Many will remember that back in the 1990s the ultimate power couple was the unlikely pairing of Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere.
She was the first and best supermodel and queen of the catwalk, gracing the cover of any fashion magazine worth its salt and famously not getting out of bed for less that $10,000 a day.
He was the greying Hollywood matinee idol who despite turning into a silver fox relatively early in life continued to sweep his leading ladies off their feet and often into film history.
Oh, and he was 17 years older than his model wife. Still, when the couple wed, many saw their love story as the ultimate Hollywood fairytale. Despite the fact that Gere was 42 and his bride was only 25 at the time.
And yet the couple's relationship was beset with rumours from the start, not least because of the age gap. There were unfounded claims that he had a roving eye, while she was said to be a naive innocent when she met the screen star at the age of just 22.
As the whispers continued, the couple even took the extraordinary step of paying $30,000 to take out full-page adverts in several newspapers across the globe vouching for the safety and stability of their marriage.
They divorced a year later.
Now, Cindy Crawford (left with Gere) has broken her silence on what she believes was the chief problem with marriage — the age gap.
Speaking recently, she said: “I think I was more willing at 22 to be, like, ‘Ok, I’ll follow,’ but then you start going, ‘Well, I don’t want to just follow — I want to lead sometimes and I want to walk side by side sometimes’.”
Cindy went on to marry former model and nightclub owner Rande Gerber — only four years her senior. The couple have now been married for 14 years and have two children together.
Richard Gere married actress Carey Lowell — 12 years his junior — in 2002 and the couple have a son together. The couple are still going strong and don’t seem to be bothered by that particular age gap.
Thankfully, not every couple is beset with such difficulties. Many couples find love that lasts no matter what age gap there may be. Instead of growing as individuals they grow as a couple and become stronger for it. We talk to four couples for whom age is just a number.
Angel Arnold (33) is an interpreter and classroom assistant. She lives in Greenisland with her husband, Nigel (42), a head teacher, and their children Karina (5) and Jan (7). She says:
Nigel and I have been married for 10 years this year and we met by absolute fluke over the internet — it was in a chatroom.
I was living in Canada at the time although I'm originally from Poland.
Nigel was going to be visiting a friend of his in the area a few weeks later and asked me about things to do and we started chatting from there.
We met in person and it all snowballed from there. I came to Northern Ireland to visit him for six weeks and he proposed while I was here.
I moved over here and we decided to move in together — it made more sense because he had a job that wasn't too easily transferable but I could really work anywhere.
We decided to live together for a year before we got married just to be on the safe side and that was it — just one year later we got married.
I don't think age was ever an issue with us.
I might come across as naive compared to Nigel but we just look at it that he happens to have 10 years more experience than I do.
With a guy that's older than you it's definitely quality over quantity in the relationship An older guy will spend a lot more time getting to know the real you.
They know how to treat women with respect, it’s the little things like opening doors and being polite and courteous that make a real difference.
Most of my friends are older than me anyway so I think it's not surprising I ended up with someone older.
And I don't think our friends have really noticed the age gap as Nigel looked a lot younger when we first met.
I married and had children at quite a young age but I think it's great — it gives me more free time as they get older and it means I'm still young enough to have fun with them.
Nigel and I spend a lot of time together but we have our own interests too — he's very into photography and I love to paint.
I think it's important to make time for yourself as well as time together.”
Debbie Hughes (26) owns and runs Dazzle Me With Your Tips nail salon and lives in Belfast with husband Jamie Johnston (37) who works for a billboard advertising firm. They have two children, Ellie (3) and Violet (7 months). She says:
I first met Jamie when I was 18 and we were both working at Benedicts Hotel in Belfast. Each of us was with other people back then but I remember that we just got on really well.
Not long after that I came home to my mum and told her I had a one-way ticket to Thailand. I just wanted to go travelling. I left Belfast and didn't come back again until I was 22. My sister was pregnant and I wanted to be around when my first niece or nephew was born. However, I still planned to hit the road again afterwards.
While I was away I had kept in touch with Jamie through Facebook and email.
