Game of Crones: Part One

Published by Huff Post UK Style, 20/10/17

A three-part mini-series about the trials of an older model


Part One – The Grey Rebellion

Grey Models, an agency for older fashion models, launched the first of their one-day intensive ‘Grey Rebellion’ Workshops in October - a ‘coaching session for new faces, returning models and pros’. It promises training on catwalk, poses, expressions, castings, fitness, contracts, and ‘a hi-res photo from a Master Photographer’ to take home.

This same month Italian Vogue dedicates itself to ‘timelessness’ and has Lauren Hutton grace its cover. So when the call to join the Grey Rebellion landed in my inbox, I wondered if it was time for this Grey-Walker to reject a life of House (of) Fraser and re-join House Givenchy or House McCartney.

Most top model agencies, including Models 1 and Elite, now have a ‘Classic’ section on their books especially for mature models. At the excellently named Mrs Robinson models are grouped into ‘Woman’, up to about 30 years old, ‘Classic Woman’ 35-55, and then ‘Retro Woman’ for those pushing 60 and above. Mercifully for us middle-aged baby-boomers, advertisers and designers are no longer patronising the older market by using only girls not yet sturdy enough of limb to half-turn on a stiletto heel. The Association of Model Agents reports that from 60 legitimate agencies on their records there are now 723 ‘classic’ (30yrs +) working female models – that’s 9% of a model army of 8,135.

Liking the idea of older women having more visual representation and quite fancying a resurrection of my own modest modelling career, I rang Mrs Robinson and asked if I could sign up. ‘Height?’ they said. Literally like that, no pussyfooting around. ‘5’11’ I answered. ‘Ok, have you modelled before?’ ‘Yes', I said, 'in the early 90s’. 'Age?’ ‘Nearly 50’ I said proudly. 'Oh don’t worry they chuckled, we have ‘girls’ a lot older than you!' I wasn’t worried about my age, but concede that referring to 50 year olds as ‘girls’ caused a twinge of anxiety. It was arranged that I’d pop in and introduce myself.

I won’t lie, I was a little jittery walking into the agency. I’m past the days of spending hours in the bathroom getting ready – preferring to leave that to my teenage daughter - and wasn’t sure that my greying hair and loosening skin were up to focussed visual scrutiny.

'Soooo of it's time!'

'Soooo of it's time!'

Sure enough, at Mrs. Robinson the bookers give me an excruciating once-over.  Winter is coming, I start to think, and worse. They examine my old modelling card and pronounce it 'Sooooo of it’s time!' I descend into my occasional confusion with fashion people – was this a good or a bad thing? - and proceed to look blank. Looking blank is usually a sign that you could be a good model of course, and so they asked to take some pics.

Two big lights are shone towards me, from left and right, and an iPad pointed in my face. Any instructions are painfully withheld. When I realise I’m supposed to know what I’m doing panic creeps in. Do I smile? Or maybe address my hunchy shoulders? Or at least - that old stalwart of the seasoned model - make like a tea-pot with a hand on a hip? So I try all of these things (suffering, as ever, from rarely being able to think a thing without also doing it).

'Well', says Fleur, 'you’re a bit rusty but you’ve got everything we need. You’ll have to get a whole new set of photos of course, and be looser in front of the camera, but the main thing to remember is that it’s not like it used to be. Don’t try to recreate your old poses, fashion’s changed– you’ve got to show personality'.

Ah, I ponder on this. Personality? But isn’t that kind of, err, to be expected? I mean… can you avoid it?

Fleur mercifully responds to my questioning look…'I know it sounds silly but look at some magazines and practice poses in front of the mirror'.

She explains that there are, realistically, about 5 castings a week for a model ‘of my age’ on her books. ‘Commercial work pays much better than editorial’, she smiles, ‘some things never change”.

They kindly offer to arrange a ‘Test Shoot’ for me, y’know, to test me. It’ll cost me £100, but I’ll make that back if I’m any good. Fleur says to take four outfits, two of which should make ‘a story’ and a couple of which should be ‘classic casual wear’.

'White Shirt?' I ask, 'God no!' ex-stylist Fleur is visibly startled by my glaring ignorance. 'No, maybe a v-neck cashmere or something, but not a White Shirt'. My suggestion shows I don’t know what’s current and have a lot to learn. The anxiety I felt with the mention of a “test” is growing like an unwanted pimple before a close-up.


