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 Wednesday's ten


Ai Weiwei, 18 May 1957
The thing you are least likely to know about Ai Weiwei – artist, political activist and alleged tax dodger – is that he is regarded in gambling circles as a top-tier professional blackjack player. While studying at the famed Parsons School of Design in New York, he found time to make frequent trips to Atlantic City to hone that talent. Luckily for the art world he wasn’t seduced by the notion of making it his full-time job, instead returning to China to become a revered art rebel. His long-term association with architecture led to him being appointed artistic consultant for Beijing’s Olympic stadium in 2008, despite his vocal criticism of his nation’s behaviour. We Brits know him best for filling the Tate Modern with pebbles but Weiwei has links with a more impressive rock, receiving the dubious honour of having an asteroid named after him in 2001. There’s still a week to catch his current photo exhibition in New York, and we hope he remains free to host many more.

Peter Capaldi, 14 April 1958

As the foul-mouthed spin-doctor Malcom Tucker (“Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off”) in the brilliant Thick of It, Peter Capaldi elevated swearing to a new level and demonstrated a capacity for simmering, seething malevolence that was untapped in early roles such as John Malkovich’s servant in Dangerous Liaisons or the hapless Danny Oldsen in Local Hero. In a career spanning almost 30 years, he has appeared in more than 40 films and television programmes. He’s an acclaimed filmmaker, screenwriter and director (having won an Oscar and a BAFTA for his short film, Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which he wrote and directed). He is an art school graduate and a talented artist, as he displayed in last year’s TV documentary A Portrait of Scotland (unsurprisingly, about 500 years of Scottish portrait paining). One shudders to think what Malcolm Tucker would do with a paintbrush.

Kevin McCloud, 8 May 1958

We like Kevin McCloud because he puts his money where his mouth is. He is most famous for his television series, Grand Designs, chronicling the trials and errors of ordinary people brave/mad enough to build their own houses. McCloud has recently completed development of The Triangle, a sustainable social housing project in Swindon. As with the house-builds he follows on screen, his was not without problems, but he is undeterred: two similar projects will soon be under way. McCloud, an able broadcaster, talented writer and author, has raised awareness about the built environment and entertained us at the same time. Unlike many design gurus, however, he reminds us that our house should be our home, not a showroom window.

Lenny Henry, 29 August 1958

It’s hard to remember a time when Lenny Henry didn’t grace our television screens. There was New Faces and black sitcom The Fosters, then light entertainment shows Celebrity Squares, Seaside Special and the Ronnie Corbett Show, plus Tiswas, Three of A Kind and The Lenny Henry Show – and that was all before 1984. His eponymous comedy show ran for 20 years, during which time he branched into TV drama, tackling roles as diverse as a heroin addict and a headmaster. Then came comedy drama, in the shape of Chef. We can’t forget Comic Relief, in which he has played a crucial part. And then the Bard. Not just any Shakespeare, but the title role of Othello, for which he received widespread critical acclaim. In recent years, Henry has lived a parallel life as a student: undertaking first an Open University degree in English Literature, then gaining an MA with distinction from University of London, where he is now studying for a PhD on the role of black people in the media. At six foot five, Lenny Henry is still a growth industry.

Chris Galvin, 12 October 1958


Deserving of his place here simply for demonstrating that chefs needn’t be shouty bastards with permatans, silly hair or Sainsbury’s contracts, Michelin-starred restaurateur and chef Chris Galvin came up the hard way. He started as Worrall-Thompson’s potwasher in 1981, and worked for Pierre-White and Conran before setting up the famed kitchen at the Wolsey. He went independent five years ago and now has four of London’s finest, French-inspired restaurants. Not for him the TV series and vainglorious chains. This year, he will continue to award his mixology prize to bar-tenders; pursue the aims of his charity (Galvin’s Chance, which helps under-privileged youngsters get qualifications and employment in the hospitality industry); publish his first recipe book and – at his Baker Street bistro – hold artistic evenings in the downstairs bar. And he still cooks for customers twice a week.

