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It’s one of those images. Once seen, near impossible to wipe from your mind. The portrait shows the 59-year-old tech billionaire Jeff Bezos splayed out in the front seat of a pick-up and enfolded in the bosom of his fiancée, the pneumatic newscaster turned helicopter pilot turned philanthropist Lauren Sánchez. They want the world to share their love.
The image comes courtesy of Annie Leibovitz, in the latest issue of US Vogue. It accompanies a sprightly profile of Sánchez, who has been given the full Vogue treatment with a glossy interview and fashion shoot.
It is the appearance of Bezos, however, midway through the story, that takes the breath away. The once shy, somewhat geeky chap behind the world’s most powerful retailer has lately taken on the appearance of a third-tier action man. Here, he is captured at his most bionic: biceps bulging through his tight-fit tee. He wears jeans, just like the frontiersman of yesterday. In lieu of a hairline, he has donned a Stetson hat.
As Chloe Malle writes of his transformation: “It’s as if he’s emerged from his chrysalis, a swole monarch, no longer Amazon CEO (a role he ceded in 2021) but an empty nester who is venturing not only into the Adriatic but into outer space.”
Bezos is not the first man to have enjoyed a post-divorce transformation: he parted ways from MacKenzie Scott, his wife of 25 years and mother of his four children, in 2019. In the years since, his body has metamorphosed in tandem with his new ardour: perhaps the adrenaline of passion has made his six-pack pop? Looking at his current costume, one considers the legions of men who have pulled from the Wild West to lend themselves more manly cool. At least Bezos has some claim to be a cowboy: he was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
For all the billionaire trappings and space apparatus, however, Bezos exhibits every symptom of the man trapped in a mid-life malaise. The sports car may have been upgraded to a space rocket, but the other expressions of this new look are a textbook version of a very basic crisis. There’s the lusty girlfriend, who insists, “He’s the life of the party . . . ” There’s the new passion for ice-scooping and making margaritas (what is about fiftysomething men and drinks?). There’s the somewhat awkward, perhaps unintended sexual innuendoes: “I was going to give you a salted rim,” he tells the interviewer during one cringe-making exchange.
Meanwhile, a glance at @jeffbezos on Instagram finds him sharing his love of “crazy disco” parties alongside maternal healthcare, conservation and other personal philanthropies. Last weekend he staged an all-star engagement party, hosted by Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, and attended by Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Bob Iger and Scooter Braun. Apparently this was just a taster for the big 60th in January, after which he plans to tie the second knot.
The life and soul of the party? A dude just living His Best Life? To me, the sheer energy required of Bezos to tell everyone of the great time he’s having reads as an epic cry for help. Give the man a snowglobe and a mansion, and one imagines he’ll be mumbling for Rosebud and shedding single tears. In the meantime, he wears the mantle of celebrity powerhouse and sparkle-maker about as comfortably as he wears those heart-shaped disco shades.
Perhaps I’m being mean-spirited? Maybe Bezos is the expression of a highly desirable late-onset male virility that I am failing to detect. Do other fiftysomething men look at Bezos with admiration, and wish that they too could experience the Sánchez effect?
This week has also found us watching another fiftysomething shuffle back into the public eye. Lord Dave Cameron has been plucked from the post-leadership penumbra to assume a ministerial role. Men seemed to delight in his appearance. Maybe his everyman accessibility is more on point. Take this gushing review by Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts: “Walnut-veneer suntan, salon-schmoozer crows feet, the receding hair now a little greyer: he is ageing like Fonseca vintage port.”
It seems men have two routes when faced with ageing. Fight it with everything in their arsenal, à la Bezos, or lean into it like Cameron and go full elder statesman. Cameron is carrying at least an extra stone of dietary indulgence, his suit sleeves never quite seem to fit correctly and he still lopes around like a sixth-form prefect after a quick smoke behind the cricket shed, but he elicits a strange admiration from other men. The Telegraph columnist Iain Dale could hardly contain himself with the announcement that “Daddy’s home”. Even a solidly anti-Tory colleague admitted a purring admiration for Cameron’s reappearance as a grandee.
Do you want to be a Bezos or a Cameron? I don’t suppose one really gets to choose. Limitless riches can ward against the ageing process, but that’s no guarantee it will buy you any taste. I would prefer not to rail against the inevitable to such a degree that it became my personality. But if you’re looking for a real “Fonseca vintage port” for guidance, I would direct you to one Mark Ruffalo.