Jenny Eclair: Middle-aged women are dismissed and ignored

Comedian and writer Jenny Eclair talks to Hannah Stephenson about middle-aged rage and missing performing as her latest book is published.

Comedian Jenny Eclair has published a book on surviving the menopause. Photo: Ray Burminston/PA

“I’ve had a lapse back into the menopause today,” Jenny Eclair declares at the beginning of our interview. “I had some technical difficulties and immediately started swearing and sweating.”

Her dry humour is well-known, having been a comedian for most of her adult life – and as time has moved on so have the rants, the reflections on menopause and middle age, demonstrated in her sell-out How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane) and Grumpy Old Women tours.

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In a second, she calms down from her tech frustrations. “I’ve gone clammy and cold now,” she observes wryly. “It’s cooling.”

Jenny Eclair in Comic Relief Fame Academy in 2005. Photo: Yui Mok/PA

Today, we’re talking about Eclair’s latest book, Older And Wider, an A-Z compendium of the menopause – part practical guide, part memoir – which links in with the eponymous podcast she does with her friend, comedy writer and TV producer Judith Holder, in which they discuss all manner of middle-age conundrums.

Parts of the book are very funny, others offer advice, but anyone who is menopausal will be nodding their head when reading it. It was the emotional element which knocked Eclair for six, the mood swings and uncontrollable rage, she recalls.

“I still get very hot and bothered and always have. My temperature is very quick to rise but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional kick in the gut, the mood swings ranging from irrational mental rage, to snivelling, neurotic fear and anxiety.”

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Her partner of 38 years, Geof Powell (they married three years ago and have a daughter, Phoebe), could deal with the rage but not the weeping, she reveals. “He didn’t know what to do with me when I turned into this feeble bundle.

"I’ve always been a very confident woman, but seeing me lacking confidence and being very frightened and the anxiety spinning out of control freaked him out a bit.”

For a while, her family walked on eggshells, she recalls. “In amongst the depression and anxiety were sudden bursts of absolute uncontrollable rage,” she writes. For Eclair, HRT was the answer; she’s been on it for around eight years. “It’s not a magic wand. The physical and emotional sides of the menopause aren’t the only things going on in a middle-aged woman’s life.

It’s just part of a perfect storm. All the other [stuff] that lands on your head – ageing parents, empty nest – it’s just a build-up of stuff. The menopause is the last straw for a lot of people.”

She and Powell live in London, a few miles from Phoebe, and have a garden, which has been a saviour these past few months. Eclair says she found lockdown easier before restrictions were eased. “I’m finding the woolliness of semi-lockdown very difficult indeed, combined with being petrified about the future of performing arts.”

At 60, though beyond the menopause, which for her started at 52, anger still fuels her comedy. One gripe is invisibility – how middle-aged women become invisible in many walks of life. “Middle-aged women aren’t invisible, they are just ignored,” she bristles.

She cites scenarios such as trying to get served in a bar full of younger people and being left in the changing room by an assistant who forgot she’d asked for a bigger size. “The media don’t really like ageing women. We are not attractive. There’s a lot of deep-rooted misogyny that hovers around like a bad smell. It is not as public as it used to be but it still lingers. We are dismissed.”

Eclair hopes to write a new stand-up show, perhaps focusing on life beyond menopause, and has a deal for two more books. “I’m missing performing very much,” she laments. “I miss being backstage, walking to the wings, my tour manager.”

Older And Wider: A Survivor’s Guide To The Menopause is published by Quercus, priced £16. 99. Available now.

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