In an era obsessed with physical perfection and its relentless pursuit through pampering, pumping and preening, Age before Beauty, a new BBC drama from the writer of Cutting It and Poldark, delves into the booming world of anti-ageing.
“We are all now obsessed with looking younger and, thanks to the rise of social media, there’s a whole generation that thinks they have to look perfect or they won’t cut the mustard,” explains series creator Debbie Horsfield.
“While Cutting It was set in the hairdressing world, 15 years later the anti-ageing industry has exploded, with salons opening everywhere, so I thought that would be an interesting backdrop for a new family saga.”
Age before Beauty is Debbie’s first foray back to her home town of Manchester after five years absorbed in 18th-century Cornwall for Poldark. She says the switch wasn’t difficult but admits the two pieces could not be more different, not least as Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) could not be less vain about his dashing looks.
“Ross doesn’t care about his appearance, that’s the interesting thing about him,” Debbie says. “He struggles when he has to dress up to go to a ball. He would find this world utterly pointless and frivolous!”
Horsfield has also got little interest in making herself look glamorous, but does prioritise her health. The daughter of a greengrocer and the mother of a personal trainer, Debbie doesn’t smoke, drinks little alcohol, and works out every day. In fact, she is so keen on fitness she has even installed a treadmill desk in her home so she can write and walk at the same time.
“Previously whenever I was stuck for an idea, I used to go for a little jog to get the cogs turning again and get the oxygen to my brain,” she says. “But the treadmill desk is even better – I can walk 15 kilometres in a day.”
James Murray (Wes)
To be honest I don’t spend a lot of time getting ready. The bathroom is my wife Sarah’s room, so I only get to go in when she’s finished. And I’m in and out of there as fast as I can. I’m horribly outnumbered by women at home. My daughter Nell likes face paint, and she likes pink. There’s also a lot of perfume in our house, which I’m allergic to, so there’s a lot of sneezing.
I often get accused by my wife and friends of getting dressed in the dark. I don’t dress up much — if I’m not in tracksuit bottoms I’m in fishing waders. It’s a strong look. I occasionally try to be stylish, but it’s not my strong point. I’d call my style “sports casual”. That sounds very Los Angeles, doesn’t it? I like to mix colours. I have a lot of bright trainers — I have a red pair, a bright white pair, a green pair — and those colours can clash with what I’m wearing. I sometimes get it wrong. But sometimes there is a lovely, happy moment where I feel I’ve got it right.
Polly Walker (Bel)
I’m not too into beauty or fashion. I always take my make-up off at night, and I moisturise, wash my hair, clean my teeth… I want to look nice, but I try not to let it define me or put too much importance on what I look like because beauty is a fleeting thing. I’m definitely not online looking for eyeshadows for mature eyelids, put it that way.
There is a lot of pressure on actors, of course, but I try not to be too critical of myself because there’s not much I can do to change anything that makes me unhappy. I don’t want surgery!
I’m not that interested in clothes, either. I like simple, expensive clothes so that I can go about my day comfortably without thinking about it too much. I’m pretty minimal: I don’t wear much jewellery. I like the way French women dress. My icons are people like Juliette Binoche or Charlotte Rampling.
I dress simply now but I had plenty of fashion disasters growing up. The worst was a yellow boiler suit that I wore in Ibiza, aged 17, with slickedback hair like Sade. I vomited down the front of it. That wasn’t too impressive.
Lisa Riley (Tina)
I absolutely love make-up, taking care of myself, grooming — all of that. I even launched my own skincare range this year!
I look in the mirror now and I feel proud. I’ve lost 12 stone in the past two years. No slimming pills, no gastric band. I’m a fitness addict — I work out twice a day. I do yoga, high-intensity interval training, body combat, everything. There is no fat on me, I’m solid.
I did it the hard way, although I had to have an operation to remove the loose skin because it was chafing and I was in pain. I eat sensibly and I haven’t had any alcohol for three years. I can wear anything I like now and I am really enjoying it.
I do wince when I look back at myself on TV, though — in fact every single garment they put on me in on You’ve Been Framed! made me look like a giant Christmas tree…
The TV industry is changing and people are more accepting of different body shapes on screen these days. But I’d still love to see an overweight nurse or midwife on telly. Because trust me, when I spent time in hospital, there was not a single size-six nurse, and that is not what’s being portrayed in medical dramas.
Robson Green (Teddy)
I have quite an intensive beauty routine in that I have to wax regularly. I had a hairy chest at 12 years old. You know The Metamorphosis by Kafka, when he wakes up as an insect? It was like that. So I wax every three weeks. The hell I go through! I’ve had to start doing my ear hair now, too. All this hair coming out in tufts, like a spider plant. I’ve got all the trimmers, the gadgets.
In terms of fashion I guess I’ve had a few interesting “looks” over the years, but the worst was when I went to Savile Row and paid £4,000 for a suit — one of those frock coats with the big cuffs that Jonathan Ross and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen wear. It was black with a white stripe. And I’m strolling down the street wearing it, thinking I look great, and my mate goes, “Robson, you look a complete prat.” I never wore it again, but it’s still hanging in my wardrobe.
I’m 53 but deep down I feel 18. I just do my best to stay healthy and grow old gracefully.
Sue Johnston (Ivy Rae)
This generation is into grooming far more than when I was growing up. I was in the chemist yesterday and I couldn’t believe the range of make-up, all the hollowing and shading products. It’s a shame young women wear so much make-up because they’ve got such beautiful skin.
But every generation goes through a new thing. In the 60s we had eyeliner and false lashes and our hair backcombed, so who am I to criticise!
I’ve now turned into my mother in that as soon as she got out of bed, she put her make-up on. She always had lipstick on, which I do now because your mouth disappears as you get older. You have to find a mouth before you can face the world. Having thin lips is the worst — and wrinkles. But I wouldn’t get operated on.
I pull back the sides of my face and think how great would it be to have all that done. But I can’t — as an actor your face is so important. You see people on TV now and you’re looking at the work they’ve had done, not at them.
Some of my friends have Botox and a couple have had lip fillers, but I think they look like ducks. And anyway, soon there will only be a few wrinkly people left, and then I’ll get all the work.
BBC1’s new six-part drama Age before Beauty begins Tuesday 31st July at 9pm
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