It Carron cost her dearly but Melanie walked away
“Oh darling, I haven’t done anything like that for so long, I don’t know how I’ll feel about it,” she said. “I’ve been playing such down-to-earth women and so I don’t know if that glamour thing is still there for me.” I suggested that she just come along to the shoot and see how she felt. Days later, at a mansion in the middle of nowhere, as she surveyed all the outrageous gowns and jewels, I could see the familiar sparkle in the eyes of a woman who has sent men’s temperatures racing for years.
Sure enough, once she was in six-inch heels, her hair and make-up done, the diva I’ve known and loved for decades was back in the room and absolutely loving it.
The photoshoot resulted in publicity everywhere and all anyone was talking about was how amazing she looked. A week later I did the same thing for Claire King, star of Emmerdale, who was turning 60. That shoot also turned out fabulously.
But what stuck in my mind was that both these women were convinced no one would be interested in pictures celebrating their beauty… just because they are older women. I felt for them, but it was no surprise.
Earlier this week I was invited to a meeting with very senior executives at one of the world’s top TV production companies, who wanted to offer me £1million for the rights to my bestselling book, Ruthless Women, and my new novel, Guilty Women.
Becoming an author had been a complete change of career for me. For many years I was a talent agent. Nicknamed the Queen of Soaps. I’m 45 now but I chose to represent older actresses and TV presenters even when I was in my twenties because I could see that the industry was shockingly ageist towards female talent.
Guilty Women has received brilliant reviews
Male executives slapped “best before” dates on the back of any attractive woman in show business. And soap stars who rejected cosmetic surgery in favour of ageing naturally would soon find their storylines turning from driving men crazy to Driving Miss Daisy.
It became increasingly apparent to me that decent material for older women was in short supply. So I decided to write some.
The result was Ruthless Women, the story of a fictional soap opera where all the women have to fight back against the ageist, misogynist pigs in charge.
Every female character was over 50 and the lead was 75 (apparently unheard of). They were sassy, they were strong and the story was – God forbid, considering their ages – pretty raunchy.
After 39 publishers turned it down – “Who wants to read a book about a bunch of geriatrics?”– the 40th publisher took it on and struck gold. It became 2021’s surprise Sunday Times bestseller and a global hit, selling 350,000 copies in 10 languages.
Guilty Women, featuring the same characters but with a brand new stand alone story, was released this week in hardback and, with pre-orders in five languages, is certain to be another bestseller.
TV legend Stephanie Beacham looking glam with Melanie
Which is how, after a bidding war for the TV rights, I found myself walking into that meeting, floating on air, full of hope. The production company bosses had told my agent how much they loved the books, described the female characters as fabulous, and promised to turn my stories into a binge-worthy boxset.
I was thrilled to think that I might play a part in changing that sexist, ageist system…that I was about to put on air a TV show that starred seven women over 50, some in their seventies, all of them fabulous, feisty and living life to the full.
I could almost taste the champagne that was cooling on the side table as my agent and I sat down in that room with their executives, all of them men. We exchanged pleasantries and I scanned the contract they had put in front of me.
Then, as the corks popped, the penny dropped. I was walking into a trap. I realised the contract gave them the right to change all of the women’s ages without my permission. I would have no say whatsoever.
Pen in hand, I looked up and asked why this had never been mentioned before.
Claire King from Emmerdale did a fabulous shoot
After all, this book was a smash hit, people loved the fact that it was about older women, their ages were key to the whole story. Why would they possibly want to change that? Sitting opposite me, a man in his sixties, not particularly attractive or well-kept, was blunt.
“Well, we wouldn’t put women THAT age on television,” he smirked. “Who would want to watch it?”
As I looked around the room at the nodding heads and patronising smiles, I realised that they all agreed with him, nothing had changed.
So I put down my champagne, tore the contract in two and walked out of the room, telling them as I left that they should all be ashamed of themselves.
I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that many jaws drop in one go.
I mean, who walks away from a million pounds? Clearly not many, otherwise I0 might never have found myself in that situation.
My agent was brilliant and understood, which must have been tough. As a former agent, I know that’s a lot of commission to lose! The money wasn’t all that was lost that day.
That TV show would have been syndicated all over the world, making my career take off like a skyrocket.
But I could never have lived with that trade-off, betraying one of the core values I’ve fought for my entire career – that women have no expiry date.
I’m confident that another offer will come along and I’ll stick to my guns until it does. In the meantime I’ll keep on writing books that break the mold and challenge that tired old stereotype that a woman can’t be sexy after 60.
Hopefully, Guilty Women will be an even bigger seller than its predecessor, fuelling what feels like my one-woman mission to fight this ridiculous notion that only affects women and never men.
- Guilty Women by Melanie Blake has received rave reviews. “If you read only one book this year, Guilty Women won’t disappoint. It will leave you breathless” –The Daily Express. (HarperCollins, £12.99) is out now