Yes, the awards were a dazzling success, well a flamboyant, warm, celebratory gathering and gave Suzanne and I lots of joy and satisfaction. A dazzling success in our terms of reference rather than a corporate one. To see what giving appreciation and awards do for small pro-ageing charities or individuals who often feel alone in their fight against ageism. In a society where getting older is denigrated and reductive granny/grandad headlines – one of our categories was ‘the most Ageist Headlines’ – are pervasive.
We were thrilled to have that combination of friendliness – seeing people chat to each other in the flesh was so great – flamboyance (thanks so much everyone for dressing up to the rafters, the colours were magnificent), fun and seriousness of intent. That mixture. That eclecticism. Louise Chunn, former editor of InStyle and Psychologies magazine as well as the winner of our Wellness Changemaker Award for starting Welldoing.org, which matches people to psychotherapists said; ‘Having sat through dozens of awards evenings as a magazine editor (and won a much-coveted PPA best magazine award in the 2000s) I swear this awards ceremony was a hundred-times more fun and relevant to all in the East End venue.’
However, the voyage to the Awards was far from smooth and I thought – as I believe in this kind of openness but didn’t want to ruin all the enthusiasm for the event and nominations beforehand – I’d let you know about the challenges along the way.
Suzanne and I had been talking about putting on an AofA Awards Ceremony for years, but we knew how hard and full-on the organisation was going to be. We didn’t want to do it on our own. We looked for a willing Events Organiser. We almost found one and then it didn’t happen. And then in 2022, Suzanne found out about a creative agency who said they could raise the sponsorship – to pay the venue, to pay an events’ organiser, to pay ourselves, DJs, all tech, to film it etc – money. At the time, we were thinking that we needed £10,000, maybe more. We had a meeting with them and the CEO was our kind of man – laid back, engaging and convincing – and found out how much it would cost to pay his agency to go ahead. £4,000. And then we thought we’d do a crowdfunder in the FB group to find it because we’d never done one before.
I spent January in North Wales with my partner and then went into crowdfunding action when I got back. I’ve never done a crowdfunder before and basically, it’s asking everyone you know for money. Oh, it’s very exposing. It feels uncomfortable. I discovered that Suzanne felt the same. And along the way, it looked like we wouldn’t make it. We got to about £2000 and the flow stopped. Then right at the end, the flow started again. There were a few people in our AofA FB group who helped us – thank you so much to them in other words Lindsay Hamilton and Peter Wallis particularly – get over that line with more than generous donations. Part of the lure in general was a ticket to the actual event.
By the end of February, we were meeting with this creative agency and planning the sponsorship path. There was a plan – sponsors to target, write a document about AoA for them, get it out to them and then get the money – that was not kept to. Not by us. By them. There were ideas for sponsors. And there was the writing of the ‘deck’, the document that is sent out to potential advertisers. But this agency was incredibly slow. I’d respond immediately, they’d take days. The ‘deck’ was written more or less entirely by me. We expected inspiration from them around branding and summing up what AofA was about. We also ended up doing that ourselves. Ageing Differently didn’t come from them. What were we paying them for? We thought we were paying for their contacts to sponsors. Sadly, that was not the case.
The ’deck’ was meant to go out to sponsors in May. It didn’t. When it went out in June, there were almost no responses. Then we really started to really worry and had a meeting with them. By this point we’d found Hoxton Hall and booked it. That’s when we discovered that they were sending out emails in a phishing manner. They didn’t actually know these contacts nor did they check that they had the right email addresses. The basics. They promised us – the CEO did – that he would pick up the phone to his contacts, that he would get an extra member of staff on to it – but absolutely nothing happened.
By July – I was in the middle of organising a big birthday celebration on a field in North Wales – it was apparent that we needed to withdraw from our arrangement. I wrote them a ‘fuck off’ letter which was honest and upfront and also saying how sad we felt because we liked him. So much is predicated on ‘like’. Eventually, he paid us back just over a quarter of the money after a lot of persuasion from us.
At this juncture, Suzanne and I simply knew that we had to make it happen. We owed it to all of the AofA members and friends and family who’d contributed to the crowdfunder. That had in theory bought tickets. That we had no choice. Ha ha. We couldn’t let you/them down.
In September, we started. Looking for sponsors. Now we had to find the money to make it happen. We asked PRs we knew. Big PRs. This is one of their responses – ‘I wish I could suggest other potential funders, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of prejudice in that area. We are the lost demographic.’ He’s a friend and he didn’t even try. Such is the feeling of disgust in the advertising industry around old and old people. We knew but equally we were horrified all over again.
And so we went to our address books. And to AofA. One of the first sponsors was Before I Go Solutions – provide end of life planning tools, courses and professional – in the shape of the lovely Jane Duncan Rogers who said yes more or less straight away. They opted to fund our Death Advocate category which makes sense and was so great to hear that they were going to support us. It wasn’t a huge amount of money – £250 per category – but it was a start and after all the rejection, so welcome.
