouse for our age.