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Summer's here! We're still proud of our bikini bodies

Three NI women follow in Lorraine Kelly's footsteps and prove you can still rock a two-piece in your 40s and 50s

By Una Brankin

Published 01/08/2015

Fiona O'Connor
Fiona O'Connor
Fiona Hurley
Gwen McGrath
Lorraine Kelly

There aren't many women who feel confident in a bikini after 40 - never mind 50. So when GMTV presenter Lorraine Kelly posed recently in a two-piece - at 55 - she laid down the gauntlet to ladies of a certain age everywhere.

The Glaswegian presenter achieved her trim figure through a healthy eating plan, designed by nutritionist Sally Bee, and by fitness classes, including Zumba. The resulting untouched photos of the popular mother-of-one inspired us to team-up with the leading makeover team, Picture Me, to find three readers prepared to follow in Lorraine's footsteps, and to prove that - with a bit of effort - it's possible to still rock a bikini in our middle years.

Former Miss Northern Ireland Fiona Hurley turns 41 in October. Originally from Belfast, Fiona lives in Bangor with husband John West (43) and their four-year-old dogs, Aflie and Annie, a mini schnauzer and cairn terrier. A Northern Irish territory manager for a medical device company, size 10 Fiona still models part-time for Style Academy and recently filmed an advertisement for Dromona butter. Fiona says:

I've always thought Lorraine Kelly is fabulous looking and I love her effervescent, warm personality. I think she's extremely brave for appearing on TV in a bikini, regardless of her age, as there aren't many people who'd be willing to put themselves in such a vulnerable position. It helps, of course, that she's in such great shape.

When I was modelling full-time, I often exercised for two to three hours per day - I was doing a lot of underwear and swimwear shoots. Now, I just can't summon up the energy or interest to go to the gym as I find that environment extremely boring.

The only exercise I've been doing for almost four years, since we got our dogs, is walking them for around one to two hours a day in the park and beach beside our home. However, I do intend to hire a personal trainer soon because I need someone to motivate me, and that sort of instruction can genuinely help to transform your body shape.

I enjoy healthy food but I still eat whatever I fancy, just not in large portions. I never diet or deprive myself of anything and I have a bar of chocolate every evening. I'm an animal lover so I've always struggled with eating meat, but especially so since Alfie and Annie arrived on the scene - they're like children to me. John brought me to Vietnam for my 40th birthday last year, which was amazing but so upsetting for us both, because of the dog eating. I can't even eat chicken with peace of mind anymore.

Meat and processed foods are a minute part of my diet; I prefer clean foods such as fish, fruit, rice, potatoes, and vegetables, without any sauces and so on. Also, I often go for months without drinking alcohol but if I'm going to a special event or party, I still like to indulge.

I haven't really noticed too many changes in my body shape since I've reached 40, but that's most likely because I'm not paying close enough attention and it's not a huge priority for me anymore. I'm probably afraid to look too closely. It's such a relief after working for so many years as a model and being overly self-critical.

In the past when I'd ask my husband John typical questions such as, 'Do you think I've put on weight?' or, 'Can you see cellulite?', he'd always say, 'You've never looked better'. It took me a while to figure out that this was his generic response to a number of potentially loaded questions.

I'm definitely not as toned and strong as I was a few years ago but I don't blame my age for that, just my lack of exercising.

I agree with the theory that it's better for your face if you carry a few extra pounds in middle-age. My face looks like the Edvard Munch painting, The Scream, if I lose too much weight. People generally think it's lines and wrinkles that make you older looking but there are additional factors, such as skin discolouration, sun spots, and a reduction in facial fat, especially in the cheek area, so being underweight or having low body fat certainly doesn't help matters. Yo-yo dieting, a low fat diet, and over exercising all contribute to looking older, so they're best avoided.

I used to spend an absolute fortune on the beauty products like Creme de la Mer, Sisley, Yves St Laurent and Dior. Then I did some research and found that many of these expensive products have a high alcohol content, which causes a negative inflammatory reaction. Fine lines and wrinkles may be temporarily plumped up because of swelling, but it's damaging in the long term as it destroys collagen. I've also discovered that creams in jars are rendered practically useless once they're exposed to the air. I've been using the highly affordable and fantastic Paula's Choice skincare and body care range for a few years - and I'll never buy anything else.

As for cellulite and slimming cream and so on: they are gimmicks and the beauty industry is making billions off our insecurities. Either a woman has cellulite or she doesn't, regardless of weight, because it's genetic. A healthy diet and exercise can help to reduce it but no cream or gadget is going to totally erase it, regardless of the pseudoscience these companies blind us with.

I used to absolutely obsess on the horrors of having cellulite but, over the last few years, I've worked with patients who've had limbs amputated, some confined to wheelchairs and others who are terminally ill from cancer, and I've realised that cellulite isn't really that important in the grand scale of what matters in life.

