Cast your mind back, if you will, to the televised proceedings of the British House of Commons committee that was grilling Rupert and James Murdoch about the phone-hacking carried out by their newspapers. Remember the most compelling image that emerged from that meeting? Yes, it was the moment when Rupert, the ageing patriarch of the Murdoch clan, was attacked by a man who pushed a ‘foam pie’ into his face.
But it wasn’t the sight of a powerful media mogul subjected to public ridicule on international television that enthralled us. It was the image of his young wife, Wendi Deng, seated behind her husband, leaping to his defence like a protective tigress and hitting his attacker flush in the face. The look of murderous intent in her eyes said it all: she would kill, if that’s what it took, to protect her man.
In an instant, all those who had scoffed at their December-May pairing when they wed in 1999 – Rupert, 37 years older than Wendy, is now a sprightly 80 to her youthful 43 – were forced to eat their words; or should that be humble (foam) pie? This was no gold digger out to make her fortune by marrying a rich old man. This was a woman who loved her husband and would do anything to defend him – yes, even use her powerful right hook.
Now contrast this with another portrait of a marriage. Demi Moore was 41 when she fell in love with the 25-year-old Ashton Kutcher. They married a couple of years later despite their 15-odd years age difference. Predictably, the sceptics scoffed and prophesied that the union would not last. But Demi and Ashton seemed determined to prove them wrong, with their endless public displays of affection, and avowals of eternal love. Demi went by Mrskutcher on twitter and Mr Kutcher did such playful things as snap her white-bikinied bottom as she ironed his shirt (ah, the joys of domesticity!) and post the picture on Twitter as if to prove what a fit wife he had.
Fast forward to their sixth wedding anniversary and what do we see? Demi’s husband is far away in San Diego, cavorting in a hot tub with a bunch of 20-something, near-naked girls, one of whom he ends up in bed with (apparently, after having failed to persuade her friend to join them for a threesome). Not surprisingly, Demi announced that she was filing for divorce soon after.
Not that Demi is the first older woman – or cougar as we are told to call them these days – to be publicly humiliated by her much younger husband. Even the ageless Madonna had to suffer the same ignominy when Guy Ritchie celebrated his impending divorce by telling his friends that his wife was so skinny that sleeping with her was like ‘cuddling a piece of gristle’ (charming man, right?). And then he did one better by running off with a much younger model and having a baby with her (that’s one in the face for the much-menopausal Madonna, then).
Courtney Cox hasn’t had much joy out of her marriage to a younger man, David Arquette, either (though she did manage to have a daughter, Coco, after years of trying). Arquette has been in and out of rehab throughout their 11-year marriage. And no sooner had they separated than he was calling in at shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show to announce that he had sex with a bartender/actress while still married and how Courtney (sob!) just didn’t fancy him anymore. And then, like most men fresh out of a relationship he moved on to another girlfriend with the speed of light (or should that be neutrino?).
Perhaps the only celebrity older woman whose marriage with a much-younger man seems to have remained on track is Joan Collins who is now 78 to her husband Percy Gibson’s 46 (yes, you read that right). The pair still appear devoted to one another and when asked about the huge age gap between them, Collins famously declared: "Well, if he dies, he dies."
Other than Collins, I can’t think of a single famous woman who has managed to live happily ever after with a much younger man. Sooner or later, she ends up being cheated on, publicly humiliated, and then traded in for a younger model. Rich men, on the other hand, have no problem holding on to much younger wives. And some of them, like Murdoch, are lucky enough to inspire absolute devotion in their much younger spouses.
Why should this be so? Why is it that older men are more successful at this younger spouse gig than older women?
Well, if you ask me, it all comes down to these ladies choosing to marry little boys – and here I am referring to their mental as well as their chronological age – perhaps in an attempt to re-capture their own youth. But then these boys refuse to grow up – and the problems begin. As Courtney Cox famously declared to David on their 11th anniversary: "I don’t want to be your mother any more." Well, in that case, Courtney, you should not have married a child.
In fact, that’s probably a salutary lesson for all older women out there. If you don’t want to play Mummy, ladies, then don’t marry little boys – or men who behave like little boys. Pick someone your own age instead. You’ll probably be much happier in the long run.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, November 27
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