Our correspondence didn’t stray into any serious territory but we both knew what was going on in each other's lives, and when we met up again in Belfast that was pretty much it.
The age difference has never bothered me. I do things when I'm ready to do them and not sooner. I fell pregnant quite soon after Jamie and I got together but we didn’t move in together until Ellie was born and we only got married in October 2010 because that's when we were ready to do it.
I don’t think anyone else worried about our age difference because we were clearly so happy together — people were just happy for us. And while Jamie might have been past his 20s and ready to settle down I've never really been a party girl anyway. Of course, I still want to go for a big night out every now and again but Jamie understands that. He'll come with me and have a good time because he knows that's important to me. Then we'll come home and fall asleep on the sofa in our coats — I've even been known to be holding onto my handbag.
We don't get comments about the age gap between us though people can be a little surprised when they find out as Jamie doesn't look much older than me and I'm mature for my age.
I think we're well suited. Jamie can be a grumpy old man but most of the time I have to be the sensible and mature one in the relationship.
I think whatever Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere were doing wasn't fulfilling the needs of everyone in the relationship.
They didn't work at it and consider what the other person needed and that meant they weren't happy.”
Carly Bell (22) owns Bellaire hair and beauty salon in Belfast. She has been with Ryan Hoey (31), an aeronautical engineer, for the last four years. She says:
Ryan and I met in The Box nightclub at the Odyssey, Belfast, when I was just 18 and he was 27.
Strangely enough I had seen a photo of him on Bebo through a mutual friend when I was 14 and I loved the look of him back then.
I remembered that photo when I actually met him for the first time.
The second time I met him I did all the running.
I chased him and managed to get his mobile phone number through a friend of a friend.
We started going out on a few dates and had a great time; he didn't act like he was older than me at all.
I've never gone out with boys my own age anyway — previous boyfriends as well as those in my circle of friends generally all tend to be older than me.
Still, I was worried about the age gap when I first started dating Ryan — I was 18 and he was 27.
For the first couple of months I was a bit concerned that he wouldn't take me seriously |because I was so much younger.
I was also scared to tell my parents when we decided we would be together — when I said his age out loud it seemed really old!
Of course, my parents had their doubts but I've always been mature for my age and now, as time has gone on, I've forgotten all about the age difference.
After four years, do we notice it? Perhaps a little bit.
I'm only in my early 20s and I still have a lot of life to live but Ryan is ready to settle down a bit — we've even talked about tying the knot.
I'm not that worried though.
I may be young but I know Ryan is the one for me.”
Shauna Hutton (30) is a fashion consultant and lives in Belfast with her husband Graham, (42), a chef, and their children Tyler (6), Darcy-Grace (5) and Graham-John (3). She says:
Graham and I met in a nightclub — he was a friend of a friend and we were introduced but I didn't have anything to do with him for the rest of the night.
The funny thing was every time I went out in Belfast after that I kept running into him. He would be in whatever bar or party I happened to go to.
One night I ran into him at a party in Jordanstown and we just clicked — we were living together a week later!
I've never been bothered by his age although I didn't believe when he told me how old he was the first time. Graham doesn't look his age or act it at all. I've gone out with older men anyway and I like socialising with older people. I think I can connect with them better.
On the other side Graham has always hung out with younger people. His best friend of nine years is 26. He has just as much energy and youth as I do so I never worry about him keeping up with me.
The age gap wasn't a problem although I was a little worried about introducing Graham to my parents as he's only 14 years younger than my dad.
For the first while we just called him a friend as I have lots of male friends. We were a little worried about how they might react but by the time my parents found out they knew Graham was around to stay.
No one has ever raised any eyebrows when they've found out the age difference as it's so easy |to see that we're good together.
I've never felt that Graham and I were at different stages in our life.
We met when I was 20 and went out and partied until I was 25.
We would still do it today but with two children it can be hard to get a babysitter! There have never been any issues between us, like who's the boss in the relationship because we're a partnership. I think it sounds like Cindy Crawford couldn't be herself within the relationship — it was about their personalities not their ages.”