As for cosmetic surgery, if getting older is really bothering someone and making them extremely unhappy, then why allow it to blight their life when there are options available to help them look better? However, if they're constantly resorting to some sort of cosmetic procedure or plastic surgery, and their face is becoming unrecognisable, if not totally ruined, then it indicates deeper underlying issues with self-esteem. In these cases, the money would be better being spent having psychotherapy sessions.

Fiona O'Connor (51) works full-time as medical secretary with the Belfast HealthTrust. The psychology graduate from Lisburn has a 10-year-old daughter, Georgia, and a 14-year-old Westland terrier, Bonnie. Tall and lean, Fiona maintains her toned size 10 figure by eating a super healthy diet - with the odd treat - and by working out six days a week in the Vitality Gym at the Leisureplex, Lisburn. Fiona says:

Good on Lorraine for showing that women can still look hot in their 50s. I got a six-pack when I hit 50. I've tried to get abs for the last 20 years, since I first set foot in a gym, but only recently have I understood what it takes. I'm currently trying to get a 'bubble butt' - to lift my saggy bum. It's going up very slowly but I've another month to go on my plan, so fingers crossed.

I lift weights and do cardio. I usually follow a split routine, concentrating on different body parts each day, cardio, and one rest day. At the minute, I'm concentrating on my glutes, which is my weakest area, so I'm doing three days' lower body work and two days' circuit-style upper-body maintenance, one day cardio and one rest day.

I eat clean and drink loads of water. I've worked out how many calories I need to eat a day to maintain a healthy weight, and divide those up between protein, carbs and fats. It is important to eat a mixture of all of these to stay healthy. For breakfast, I have oat bran, chia seeds, 100% chocolate, stevia, a whole egg and egg whites to make a sort of porridge. For lunch I have broccoli, mushrooms and chicken. Pre-workout, I have a protein shake; post-workout, I have another protein shake and three rice cakes, and for dinner I have salmon, peppers and green beans.

I eat huge quantities of vegetables - you have never seen anyone get fat from eating veg, right? I eat the same thing every day, so my appetite isn't stimulated, which helps beat the cravings. I do have a very sweet tooth and do eat sweets and chocolate - just not all the time.

I avoid anything pre-packed. If I read a label and can't pronounce an ingredient, I don't buy it.

If God made it, it's good. If man made it, it's rubbish.

It wasn't until I turned 40 that I really started to work out properly. I had loads of energy and the cellulite I had all through my 30s started to disappear. I read up on the science behind working-out with weights and eating clean, and I learned so much. I joined Facebook and joined fitness pages and learned so much from people who had a lot of experience in fitness. This led me to booking a few sessions with personal trainers, who also taught me lots. I have found weights really is the best form of exercise for a woman to change her body shape, to burn fat and strengthen her bones for the post-menopause years.

I have seen women go on diets, lose loads of weight and they look fab from the neck down, but maybe their face is gaunt. My advice is don't diet - eat healthily and it will show in your face. If you lift weights, you don't have to diet, you just change what you eat and then eat lots of it.

I use Elemis skincare when I can afford it. Otherwise, I use Boots No 7 or L'Oreal products. I also use Trilogy Q10 anti-ageing facial oil and I dry-body brush daily to keep cellulite at bay. Cellulite creams never worked for me; I believe you need to blast cellulite from the inside out, not the other way round.

I moisturise my face, neck, decolletage, body, hands and feet every day, religiously. I'm not a big fan of fake tan - I hate the smell, the feel of it on my skin and I can't put it on properly. I did have my legs spray-tanned once for a night out, though, and they looked great - apart from the odd spider vein and bruises from the gym.

I put weight on easily around my bum and thighs, so that's the hardest part for me to tone up, while my arms and shoulders tone up quite quickly. Some people might be better toned around their bum/legs but find it hard to get rid of fat on their arms. You should never compare yourself to someone else when working out, you do what is best for you.

Sit-ups alone won't give you a six pack - what you eat gives you a six pack. You should do stomach exercises to build your ab muscles but you need to burn off the fat on top of them, so you can see them. "Abs are made in the kitchen" - that is the most important thing I have learnt in the last 10 years!

The celebrities I most admire for their looks and physiques are the two Jennifers - Lopez and Aniston: one glam and one natural, both looking fab at 40-plus and inspiring us older ladies to do the same.

I would never have Botox or fillers. I've read too many horror stories and seen too many weird-looking celebrities. And I would love to have my jawline tightened and to have a subtle boob job but I'm too scared.

Physically, I feel fantastic these days. I certainly don't feel any worse than I did 10 years ago. I'm going through the menopause of course but have only the occasional hot flush. I don't drink now, so I don't have hangovers and I don't stuff myself with crappy food, and then feel sick and lethargic.

