x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Question marks

Flippin' Philippa Kennedy on ageism, family quarrels and suspicious syndromes.

The actress Charlize Theron at the grand opening of the Atlantis hotel in Dubai last year.
The actress Charlize Theron at the grand opening of the Atlantis hotel in Dubai last year.


When the South African-born actress Charlize Theron came to Dubai for the Atlantis party last year, she was one of the shiniest stars in a glittering array of guests. Perfectly groomed, glossy haired, elegantly dressed and with her handsome actor boyfriend, Stuart Townsend, in tow, she seemed like the coolest girl in town.

Now the 34-year-old has declared that she has obsessive compulsive disorder, which makes her irrationally anxious about untidy cupboards. These days, it seems you're nobody if you don't have a syndrome, an unexplained condition or a fashionable disorder, but worrying about untidy cupboards definitely takes the biscuit. "I have a problem with cabinets being messy and people just shoving things in cabinets and closing the door," Theron says. "I will literally lie in bed and not be able to sleep because I'll be like: 'I think I saw something in that cabinet that just shouldn't be there.'"

Perhaps it's because she's just so perfect to look at that she feels the need to create a perceived flaw so the rest of us don't feel too bad about our imperfections. I just hope this "closet obsession" thing is catching. I could secretly inject my husband and younger daughter with the bug and miraculously there would be no bedrooms that look as if a bomb had exploded in the cupboards. I definitely have a touch of Theron's syndrome. My husband is currently away and the house is immaculate, so I have nothing to nag about, no jammy knives left on coffee tables, no tubes of toothpaste squeezed in the middle rather than the end, no paperwork spilt all over the living room, waiting to be filed. It's really worrying. I feel sure I should seek help.

There are definitely fashions in syndromes. It's the same with allergies. Unaccountably, my eyes started streaming a couple of years ago during summer and the doctor said it was hay fever. It can strike at any time of life, depending what spores are floating around in the air or if move from country to country, she told me. You can actually go hunting for syndromes online. I woke up at 4.30am the other day and couldn't get back to sleep again. It's happened a couple of times in the past and - oh joy! - I've discovered I may have a real one of my own: delayed sleep-phase syndrome. To while away the hours, I found myself tidying my wardrobe and drawers in the wee small hours just like Charlize. I guess that means I've got two syndromes now. There must be a name for that in the medical books.


Could it be that the mighty British Broadcasting Corporation is finally listening to its viewers on the subject of female presenters "of a certain age"? Outraged licence payers have been telling them for years that they like seeing a few mature female faces on their screens.

In fact, when it comes to presenting the news, people actually prefer someone who knows what they are talking about - and might even have spent time as a reporter - to vacuous twentysomethings who read scripts written by somebody else as if the words have not had time to be processed by the brain. Names of cities and of famous people are pronounced as if the presenters have never heard of them, and the chirpy tone in which they announce the name of the airhead soap star that is opening London's most famous store's winter sale doesn't change when it informs us that "another soldier has died in Helmand Province".

Over the years too much real talent has been given the heave-ho. Anna Ford, Moira Stuart and, more recently, Arlene Phillips were bounced from prime time slots amid howls of fury from viewers. The bosses paid not a blind bit of notice. Now Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, has told his heads of news to find a female presenter of 50 or so to counter claims of ageism. I doubt if the elegant 65-year-old Ford will be tempted back, although I'd believe her if she announced on a news bulletin that scientists have discovered the moon is made of cream cheese. I hope she tells Thompson to hop off if he comes knocking at her door.

Stuart could easily make a comeback at 60 but she probably still feels bruised at being dumped after 30 years. None of them will want to be brought in as a sop to protesters and shunted off into a graveyard slot. They'd be mad to accept anything less than prime time now that they've got Thompson on the ropes. Women like Stuart, Ford, Kate Adie are genuinely interested in news. They could all point to Azerbaijan on a map or pronounce Chechnya as if they've actually heard of it rather than the way Bridget Jones did when she was trying to impress Daniel Cleaver in the movie.

Other networks revere their ageing stars. Barbara Walters is 80, for heaven's sake, and still presenting The View on the ABC network. And last week Christiane Amanpour, at the age of 51, got a new show on CNN's prime time line-up. Appointing just one older female newsreader may be too little but it's not too late for the Beeb to get the message. Where news is concerned, people want credibility. If a twentysomething reporter has that kind of authority that's fine, but few do. It shouldn't be too hard to find someone over the age of 50 with the necessary poise and gloss. They should just open their eyes and look around them.


Family squabbles can be so emotionally intricate as to be almost unbelievable, and often real life is much more interesting than fiction. The current court case punch-up between Tamara Mellon, the founder of the Jimmy Choo empire, and her mother reads like an episode of Dirty Sexy Money. Mellon alleges her mother, Ann Yeardye, is refusing to hand over Mellon's share from a family trust, but the spat is given a fascinating little twist by Mellon's conviction that her mother is jealous of her looks and success and resented her closeness to her father, the late Tom Yeardye. Yikes. The plot is tailor-made for the fictional Darling family.

"My mother and I never got along, not even when I was a child," Mellon says. "She wanted to be me, I think, which seems terribly sad." Both women are beautiful. Yeardye, now 70, used to be a Chanel model and Mellon, 42, is regularly photographed for fashion or society magazines, having made £100 million (Dh584m) from the shoe business. If there's a grain of truth in Mellon's jealousy claims, it's a sad story. Trying to keep up with a daughter's youth and beauty is ultimately futile, although we see examples of it everywhere, especially among celebrities. Children may keep you young, but try to outshine them at your peril. Mothers end up looking a bit pathetic. They would discover a much greater sense of fulfilment by taking pride in their achievements rather than trying to trump them at every turn.


What is it with these tennis girls? No sooner have they tearfully announced their retirement than up they pop again ready to take on the world. The word "retirement" has become obsolete. Just weeks after Kim Clijsters came out of retirement at the grand old age of 25, the former number one Justine Henin, 27, says she's giving tennis another shot too.

The hunger for success of true champions clearly never goes away. Clijsters proved you can mix motherhood and championship sport by taking the US Open. Only players at this level understand the dedication it requires to stay at the top, the endless hours of training, battling injuries, building up stamina. You wouldn't blame them for occasionally showing a touch of weariness with that sort of regimen. Henin says she misses the game too much and I think it's a fine thing that she has the courage, never mind the physical strength, to stage a comeback. There's nothing wrong with women just being women, even at the top of a demanding sport. Sometimes we just need a break.


Is it my imagination or is it really the case that since Showtime and Orbit joined forces, all the good movies and shows seem to be on channels I can't get. You would think that there would be a greater choice with the merger, but lately I seem to spend a lot of time flicking the control looking for something to watch.

I know that pay-per-view channels have to make money but it cheeses me off to feel I'm being ripped off. I already pay for a good mix of movies, series, sport and news, but all the newer stuff seems to have been surreptitiously moved to channels not included in my package. I wonder if anyone else feels the same.