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Shreya Sen-Handley
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 12 : 11

The Big Four-Oh: approach with caution


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As prep for the milestone birthday party of the year (mine) gets underway in Calcutta, I am having a meltdown in England! I never expected that. I breezed through the experience of turning 30, so why does the approach to the BIG Four-Oh feel so different? And feel different it does. It's like...rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you've already paid, the good advice that you just didn't take. Isn't it ironic...don't you think, that Alanis Morissette anticipated exactly how I would feel in the run-up to my 40th birthday, almost 20 years ago?

I am not alone. Once every decade, most of us have one of these life-upturning, mind-kerfuffling lead-ups to a big birthday which skewers our priorities and leaves us asking those deep, existential questions. And though it's just an infinitesimal blot in the big picture of our lives, while it's happening, it feels like a free-fall into forever.

For those in the unforgiving public eye, their milestone meltdown is etched indelibly in our minds. Supermodel Heidi Klum turns 40 this year and the road to her big birthday is paved with men (not a problem if she weren't married to pop star Seal at the time), misdemeanours and, worst of all, mega fashion mishaps. Poor Vanessa Paradis hasn't had an easy ride to 40 either. She lost 49 year old Johnny Depp to his barely legal Rum Diary co-star Amber Heard in the glare of the regulation spotlight on the spurned partner, but has since taken him back for the sake of their two children. Taking Johnny Depp back isn't such a hardship you say, but Vanessa was understandably cut up about the seven month shack-up, confiding to a rag, "Amber is a man-stealing, two-bit nobody who I'll never allow near my children!" Hey, I get it, but don't tell the Paps.

Of course, not every celebrity loses their perspective in the run-up to 40. Some lost it years ago. Monica Lewinsky misplaced her's the minute she, no, not canoodled with Clinton, I totally understand that, but when she dragged that semen stained dress to every photo-op in Washington town. Even if she pulls off the most dignified approach to the big 4-0 known to man, will we ever be able to look past her predilection for 'hide-the-presidential cigar' and that blue dress?

But some celebrities do age with grace. Kylie Minogue turned 40 four years ago, but she did it in style and changed our view of her as a mostly talentless b-list celeb forever. On the cusp of 40, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She not only beat it but she did it with dignity. Not for her the endless interviews and appearances discussing her terrible fate. She retired from the limelight to focus on getting better and only ever stepped back in for cancer charities. A year later, she returned to the world stage, more beautiful than when she'd left, and every inch a real star for her dignified handling of her crisis.

Closer to home, another huge star hung up his boots just before he reached that major milestone. Like his elegant cricketing shots, Rahul Dravid timed his retirement to perfection. Leaving on top of his game, he left us wanting more (let that be a lesson to ..erm..umm, never mind). Ben Affleck is a supremely happy 40, too. To the picture of contentment he makes with wife Jennifer Garner and their three children, he can now add his haul of Baftas and Golden Globes for his political thriller Argo. Can a second shot at Oscar glory be far behind?

Talking of Jennifer Garner, isn't the confidence with which Hollywood women now tackle 40 truly inspiring? Relegated to character parts in the past, 40 plus powerhouses like Cameron Diaz, Nicole Kidman and Salma Hayek not only get the best parts (they make their own movies to ensure they do!) but also out-sizzle their 20 something counterparts on any given Sunday.

So, unlikely as it seems, there are lessons to be learnt from how celebrities handle milestone birthdays. If that milestone is a millstone and you're gonna have a meltdown, do it discreetly (clearly, I've learnt nothing)! But if you can keep your head while all about you is losing theirs, you'll be a happy bunny, my lass, I said to myself, as I did the one thing you really shouldn't when you want to keep things in perspective. I put together a wish list of things I want to do in this most momentous of years.

And here it is; feel free to send in additions as well as suggestions on how to accomplish them, as I hurtle towards that Black Hole of Never-Never (being seen as young again).

1. Teleportation: so I can spend time with family and friends in India (and also be able to organise my own party because, really, who knows me better?)

2. An occasional child-free bed and lots of lingering Daddy love (not my daddy, tsk, tsk, but the father of my young children with whom all snuggling is on the run these days)

3. Finding a magical nanny like Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee who won't usurp my place in my kids' hearts but will take over all the messy jobs I've owned for the last five years.

4. An alternative to Daddy Love (looking after the kids in shifts means the other person has to make the most of their free time). Tenders invited from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Clive Owen and George Clooney.

5. Discovering that chocolate-laden, weight gain-free eating plan that will keep me stimulated when Daddy can't.

With just five objectives, it shouldn't be hard to do. OK, that chocolate diet will never happen, since it hasn't yet, I'm afraid, Ladies. But the rest are eminently do-able, especially Hugh Jackman. Sigh. I do feel so much better now I've made a list. I am quite ready to take 40 by its pointy horns, wrestle it to the ground and make it mine. With the courage of a Kylie, elegance of a Rahul and the sure knowledge of a Ben that 40 is just a number and what really counts is my beautiful little family, the creative space they give me and all the wonderful adventures we have in store for us over the next 40 years.

And a hubby-sanctioned night on the tiles with Hugh Jackman would just be the cherry atop my 40th birthday cake.


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More about Shreya Sen-Handley

Shreya Sen-Handley is a former journalist and television producer, who now writes and illustrates for British and Indian media.

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