At first glance there would seem to be few similarities between Jilly Cooper, the queen of bodice-ripping romance, Vivienne Westwood, fashion's enfant terrible, and Professor Richard Dawkins, scourge of religion.
And that, so the charity WRVS says, is the point of its report on the 66 best examples in the UK of men and women over the age of 66.
Cooper is 74 and Westwood and Dawkins are 70. But age, says the charity, does not define them: in fact it is the least interesting thing about them. This week, as they launch their report, the authors of the Gold Age Power List will ask the great British public to stop dismissing those of a pensionable age.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, 70, may be entitled to £95.70 a week from the state, but seems happy enough with his £4m a year salary – and who, outside Liverpool perhaps, could deny that he deserves high wages?
Lynne Berry, chief executive of WRVS, a charity for the elderly previously known as the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, said she hoped the list would open the eyes of the younger generation to the value, wisdom, dedication and talents of those aged 66 years or over.
The threshold was chosen not only because it is the year at which people can claim the state pension, but because the baby boomers, born in 1945, turn 66 this year. "The Gold Age Power List is recognition of the people who are making extraordinary achievements and inspirational contributions in the later decades of their lives," Berry said.
"Too often our society writes people off when they get past standard retirement age. Older people are seen as frail, a burden or a drain on society's resources. The reality is that older people make a significant economic and social contribution to our society."
An economic analysis published earlier this year by the WRVS showed the over-65s made a net contribution to the UK economy of £40bn last year, even allowing for the costs of pensions, welfare and health services, which equates to just over £100m a day. And it is a group of people that was a great deal smaller in previous times – half the people who ever lived to the age of 65 are alive today.
The new list of 66 people, published tomorrow, celebrates people in the worlds of arts, sports and adventure, science, public service and business. For each of those categories the judging panel – which included Gransnet editor Geraldine Bedell, standup comedian Jenny Eclair and the editor of Good Housekeeping, Lindsay Nicholson – chose their favourites. In the field of arts and literature they selected Diana Athill, who won the 2009 Costa biography prize for Somewhere Towards The End, a memoir about old age. Last year she was awarded an OBE and was the subject of a BBC documentary, Growing Old Disgracefully.
The judges' favourite person over 66 in business was Delia Smith, 70, who remains the UK's bestselling cookery author, with 21m book sales. Her biggest seller, The Winter Collection, sold 2m copies and the 1998 television series, Delia's How To Cook, reportedly led to a 10% rise in egg sales in Britain.
The Queen drew praise for her public service, particularly in light of her visit to the Republic of Ireland this year, the first trip by a reigning British monarch for a century. At 85, she is the longest-lived British monarch and her reign is second in length only to that of Queen Victoria. Last year, the WRVS said, the Queen carried out more than 400 engagements.
In academia, Lord Robert Winston, 70, who at 67 was voted Peer of the Year by his fellow parliamentarians for his work on the human fertilisation and embryology bill, was the favourite. He is currently professor of science and society and emeritus professor of fertility studies at Imperial College London.
His research led to the development of gynaecological microsurgery in the 1970s and developments in reproductive medicine, particularly in the fields of endocrinology and IVF.
In the field of sports and adventure, Michael Palin, 68, made it ahead of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, 67, Sir Chris Bonington, 76, who has made 19 expeditions to the Himalayas, and Formula One racing driver Sir Stirling Moss, 81.
The former The Monty Python star who, in the second half of his life has become a traveller and documentary maker, was praised for not resting on his laurels as he got older. In 2009, Palin became president of the Royal Geographic Society and is currently making a four-part BBC1 series exploring Brazil.
In music and entertainment, broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, 85, who is working into his ninth decade, won out. On his 80th birthday in 2006, he was on the Galapagos islands, filming giant tortoises. He is currently writing and presenting Frozen Planet, a new series for BBC1 about the impact of climate change on the polar regions.
The list also recognises local volunteers who continue to make invaluable contributions in their communities every day, often well into their 70s and 80s. Winners included Doris Long, 96, nicknamed "Daring Doris", who has become known for fundraising stunts that have set four Guinness records, allowing her to become the world's oldest abseiler. The great-great grandmother, of Hayling Island, has completed 18 abseils, starting at the tender age of 85, and her stunts have raised more than £15,000 for local charities.
Geraldine Bedell, who chaired the judges, said the list lacked ethnic diversity but she hoped that this would change in the future. "The final list is perhaps not as representative of modern Britain as we would have liked, reflecting the fact that mass immigration was a relatively recent phenomenon and that the earlier generations of ethnic minorities faced considerable prejudice," she said.
Article from Guardian