50 over 50: day three
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 Thursday's ten



Nigella Lawson, 6 January 1960

Before settling into seductively licking her fingers for a living, the young Miss Lawson was a keen writer, landing a post-Oxford gig at The Spectator reviewing books. While always keen on cookery, it took a dinner party host defeated by a crème brûlée to inspire her first book, How To Eat. Nigella never looked back and the self-styled Domestic Goddess moved effortlessly to TV. She has met criticism along the way, for her flirtatious presenting style and for her weight, but she has remained defiant throughout, distancing herself from the celebrity tag and claiming she cooks purely for enjoyment. She still has an uncanny knack to dictate the most popular products in Waitrose and her propensity to be outspoken actually endears her further. The title of National Treasure can’t be far away.

Grayson Perry, 24 March 1960

Pottery provocateur Perry was first propelled into our public consciousness when he scooped the Turner Prize in 2003, famously dressed as his frock-wearing alter-ego Claire. His work may be dark, sexually explicit and challenging, but it is also awash with humour, something his Have I Got News For You appearances have shown he has in abundance. Quite rightly, the British Museum has brought him on board as a curator and his first show, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, opens in October. We’ve heard there will be some suitably filthy exhibition merchandise to spice up the gift shop.

Ian Rankin, 28 April 1960

Did you know that there was a Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award? Us neither, but Rankin has won it, along with countless literary awards, honorary doctorates and an OBE. The Fife-born Edinburgh resident has single-handedly created what James Ellroy wonderfully dubbed “tartan noir” – a world of hard-boiled cops with questionable morals and whisky habits – to huge acclaim. His enduring Inspector Rebus series still accounts for an impressive ten per cent of all crime book sales in the UK and most of ITV’s watchable output.

Kristin Scott-Thomas, 25 May 1960

The ease with which Kristen Scott-Thomas crosses the Channel puts the Eurostar to shame. Her contribution to cinema anglais et francais has seen her garlanded with both the OBE and Legion d’honneur, and her stage work has won her some of the highest praise in theatreland. Though she could easily slip into po-faced-actress territory, her turns on Top Gear and Ab Fab show she’s in possession of a cracking sense of humour. In her early days, she appeared alongside Prince in Under the Cherry Moon and in 2009 he wrote the aptly named ‘Better With Time’ in her honour. She recently explained in interview: “I’m a late developer. I’m getting some really, really interesting roles, roles of women who are moving forward, who are searching for new things, searching for new lives.” Long may she continue.


Ian Hislop, 13 July 1960

“We are celebrating in typical style by getting sued for libel and upsetting our readers so much that they are cancelling their subscriptions in record numbers,” said Hislop on Private Eye’s 40th birthday. Just two weeks ago, the Eye reached the big five-oh and is being honoured with an exhibition in the V&A, so he must have done something right over the past ten years. As editor of the satirical staple since 1986, Ian Hislop has gained the title of most-sued man in Britain. He transferred his acerbic wit to TV in 1990 with Have I Got News For You, not missing an episode since. While his comedy creds remain steadfast, the baby-faced broadcaster has branched out to front respectable shows on Scouting, poetry and the railways. And we must note, given that his Soho office is not far from high50 Headquarters, that if you pass him in the street, he is always impeccably turned out.

Hugh Grant, 9 September 1960

Writing this list some months ago, we would have struggled to include someone who had subjected us to Whatever Happened to the Morgans? and Music & Lyrics. But, oh, how times change. In the midst of the all-consuming phone hacking saga, Grant pulled off one of the journalistic scoops of the decade with his ‘The bugger, bugged’ article and has since become the go-to voice for clarity, knowledge and authority on all things #hackgate. As an actor, he has always been refreshingly honest and good-humoured, even in the face of indiscretions and movie flops. Oh, and he’s a scratch golfer. Hurrah for Hugh!

Colin Firth, 10 September 1960

Firth’s stock has risen from wet-shirted pin-up to national hero thanks to his Oscar-winning turn as the speech-impaired King George. His early filmic turns were pleasant enough: the cuckolded Geoffrey in the English Patient, the eventual object of Bridget Jones’ affections, and the downtrodden writer in one of Love Actually’s most preposterous storylines. But as he’s drifted into his fifties he has truly flexed his acting muscles. Forthcoming roles in English classics Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Gambit will cement him as a leading man par excellence.

Tilda Swinton, 5 November 1960

Let’s just avoid all the usual epithets shall we – ethereal beauty, visually striking, ghostly androgyne, blah, blah, blah – and instead stand back and marvel at the sheer range of Swinton’s craft. Academy-award winning actress, arthouse darling, fashion muse, poet, performance artist and mother. If all that wasn’t enough, she’s helped put her hometown of Nairn on the map with a series of offbeat film festivals over recent years, one of which involved a portable cinema hauled manually through nearby Highland towns. Not something you can imagine Gwyneth Paltrow doing huh?

Gary Lineker, 30 November 1960

The leap from football pitch to TV studio isn’t always a successful one but Lineker’s willingness to laugh at himself in panel shows and crisp adverts has endeared him to an audience wider than just Match of the Day viewers. On the pitch, he was famously a goody-two-shoes, but his principled exit from The Mail on Sunday following their needless and ill-timed Lord Triesman exposé suggested he can put up a fight when he needs to.

Geordie Greig, 16 December 1960

Yes, he’s an Old Etonian, and for three generations his family have been royal courtiers. Yes, as the Observer once said, he is “Britain’s most connected man”. But that doesn’t mean the witty and surprisingly youthful looking Greig isn’t a canny and enormously diligent worker, who toiled his way up from local papers to the Sunday Times and beyond. While editor of Tatler magazine, he supported Mikhail Gorbachev’s charities, and through Gorby, met Russian plutocrat Alexander Lebedev. When AL bought London’s Evening Standard, he installed Greig as editor and many predicted disaster. However, Greig turned the paper into an oxymoron, a quality freesheet, and went on to advise on the purchase of the Independent and its little sister, i. If anyone can save those two titles, he can. And when Greig is given his knighthood, it won’t be for services to the Crown, but to the Fourth Estate.

Read day one’s list.

Read day two’s list.

Read day three’s list.