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From Vivienne Westwood to George Eliot: London’s top ten late bloomers

Posted at 5:15 pm, June 7, 2014 in Fun London

 British designer Vivienne Westwood (R) k

1. Francis Bacon
Worried you’re running out of time to become one of the defining artists of your generation? Take heart from Mr Bacon, who spent several decades bumming around London, flitting between odd jobs and the beds of wealthy older gentlemen, before finally finding success in his late thirties. He soon quit the menial labour.

2. Julian Fellowes
Before he educated the world in etiquette, ‘Downton Abbey’ creator Fellowes spent many years as master of little more than a mediocre acting career. It wasn’t until his early fifties, when he penned the screenplay for the Oscar-winning ‘Gosford Park’, that he really moved out of the cinematic servants’ quarters. Perhaps he took the advice of Countess Violet Crawley: ‘Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s very middle class.’

3. Vivienne Westwood
Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious might have been boorish teenagers, but the woman who dressed them was well into her thirties by the time punk catapulted them all to stardom. Along with then partner Malcolm McLaren, Westwood created one of the most distinctive looks of the twentieth century, and was sporting safety pins and studded collars before kids half her age cottoned on.

4. John Healy
As life turnarounds go, this guy could give 50 Cent a run for his money. Healy spent 15 years as an alcoholic vagrant before discovering chess during one of several prison stretches. So began his ten years as a professional chess player, followed by a memoir, ‘The Grass Arena’, in 1988. The book – published when Healy was in his late forties – became a runaway success, lauded by Harold Pinter and other literary heavyweights. Unfortunately, a misplaced threat soured things with his publishers, and Healy sank back into obscurity. Both a late bloomer and an early wilter, then.

5. Levi Roots
Moderate success as a reggae musician wasn’t enough to satisfy this Brixton singer. So in his midforties Levi Roots started supplementing his income by selling spicy Reggae Reggae Sauce (‘it’s so nice I had to name it twice’). An appearance on ‘Dragons’ Den’ led to major investment and quickly turned Roots into a culinary icon. The recipe for late-blooming success: go straight to the sauce.

6. James Dyson
His vacuums really suck (in a good way). And his hand driers really blow (also in a good way). But former Royal College of Art student Dyson spent two decades as a struggling inventor before becoming a household name. He was in his early forties when things really started to pick up, and nearing 50 when his vacuum revolution began in earnest. After that, success was in the bag, or lack thereof.

7. Peter Mark Roget
Synonyms for ‘success’ include ‘achievement’, ‘triumph’ and ‘victory’, but we might not have been able to look that up if it wasn’t for Mr Roget. In his early sixties, the nineteenth-century physician retired from an impressive medical career. But rather than golf, gardening and ‘The Archers’, he used the free time to focus on a pet project he’d had on the go for 35 years: a catalogue of words grouped according to meaning. Thus, the modern thesaurus was born, and soon acquired its own synonym: Roget’s.

8. George Eliot
For her work to be taken seriously, Victorian writer Mary Ann Evans knew it would be best to publish under a male pen-name – a smart decision that probably owed something to the wisdom of middle age. She was 40 when her first book, ‘Adam Bede’, was released, and in her early fifties when she published her defining work, ‘Middlemarch’. The message: it’s never too late to start writing a novel – and sometimes quite useful to palm yourself off as a nineteenthcentury man.

9. Mikael Jonsson
Becoming one of the hottest chefs in the country isn’t easy. But this self-taught fortysomething, ex-food blogger made it look that way when he earned his first Michelin star within one year of quitting his job as a solicitor. His Chiswick restaurant, Hedone, is now both highly revered and a gastronomic monument to the power of a career change.

10. Jo Brand
There can’t be much to laugh about on the average mental health ward. So it’s not surprising that when Brand made the jump from psychiatric nursing to standup, her act was at the grimly cynical end of the spectrum. After a full ten years on the wards, the Dulwich resident was nearly 30 when she made her name with a very different kind of cracking up.

For more top tens have a look at London’s top ten dumb criminals or London’s top ten cats

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