Thirty years since being interviewed for the first-ever issue of Top Santé in the UK – when the focus was very much about sex, as she had documentary coming out about it at the time – broadcaster, author and now menopause campaigner Mariella Frostrup, 60, chats about three decades of her evolution, how she stays positive, and why she never lets physical intimacy slip by the wayside.
‘It’s hard to imagine that 30 years of adulthood have gone by since that first Top Santé issue! Although adulthood feels quite recent, I do feel as if I’ve changed and that the world has also changed quite dramatically around me. That’s quite exciting because it would be depressing to look back on that amount of time and go, “Yes, the same old me”. Part of the joy and pleasure of life is the idea of evolving so I’m quite relieved to look back at 30-year-old Mariella and think, “What a baby”!
‘Part of the joy and pleasure of life is the idea of evolving so I’m quite relieved to look back at 30-year-old Mariella and think, “What a baby”!’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘I regret smoking in my youth because now I’m repulsed by it. Back then, I had a very complicated relationship, both with food and cigarettes. If I was happy, I ate normally and would be reasonably slim, and if I wasn’t happy, I ate anything and everything I could lay my hands on and would get even more unhappy about putting on loads of weight. That awful destructive cycle of self-loathing and self-harm was very prevalent until my mid 30s when I got sick of living like that. If you’re lucky, the whole process of maturing is about gaining confidence in yourself and developing resilience, and both of those things started to kick in during my mid 30s when I started making better choices.
‘Ever since my early 30s, I’ve done a mixture of exercise. I started doing Step Reebok classes, then going to the gym quite religiously with a girlfriend. We’d go three mornings a week. Then I started doing a bit of yoga. I love the feeling after doing yoga because it pulls out all the knots, aches and pains. As you get older, yoga and Pilates are indispensable and I do mine all on Zoom – a yoga class twice a week, and a Pilates class once a week.
‘I now live in the country and walk our dogs every single day, which keeps me active. And once every couple of weeks I go running with some girlfriends, but only for three kilometres – I’m lazy!
‘I regret smoking in my youth because now I’m repulsed by it. Back then, I had a very complicated relationship, both with food and cigarettes.’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘I’m not very good with big birthdays. When it comes to changing decades, I get slightly overwhelmed and a little bit retrospective; I start thinking backwards and find it hard to think about what I’m going to do going forward. My 40th birthday was amazing because I was in the Seychelles and on the eve of my birthday, at midnight, I got engaged (to her human rights lawyer husband of 22 years Jason McCue, 53).
‘I had my children (Molly, 18, and Danny, 17) shortly after that so my 40s dealt with a mass of activity. Fifty felt as if it came along way too early, so I refused to celebrate it, then I was rescued by two girlfriends who arranged a surprise dinner party. Turning 60 last November, I just wanted it to pass. I’m very conscious of the fact that, particularly as a woman in the public eye, I become very defined by age and I don’t feel very different, so I find that quite frustrating. At 60, I’m full of energy, there are a million things I want to do, a million places I want to go and a million things I want to achieve!
‘When it comes to changing decades, I get slightly overwhelmed and a little bit retrospective; I start thinking backwards and find it hard to think about what I’m going to do going forward.’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘Purpose is incredibly important particularly as we grow older. We live in quite an ageist society still. But a report in 2022 revealed that if you’re imbued with a sense of purpose, you’ll have less chance of getting Alzheimer’s, which was really interesting, particularly as my grandmother and mother both succumbed to the disease. Although there are days when I think, “What happened to that retirement idea”’, I had my children late and I need to see them through school and university. Also, if I don’t have a project, I don’t know what to do with myself.
‘I’ve seen two incredibly vibrant, feisty women become empty shells through Alzheimer’s. It was heartbreaking to witness, and I definitely don’t want any one of my family to have to look after me, when it’s such a thankless task. I’ve done every sort of test you can do bar the blood test. There are some very promising new treatments, but until there is a treatment that makes knowing you have it worth finding out, I don’t see the point in finding out now that in 10 or 15 years’ time I might develop Alzheimer’s because that just means I’ve got longer to dread it.
