Set in a beauty salon, Debbie Horsfield’s new drama is all about the pursuit of physical perfection but how preened is the Poldark writer and her new cast?
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 Horsefield.
“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 [Aiden 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!”
Horsefield 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.”
Robson Green, who plays 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 ant? 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. It’s still hanging in my wardrobe.
“I’m 54 but deep down I feel 18 and I just do my best to stay healthy and grow old gracefully.”
Sue Johnston, who plays 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 and foundations, all the hollowing and the shading products. It’s a shame young women wear so much make-up because they’ve got such beautiful skin.
“But that’s the style and every generation goes through a new thing. In the Sixties we had eye flicks and false eyelashes 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. I even come into work with my lipstick on, even though they’re just going to take it off again. I look mealy-mouthed without it. 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 - your face as an actor is so important, and 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.”
Lisa Riley, who plays Tina
“I absolutely love make-up, taking care of myself, grooming - all of that. I’ve even got my own skincare range which I launched 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 now. I work out twice a day. I do yoga, HIIT, body combat: everything. There is no fat on me, I’m solid. Sweat is fat crying!
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 You’ve Been Framed made me look like a giant Christmas tree covered in feathers and baubles.
“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 procedural dramas.”
James Murray, who plays 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 that goes on.
“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 often can clash with what I’m wearing. And I sometimes get it wrong. But sometimes there is a lovely, happy moment where I feel I’ve got it right.”
Polly Walker, who plays Bel
“I’m not too into beauty or fashion. I always take my make-up off at night, and I moisturize, 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 on blogs looking for eye shadows 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 have had plenty of fashion disasters, growing up. The worst was a yellow boiler suit which I wore in Ibiza, aged 17, with slicked back hair like Sade. I vomited down the front of it. That wasn’t too impressive.”