Cath Kidston, 6 November 1958

Kidston, who has single-handedly revived our love of floral textiles, says her multi-million pound business provokes a Marmite reaction: “People either love it and want a little bit of it very much, or want to stab us.” Nice to see she has a sense of humour. There is hardly anything that hasn’t had the Kidston treatment: tents, Roberts radios, wallpaper, Nokia phones, baby buggies, trainers (and there’s probably someone, somewhere, with a Cath Kidston floral tattoo.) It takes skill to make so much out of something so simple, and her reach is ever expanding. She has grown from a single shop in Holland Park in 1993, which she later described as a glorified junk shop, to 41 stores and concessions in the UK, two in the ROI, 15 in Japan and four in Korea. Kidston has raised £500,000 for Marie Curie Cancer Care, and this year created a charity range of T-shirts sold in Uniqlo to support a safe motherhood programme in Zambia. Flower power at its best.

Sade, 16 January 1959

Like Cath Kidston’s florals, the music of Helen Folsade Adu, OBE, inspires reverence or revulsion. Elevator muzak, say some; to others she is the queen of mellow soul. Whatever, she’s the most successful solo female artist in British history, and has sold in excess of 110 million albums worldwide. She is famously reclusive, and disappeared off the musical map for a decade, returning last year with a new album. But instead of retreating into obscurity (for obscurity read Stroud, where she lives with her partner and their children) she has conquered her dragon and embarked on a globe-trotting tour that extends until November. “Her gauzy voice has acquired a greater range,” observed the Guardian of this summer’s UK shows. Good for her. There are worse things to hear in lifts.

Hugh Laurie, 11 June 1959

He commands the highest salary of any actor in a US drama, earning more than £5 million a year from his role as the curmudgeonly Dr Gregory House. But let’s not simply focus on the fact he’s top of the class financially; let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge his thesperly prowess. (Thesperly? We’ve just invented a new term for convincing Americans you’re one of them.) Then there are the numerous voiceovers, his newspaper column, royalties from the novel (still in print 15 years after it was first published), royalties from box-sets such as Jeeves & Wooster, Blackadder, and A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie. Then of course there’s his blossoming new career as a bona fide blues musician, with a recently-released album to boot. Which brings his annual salary into the region of £9 million. Can James Hugh Calum Laurie say he’s worth it? Oh yes, especially now he’s become the new face of cosmetics company L’Oreal.

Edwyn Collins, 23 August 1959

What do we esteem most about Edwyn Collins? The lyrics searing with acerbic wit; that soulful, warbling baritone; melodies that insinuate themselves into your mind and won’t let go? Or is it for the way in which he overcame an event that we wish wasn’t part of his history? That inner steel and sheer determination that, having survived two devastating brain haemorrhages and near-fatal MRSA, wouldn’t permit him to accept the loss of his ability to read, write, walk and talk. All of which he taught himself to do once more. He has since composed and recorded a new album of songs, Losing Sleep; been on tour; and illustrated and published Some British Birds, a book of exquisite fine-line illustrations. For claiming his life back. Edwyn Collins, we salute you: a soul survivor in the truest sense.

Jeanette Winterson, 27 August 1959

At some stage in the last decade, our Jeanette changed from being a rather moany old bird, whose lesbian musings were as turgid as her fiction, into a bouncy little sprite. She became a national treasure, preaching love over politics on Question Time, revealing that she was in as much trouble with the banks as the rest of us, and opening an organic delicatessen in the ground floor of her east London house. Maybe it was the 2006 OBE that mellowed her, or writing for children, or her other homes in Gloucestershire and Paris. Anyway, find her website, read her columns and discover the very likeable person behind the press image. At our last perusal, she was writing a Hammer Horror flick and celebrating dropping books in the bath.

Read day one’s list.

Read day two’s list.

Read day four’s list.