‘Purpose is incredibly important particularly as we grow older…if I don’t have a project, I don’t know what to do with myself.’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘There’s barely a woman in the land who’ll escape the brain fog that descends during perimenopause. As an ex-boyfriend used to say, very charmingly: “The cheese is slipping off the cracker”. One of the reasons I got deeply embedded in the menopause issue was because there was so much ignorance around it, including the fact that brain fog is one of the major symptoms. Writing the book and delving deeper was a way of better understanding what was happening to me and was really reassuring. The scariest thing about so many menopausal symptoms is that none of us associate them with menopause because there’s so little written and so little medical support given to women, so all of it comes as a horrible surprise.
‘Perimenopause is when real hormonal turbulence is happening and that tends to start anywhere between 10 and seven years before your actual menopause. By the time most women are getting help from GPs, they’ve been seven years in the turmoil of a hormonal roller coaster and not knowing it because they don’t recognise the symptoms. I’m still so animated, amazed and shocked by it. It’s another huge example of how women have been discriminated against over the centuries.
‘One of the reasons I got deeply embedded in the menopause issue was because there was so much ignorance around it.’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘I lost my father to alcoholism when I was only 15. It was one of the childhood influences that made me grow up quite fast and take responsibility for myself. Relying on anyone else never seemed an option and that’s played out in my personal, working and campaigning life. If something needs doing, I just roll up my sleeves and get it done. I shirk negativity, which I connect to my resilience and determination but also, to some degree, fear. My father was definitely depressed. That’s why he was an alcoholic and why he managed to drink himself to death at 44. Unfortunately, that always informs how scared I might be about tipping over into the dark side.
‘I believe in dusting yourself off, getting up and fighting another day. This is why I don’t have much patience with people who seem to be eternally life’s victims. I understand what a terrible disease depression is, but we shouldn’t confuse that with what we also have at the moment: an insidious culture of victimhood, which is so bad for all of us. My life, even on its worst possible day, is immeasurably better than a mum down the road, having to use a food bank for the first time with her two young children. And her life is immeasurably better than some girl in Afghanistan, full of hopes and dreams, who can’t go to school anymore.
‘I believe in dusting yourself off, getting up and fighting another day. This is why I don’t have much patience with people who seem to be eternally life’s victims.’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘I always used to say of cosmetic surgery, ‘Who knows how I’ll feel at 60’ but, for me, trying to turn back the clock would make me very unhappy. Most people I see that do go down that road, frankly, just look like old people who’ve had surgery. Although I’ve been having Botox since I was 35 to remove two real furrows in my brow, which made me really self-conscious – I looked angry – and I’m not an angry person – I don’t like the look of fake plumping. I’d far rather be the best version of who I am now.
‘Happily, technology, products and our understanding of what makes us healthy have really moved on. I recently went for an eye-wateringly expensive facial at London Skin Design and, six weeks on, I look radically better in terms of skin tone. I’m lucky to live in an age where there are all kinds of treatments that don’t require surgery.
‘I could live without make-up but not without a really good face cream. Even when we were absolutely poverty stricken, my mum would always have a pot of Orlane. I’ve been through a few face creams including Clarins, Dr Barbara Sturm and now Stripes, Naomi Watts’ revolutionary skincare brand designed for mature women. I’m not interested in buying products from companies that advertise everything with teenagers using messaging about anti-ageing and pro-youthfulness with nothing in between. I’m also loving the vitamin C and retinol serums from London Skin Design.
‘Diarising sex works for me because if I know that’s what I’m doing on a particular day, it can be something I look forward to!’ – Mariella Frostrup
‘It’s very easy to end up with a to-do list on which physical intimacy with your partner becomes less of a priority. For an awful lot of people, sex slips by the wayside. For me, it’s really important because, in many ways, it’s what stops you just being best friends and it’s really important in a relationship to maintain it. In midlife, you go through a period when you’re not driven by the same impulses and you’re not having sex because of overwhelming passion but for a different, maybe more profound, reason: the intimacy. Diarising sex works for me because if I know that’s what I’m doing on a particular day, it can be something I look forward to!
This interview with Mariella Frostrup appears in the March 2023 issue of Top Santé, on sale February 17. Preorder your copy now at shop.kelsey.co.uk/TSA.