In Part Two - The Test, I face my fears (and try to smile)


Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter




Katie Price Doesn't Bare All

Published by Huff Post UK Entertainment, 18/11/2016

Remember Jordan, uber glamour model of the 90s? I just went to see her re-incarnation Katie Price in conversation with Alain de Botton, hosted by The School of Life. (Katie Price and Philosophy, 16 November 2016)

TSoL is ‘devoted to developing emotional intelligence through culture’ and the idea of this public chat was to ‘discover what drives someone to surrender a big part of their identity to the public, what happens when they do, and what we might all learn from the life of a figure in a constant media storm.’


By way of introducing his guest, de Botton dwelt on the unconventionality of having a glamour model and entrepreneur talking at an organisation normally associated with academics and intelligentsia, and said his colleagues had laughed when he suggested Price as a candidate. In the audience, I felt immediately uncomfortable: wasn’t Katie ‘intellectual’ enough for TSoL? I began to suspect that this evening may be a stunt as opposed to an authentic revelatory conversation about narcissism and the hunger for celebrity in popular culture.

Katie came on stage - all long blonde hair, make-up and over the knee high-heeled boots - looking very much the ‘celebrity’, glass of white wine firmly in hand. The juxtaposition was clear - we didn’t need Alain to point it out further. He did all the same, and Katie asked the audience ‘why are you all laughing?’ Actually, we weren’t all laughing.

After some introductory questions where it was established that Katie didn’t want to talk about politics or religion, and that she saw herself as very ‘open’, chatty and amusing company (she partly puts her success as a model down to ‘having a personality’), Alain produced a box of cards.

On sale at TSoL these cards (‘100 Questions: Love Edition’) are ‘designed by leading experts’ to quiz you in a searching and provocative way about relationships. Most of de Botton’s selection were slightly sexual in nature.

“After a long pursuit, you realise that someone is as keen on you as you are on them. What feelings does this bring up for you?” he asked Price. The questions were similar to those quizzes in womens’ mags that are supposed to reveal your personality, but succeed only in either making you laugh or belittling your intelligence. I couldn’t help wondering whether de Botton would have reached for the same box of cards with Stephen Hawking sitting opposite him.

Price responded well, gamely quizzing de Botton right back. She made her interlocutor blush asking him the risqué question he’d just asked her: “Would you entertain group sex or a threesome?’ (She has, but not nowadays, and he loves ‘the idea but would worry about the practicalities’).

Overall, however, I got the impression that Katie hadn’t really thought things through. There were a lot of contradictions in her statements about herself, and although she’s clearly had a life full of diverse and unusual experiences, I was left wondering how much this life had changed the worldview of the 17 year old trainee nurse who was made into Jordan by a hungry media.

For example, Katie loves the doctors and nurses of the NHS and thinks they should be paid a lot more (‘they’re saving our lives!’), but with the next breath proclaims she hates paying tax (‘they’re robbing us!’) leaving us to wonder where the medics’ wages would come from.

She’s proud of her own openness about her extensive use of plastic surgery and Botox, and lives in a reality where she bets ‘the person sitting next to you has had a bit of Botox and that, but they lie about it’.

I look at the person next to me and doubt it very much. But then those image-conscious, youth-worshipping circles are the ones in which Katie operates, and always has.

Author of 17 books, Katie also freely admits that she doesn’t write them all herself but contributes ‘ideas’. She’s scathing of celebrities who claim to write their own books, or create their own products, when in fact they have little to do with the goods they lend their names to. Price is nothing if not honest about her career, and the extent of the fakery involved. She seems happy to be exploited as long as she’s making money. She thinks winning Celebrity Big Brother was “probably rigged” and has little faith in media reports judging by the lies that are regularly printed about her own life. In Price’s World there is little Truth in the public arena: life’s taught her that the concept exited the stage years ago, pursued by a Paparazzo.

Katie’s good fortune is built on consumerism. ‘If Coca-Cola or L’Oreal want me I wouldn’t say no, would I?’, and the best thing about being famous is the ‘free stuff,’ she tells the audience.

Price delivered lots of amusing one-liners, the event becoming more of a show than an in-depth look into her motivations and wisdom. The cards didn’t help.

Asked what a typical night out was, Katie explained that it was ‘watching The X-Factor at home with the family, with the neighbours round’, as, at 38 and with five kids, she wasn’t into clubbing anymore. “Last time I went I was like, ‘is it me or is it really dark in here!’”

The one moment which felt thoughtful and poignant, where Katie wasn’t playing for laughs or to her public persona, was an insight she shared, during the audience Q&A. She told us that had she known during her pregnancy with her eldest son Harvey, that he would be born blind and then have complex developmental problems, she would definitely have aborted him. But, now, having been his mother for so long, she wouldn’t dream of aborting for those reasons. Life has taught her that terrible things are not always as terrible as you think. As she spoke about this, her face changed momentarily.