Gwen McGrath (46) has three grown-up children and a partner, Chris (38). The Dublin-born personal trainer has several clients in Northern Ireland and is planning to open an EMS - Electro Muscle Stimulation - gym in Belfast in the near future. Gwen combines her weight training and spin classes with EMS therapy twice a week.Gwen says:

I think Lorraine looks fabulous at 55 in her bikini - she has a fantastic smile and bubbly personality, too, and doesn't look her age, face-wise, either.

I agree that if you lose too much weight off your face in your later years, you can look older and gaunt. Weight loss and not exercising slows down the metabolism and speeds up the ageing process, by suppression the production of collagen in the skin. A little bit of weight on the cheeks is nice, I think.

I eat lots of turkey, white fish, steak, egg whites, oat bran, fresh pesto, parmesan cheese and lots and lots of green vegetables - mainly courgettes and broccoli. I have protein shakes or pancakes after work-outs, although they're not on my plan right now, as I am trying to get lean. One of my favourite healthy meals is sweet potatoes and freshly cooked onion bread, with turkey or fish - delicious. I drink almond milk and five litres of water a day.

I avoid processed foods, gluten, lactose, sugar, frozen readymade meals, takeaways and alcohol - although I will have a drink maybe once a year - then I'll go all-out!

I have worked out since I was 16. I got into bodybuilding when I was 39 and came third in my first competition, so I was probably in the best shape of my on that stage. Then, when I was 43 - due to personal reasons - I quit training for two years and it was the worst thing I ever did.

I gained three stone and had a recurrence of thyroid issues. I had bad cellulite, my metabolism was shot and I was depressed. But I got back into the gym in January 2015 and this is where I am today: healthy and fit, mentally and physically. I will never let it happen again.

On my face, I use Argan oil, Vitamin E cream with SPF and a gentle exfoliator and a medicated wash every day. I like baby oil gel and coconut butter on my body and Dove shower gel. Cocoa Brown is my favourite fake tan - it smells nice and gives a natural glow.

For their curves and womanly figures, confidence and independence, I admire Raquel Welch, Beyonce and Salma Hayek.

In his words, my partner Chris thinks I am "amazing, dedicated, energetic and fit". He says it makes him feel good to be around me, as I inspire him, and that I have a figure any 20-year-old would be proud of. He loves my curves and the muscle. He's seven years younger than me, so I must be doing something right!

Since I started back in training in January, the physical changes have been huge. I have lost two stone; my body fat is down from 39% to 25%; and my waist has come down from 32 to 27 inches. My legs and glutes have muscles I've never had before and I'm much stronger and fitter than before.

I have never had Botox or fillers or a facelift. Not saying I wouldn't have Botox one day, if I felt the need. But never a facelift, ever. I have had breast augmentation. After three children - my last child being 10 pounds and six ounces - and going from 9st 7lbs to 13st, my bustline was virtually non-existent, so, 15 years ago I took the plunge, if you'll pardon the pun. I feel better than I did 10 years ago, and compared to what I was two years ago, I feel like a brand new person - empowered, vibrant , young, energetic, confident and sexy.

Fiona Hurley wears Prima Donna Bora Bora, £115 from Orchid Lingerie; Maryan Melhorn wrap, £50 from Orchid Lingerie; Silver fringe chain cape, £55 from Bohemian Vixen

Gwen McGrath wears Freya 'Beach Candy' Bikini, £56; Orchid Lingerie 100% silk Maryan Melhorn wrap, £60; Orchid Lingerie

Lily-May handlet, £45 from Bohemian Vixen; long gold and semi-precious coin necklace, £15 from Bohemian Vixen; sandals, model's own

Fiona O'Connor wears Roidal Bikini £160 from Orchid Lingerie; 100% silk Roidal wrap, £77.50; Orchid lingerie Lily-May handlet, £45 from Bohemian Vixen; long gold and semi-precious necklace, £25 from Bohemian Vixen; shoes, art director's

Style queen

Style Academy modelling agent Tracey Hall (48) expertly directed her in-house Picture Me styling team for our Lorraine Kelly- inspired shoot. With more than 30 years in the fashion and beauty industry, Tracey knows all the tricks of the trade used by supermodels and celebrities in front of the camera, and, for the last three years, her team has produced stunning portraits of mere mortals of all ages from all over Northern Ireland, each photographed in Style Academy's studio on Belfast's Royal Avenue.

For Picture Me bookings, see; contact or tel: Hannah on 02890244343.

Bikinis and wraps: Orchid Lingerie, Lisburn Road.

Jewellery: Bohemian Vixen

Art Direction: Tracey Hall, Style Academy

Make-up: Samantha Weightman, tel: 078 6631 5279

Hair: Andrew Jebb, Tel: 078 5293 2886

Pictures: Mark Marlow

Belfast Telegraph

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