Over in Kilburn, Suzanne already knew Freebird Club – the social travel club for Over 50s – and she arranged to create some video content for them in exchange for £500 and they sponsored the Rock n’roll Artist with the most Glorious Attitude to Getting Older category.
And then something remarkable happened. I must have sent him an email but Jon Devo from Devoted Creatives – he is a tech writer and reviewer, and video man plus runs the Devoted podcast – who is a 37-year-old friend of my son’s, said he’d love to give us £1,000. Oh my, oh my – I was overwhelmed by his generous gesture. Wowee. How some people can see the future and others are stuck in the past. Thank you, Jon. Gratitude.
Devoted Creatives became our main event sponsor. And then Kirkland & Ellis – the lawyers who drew up our sponsorship contract – and Chase de Vere – independent financial advisers that work with Start Up School for Seniors – also became sponsors through Suzanne.
And then we got to work on the nominations. I started putting the categories into the group and you all started responding. Which was wonderful. And there were 20 categories so that meant having to get a lot of nominations. I also researched quite a few of the categories like Anti-Ageist Activist and Non-Fiction with Pro-Ageing Message and Sports God and Goddess because we wanted to achieve a breadth to them. A balance between members of Advantages of Age and the outside world!
Meanwhile I’d edited a basic manuscript of the book – Sex, Death and Other Inspiring Stories – the Advantages of Age handbook to getting older funkily – in 2022 and I’d been nudging Lori Perkins – Riverdale Avenue Books in New York and friend of Suzanne’s – for months but she was in the middles of re-structuring her publishing company. Finally at the end of September, she said we could go ahead.
That meant updating the manuscript adding newer articles and essays. The book is a way of getting out there all those magnificent stories from AofA contributors – from Caroline Rosie Dent tells us lyrically about the healing powers of her relationship with the river Lea to Asanga Anand writing about his (which happens to be our as he’s my partner) sex life in his 70s and Caroline Bobby imagining a death house or Suzanne Portnoy letting us know about her return to Rio’s in Camden where lots of friendly sex goes on. And it also meant finding someone to write a Forward – Louise Chunn – thank you!
It was touch and go whether the book would be printed in time. There was a Sunday morning emergency around the cover. I was communicating with a designer in California that was taking our punkiness a little too literally. I thought my vibrant bed blanket might form the basis of an idea and sent a photo! It did in fact turn out to be a version of my blanket. And the books arrived in time for the ceremony. Well done Lori.
In the meantime, there was shortlisting and judging to do. Suzanne and I assembled the short lists and then we had a panel of judges – Leslie Herman zoomed in from North Carolina, Linda Devo from Blackpool, Harold Mandel and Phil Jordan had sent in their choices – and the rest of us, me, Lulu Laidlaw-Smith, Suzanne and Mark Elliott all gathered around Suzanne’s kitchen table. I had gathered information on all the shortlisted people and organisations so that the judges could look them up. We had lively discussions on them all and reached decisions about the winners. The judges brought a wider wisdom to the proceedings. It was a good process.
There was press to get – relentless pursuit but Metro and the Mail on Sunday covered us in the end – seating to organise. And the massive production travail of one Suzanne Noble. Suzanne went into overdrive – arranging the trophies and their engravings with winners, the beautiful programme, all the audio-visual tech for the awards, the wine for crowdfunder ticket holders and so much more. She is the Queen of production and I really appreciate Suzanne’s skills and efficiency on all these levels.
Oh and not forgetting our outfits. As I left the judging table, I mentioned them. Suzanne immediately said we should go to Suzi Warren of TwistedTwee who subverts the fashion narrative by printing OLD on dresses. Perfect for us. And typically we did our own thing. Suzanne bought a bright cerise pink dress and then Suzi heat-printed OLD TART in green sparkle and gold on it, while I wanted transferable flags inspired by XR flags that I am now called Hag Flags. Suzi made up for me several clashing versions – making sure to chime some pink in with Suzanne – of OLD and HAG, then I safety-pinned them to my dress and my Older Women Rock faux leather jacket!! They were swell and continued Sunday Times word ‘they’re the punks of getting older.’
I said I’d never do it again. Suzanne was already saying that it was going to be an annual event. I thought we could be like Alternative Miss World and just rock out every few years. And then I saw and felt the feedback. I understood how important is to give praise, appreciation and awards where they haven’t been given before. And how Advantages of Age has something particular and quite magical to give in this area. So I gave in.
Here’s one of the reasons –
‘So thank you Advantages of Age for this incredible recognition – and thank you founders Suzanne Noble and Rose Rouse for hosting definitely one of the most fabulously vibrant, joyful and eclectic award ceremonies there is. It was incredibly inspiring and moving evening (key note speech by Kevin Sessums, wow), full of friendship (Debbie Marshall it was wonderful to see you!) , ally-ship and laughter, and it was a true celebration of the privilege of ageing. (watch the vid for one of my favourite awards of the night – ‘Most Ageist Headline!’)’ by Jacynth Bassett who won the Anti-Ageist Activist Award for her amazing Ageism is Not In Style campaigns.