This moment aside, both Price and de Botton seemed to want to keep the conversation fairly jokey, fairly superficial, and Price even chastised the audience for asking ‘tame’ questions.

I left amused but ultimately disappointed. I had expected something more insightful, dare I say ‘deeper’, from the conversation. More fool me. Katie was quoted on the publicity leaflet as saying “No-one will ever work me out”, and she turned up and spoke true to her image, right on-brand. We didn’t get to know the real Katie. However, from de Botton’s blushing and willingness to engage with Price as a publicity stunt to be exploited, I came away with more questions about Alain and his motivations than Katie.

Corbyn’s Therapeutic PMQ Style


 14/10/2015 11:00 | Updated 13 October 2016

Published by Huff Post UK Politics

Karen Dobres Co-founder of and Blogger

The other evening I was invited to a “Circle” led by a Native American elder - we do this kind of stuff down in deepest, darkest Sussex. Manitonquet (Medicine Story) is in his eighties and held forth on the subject of replacing power and dominance in human relationships with equality and respect. He told us, amongst other things, that a Leader should be like a ‘walking stick’ and then he paused to great effect. “Leaders should be there to help a person on their way without telling them where to go. They know their own way”, the wise elder said. This is the view of a Leader as facilitator, not director and it appealed to my own experience as a former person-centred therapist.

The next day, I got an email from Jeremy Corbyn on my phone. The email asked for questions to pose to the Prime Minister in his ‘People’s PMQs’. Unusual, thought I, but rather enjoyed the transference of power that was on offer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to send in a question, but apparently some 47,000 other people did. I decided, for the first time ever, to tune into Prime Minister’s Question Time live to see what a different style of Leadership might look like, what it might feel like.

I was struck by the difference in atmosphere to the usual full-of-itself pantomimic fiasco I’d heard on the radio. Corbyn’s manner seemed to bring the temperature way down. David Cameron seemed nonplussed, perhaps not wishing to be seen to disrespect the questions of the people of the country. And a degree of quiet, respect and focus was subtly demanded from the whole House.

I pondered that we all live in such a narcissistic society, that the ego-led farce of PMQs had become normal, and as the TV commentator described Corbyn as having started a “Revolution in Beige”, I chuckled, and a bell rang in my one-time therapist’s brain. It hit me. What I was witnessing wasn’t the usual battle of ‘charismatic style’, one monologue versus another, but felt more like the Therapist dialoguing the Narcissist.

Narcissism is, of course, a state of personality in which one has little real empathy and is driven, often unwittingly, by self-aggrandisement. This occurs because the person never had their real self offered back to them by the primary caregiver when they were very young, and so the ‘narcissistic wound’ develops, and the person has an empty core, with no genuine sense of themselves, but an over-inflated ego and superb skills in charm and manipulation, which they use to get on in the world and form relationships. That is to say they have a ‘charismatic style’. A therapist may tell you that when you’re in a relationship with a narcissist the best thing to do in order to defuse them and disengage (narcissists do not like to be disengaged with unless it is on their own terms), is to become a “Grey Pebble”. Create no dramas, try not to look attractive, be boring and straightforward, do not draw attention to yourself, and be as smooth as possible with no emotional hooks to give fuel to the narcissist. This way you have far more chance of not being manipulated.


I believe that this is what Corbyn is doing in The Commons with his approach to PMQs. No wonder Cameron looking uncomfortable - there was nothing to engage with, little supply of fuel.

Now, I’d say that most of us are a bit narcissistic - I know I am. We live with wallpaper that glamorises attractive people, the high life, material wealth, instant gratification, and plays down patience, common-ness, humility, ordinariness and plainness. Our society has normalised rating outward appearance as more important than what is in the heart, and we have, to some extent, swallowed these values whole.

Personally, I might even watch PMQ’s live again if Corbyn continues as the neutral, but warm and real therapist in the House, with his apparent integrity and patience.

Some are suggesting Corbyn needs a Spin Doctor (an essential job, of course, in narcissistic times, and one that we have normalised!), and maybe he will get one. I hope he doesn’t, but rather that he continues to show us an alternative way of being, a more healing way of relating to each other that gives politics a chance to become human-centred again, and shows the value of grey pebbles on beaches.

I’m not saying I want an eighty-year-old Native American Elder as Prime Minister, but I’d certainly appreciate a world of politics where ‘charismatic style’ has less sway.