London - To celebrate his 65th birthday, Ronnie Wood took his beautiful 34-year-old girlfriend to Venice, the city of love. As they cuddled together in a gold-encrusted gondola, Sally Humphreys leaned in adoringly for a lingering kiss - from a man almost old enough to be her grandad.
And didn’t he look it? His thin, wrinkled lips were puckered like those of a man who had misplaced his dentures. His crepey skin stretched across his thin, boney face, his sun-damaged hand reached for her slender knee, his turkey neck wobbled in anticipation of a night of passion.
To be honest, it was utterly revolting. One can only imagine that when they did make love, Miss Humphreys laid back and thought of the Bank of England.
How else can you explain the love affair between the scarecrow Wood and this lovely theatre producer? While it could be true love, it’s more likely she’s been seduced by the lure of celebrity, or the money and lavish lifestyle that the multi-millionaire Wood can offer.
And he has offered it to many women, all young enough to be his daughters, since he separated from his wife of 24 years, Jo.
We’ve long become accustomed to the sight of fabulously wealthy and famous older men dating younger women, but when the age gap reaches more than 30 years, you have to wonder what the women can be thinking.
Not that there is any shortage of much younger women keen to go to bed with these gnarled old codgers. Monty Python’s John Cleese, 72 years old, is in a relationship with 41-year-old Jennifer Wade; Charles Dance dated 25-year-old Sophia Myles when he was 58; 80-year-old Des O’Connor’s wife is 43-year-old Jodie Brooke Wilson.
The pattern is always the same: rich, successful older man pairs up with unknown young woman. But after the first flutter of love and £50 notes, do these women really have any idea what is in store for them?
As I discovered recently at a gathering of thirty to fifty-something women who were all single and dating, a younger woman pays an especially heavy price to be with a much older man.
You only have to look closely at the picture of Ronnie Wood to see what they’re in for. He’s not only dyed his hair, he’s also dyed his eyebrows. But while this may knock off a few years when he’s dressed, when he revealed himself in all his wrinkly majesty, Ms Humphreys will have discovered that he’s not a natural brunette, if you catch my drift.
While so much is written about what happens to women’s bodies when they hit 50 (their breasts and bottoms head south, their tummies never recover from having children, they have stretch marks, cellulite and sagging flesh), very little is said about what happens to men’s bodies at a similar age.
Without going into too much detail in a family newspaper, let’s just say their wobbly bits droop as far and as fast as a mother-of-six’s breasts. And instead of a washboard stomach, they have washboard bottoms. Male buttocks over 50 are like dodos - they just don’t exist.
And, as one of my young friends revealed over dinner after her affair with a 65-year-old, the sex can be a nightmare. He’s either not that interested (unless you’re wearing PVC or a nurse’s outfit) or he’s popping Viagra like Smarties and you’re up all night grappling with a wrinkly old bloke who thinks he’s Leonardo DiCaprio.
One woman at the dinner, a glamorous fifty-something, told of her latest dating experience. She met an adorable man 12 years older than her who was very keen, but who suddenly stopped calling or returning her texts.
After three weeks without a word, he reappeared. Was there another woman? Was he back with the ex-wife? No, he’d broken his front tooth and couldn’t bear to see her until he’d had it replaced.
Yes, teeth problems loom large with the older man, as does health in general. When men get to Wood’s age, they have a lot of health issues - both real and imagined.
They’re obsessed with their libidos (or lack of them), their cholesterol levels, their blood pressure, their prostates. They insist they’ve had a stroke or a heart attack when it’s just heartburn from eating too much.
They fret about their receding hairline and their ever-expanding waistlines. Forget the myth about the older man who can support you emotionally and financially: they are as needy as children, especially when they are with younger women.
Constantly seeking reassurance, they need their lovers to lavish praise on them. As Wood said of his new girlfriend: “She’s really supportive of everything I do.” Clever girl.
The most brilliant portrayal of the truth of the much older man and the younger woman comes, ironically, from Woody Allen - who left his partner and mother of his children, Mia Farrow, who was a modest ten years his junior, for their stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn, who was 35 years younger than him.
In Allen’s film You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Anthony Hopkins plays Alfie, a married man who dumps his wife Helena and marries a gold-digging prostitute half his age called Charmaine Foxx.
Alfie subjects himself to fake tans and endless gym sessions, wears teenage clothes and watches his bank account dwindle due to her excesses. Desperate to recapture his youth, he can’t even make love to his nubile young wife without Viagra.
It is a poignant, rather pathetic portrayal of the Ronnie Woods of this world and reveals the truth about love with an old rogue.
Of course, older men can remain wonderfully attractive and lovable to women who’ve grown old alongside them. As exhausted Alfie discovers when he leaves his young wife and tries to reconcile with Helena, there is something marvellous about a long marriage.
Even in your 80s, as I know from my own parents, you remember the young person you fell in love with, and they remember you as you were - the soft skin, the bright eyes, the youthful body, the passion and the enthusiasm. Long-term love doesn’t see the wrinkles.
But while a lengthy marriage might provide a woman with a bank of memories to draw on when her husband turns grey and doddery, for a young woman going out with a much older man, what you see is what you get.
The truth is, women are much more likely to find happiness with a man nearer their own age. At 54, I’ve never been tempted to go out with a much older - or much younger - man, knowing I’m far more likely to find common ground with someone who is also in their early 50s.
So why do men in their 50s and 60s suddenly dump the wives with whom they’ve shared a lifetime for much younger women?
This question was answered rather succinctly in a scene from American TV show Mad Men, when the silver-haired advertising executive Roger Sterling is sitting in a bar with his stylish and attractive ex-wife, Mona.
He is lamenting the breakdown of his marriage to his second wife, the twenty-something spendthrift Jane, acknowledging his folly in leaving a loyal wife for a beautiful young woman.
Mona responds, with breathtaking clarity: “I always thought the reason that you left me and married Jane was because I got old. Then I realised it was because you got old.” - Daily Mail