I wanted to hate Champneys' Midlife crisis boot camp… so why has it left me glowing with confidence



07:01 GMT, 17 September 2012

The concept of a ‘Fab After 50’ boot camp irks me. It’s the latest offering from Champneys – the grande dame of English spas – and is described in its brochure as a ‘course for men and women who want to look good and feel GREAT!’

But I wonder just who has deemed it necessary to single out fifty-somethings as a group in need of help Although we are getting on a bit, we’re not ‘old’. At best, this is patronising; at worst, a huge waste – the course costs close to 1,000.

Then I think about whether I’ve been feeling fabulous lately. I’ve just visited my hairstylist, and my outfit is new, but no one seems to have noticed. Have I, like so many others, become invisible after the menopause And so, despite my reservations, I sign up. I want to hate it – but I am intrigued .  .  .

Show of hands: Anthea Gerrie, second right, joins a t'ai chi session led by life coach Tanya Wheway

Show of hands: Anthea Gerrie, second right, joins a t'ai chi session led by life coach Tanya Wheway


Friends had warned me that when you get to 50, men start to look through you as if you weren’t there. But it was still a shock when it happened. Worse, I’m becoming a grumpy old woman – I seem to keep having arguments with everyone from the checkout girl in the supermarket to a couple whispering to each other in the cinema.

My engaging career gives way to days when the nest feels empty – my son left home four years ago. My weight has crept up since I started working at home 20 years ago, and my gym programme is not shifting it. I’m 59 and I am a size 16. Most of my time is taken up by work, and there is little space to nurture the creative life I kickstarted by studying for an art degree in my 40s.

As the prospect of a free bus pass looms, could a course that combines life coaching (a concept I can’t abide), grooming lessons and martial arts be the answer


Champneys in Tring, Hertfordshire, the first of a new raft of professional spas that replaced the old ‘health farms’ in the mid-Seventies.


‘Fab @50+’ is a five-day residential programme. It’s a boot camp devoted to tackling midlife crises. On the first day we meet our course leader, life coach Tanya Wheway, 67. Despite losing her husband of 42 years, Allan, to cancer in 2008, she is a bundle of energy with a smile on her face. I want some of whatever she’s having.

We start at 8am with t’ai chi on the lawn. It’s a combination of stretching and affirmation – Tanya tells us to throw open our arms and greet the day, giving thanks for being able to do these things.

It’s very un-British, it looks silly – normally I’d want to thump the kind of people who say this – but feels good after the four minutes it takes to perform. /09/15/article-2203737-0F72A49100000578-142_634x442.jpg” width=”634″ height=”442″ alt=”The [email protected]+ course is being held at Champneys spa in Tring, Hertfordshire (pictured)” class=”blkBorder” />

The [email protected]+ course is being held at Champneys spa in Tring, Hertfordshire (pictured)

I’m then treated to an 85-minute facial, featuring a massage of my hands, feet, arms and face. I’ve been married to David, 60, also a journalist, for 33 years – things do get less cuddly, although I’m lucky that he seems to know when I need a hug.

But we middle-aged people do sometimes miss the pleasure of being touched – does this sensory deprivation contribute to middle-aged depression and low self-esteem Later we have a skincare and grooming consultation, surely more fitting for teenagers than older women who have had time to perfect their routine I’m talked through a range of anti-ageing products, which I admit are new to me.

I realise I could use some make-up lessons, which are not forthcoming. I’d like to know how to deal with crepe-like eyelids. Note to Champneys: Bring in a professional make-up artist for this session.

My fitness improves startlingly thanks to hitting the treadmill every day, and I also take a daily exercise class. Both the yoga teacher and t’ai chi master are exemplary.

On Wednesday, halfway through the course, I have a health MoT. The nurse checks my blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which are both a bit high – I need to drink less alcohol and eat better. I wish I had longer with the nutritionist, who clearly has motivational skills and gives me a plan to go forward with.

At a daily pep talk from Tanya, we are exhorted to stop focusing on the negative, find better ways of handling tricky relationships and take some tips on managing stress. It feels real, not flippant, advice. Tanya wants us to think about what we really want and how we plan to get it, reminding us that our time is finite.

I want to lose weight, I say. ‘How much, over what period and when are you going to start’ Tanya wants to know. Ditto regarding my resolution to make time for my art.

I find myself pledging to lose 11 lb in three months and review the hundreds of arty shots I’ve snapped on working trips and figure out how to showcase them. The most confident woman in the group pledges to take up a long-shelved acting career, while the least confident – who has spent months curled up behind closed curtains desperate to lose weight – vows to take a daily walk.


I spend my last evening strolling among the tall trees on the Champneys estate. It is beautiful and I am optimistic. I realise I’ve not had that feeling for a long time. I return home refreshed, full of resolve – and 2 lb lighter. For the time being, at least, I am no longer invisible.

The [email protected]+ course costs 995, with five nights’ accommodation and all meals. A medical check, consultation with a nutritionist, fitness consultation, skincare consultation and four workshops with Tanya are included. Treatments include two massages and a facial. The next courses run from October 7 to 12 and November 11 to 16. Call 0843 3162222 or book online at champneys.com