As her 60th birthday looms, Suzanne Paul – a whirlwind of energy – can’t quite believe how quickly the years have passed. But she’s also looking forward to the many years she has ahead of her and won’t be letting anything hold her back – hormones included! Bouncing back 10 years on from the very public financial fall that saw her lose everything, Suzanne is on top form and speaking in her characteristic honest-as-the-day-is-long way, about menopause.
“Yes, the ‘M word’!” trills an excited Suzanne in that unmistakable voice. It’s a word Suzanne (58) thinks is missing from our vocabularies – one that’s often whispered, quickly dismissed or only brought up in an embarrassed hush. But not speaking about menopause openly, or our hormones in general – which are “often up the Swannee!” as Suzanne declares – is only doing us harm. If we don’t talk about it and share vital information and experiences, we feel isolated and often can’t even properly identify it, according to Suzanne, who admits she didn’t even click when she started experiencing symptoms herself in her early fifties.
“When I started to get my hot flushes, it was right in the middle of summer, so I thought it was just the weather!” Suzanne says with a laugh. “I just wasn’t able to get cool. But then winter came, and it was still really hot. I would say to my husband, ‘Switch that fire off,’ and he would reply, ‘What are you talking about? It’s freezing.’ That’s when I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, wait a minute...’”
And it wasn’t just the hot flushes she was battling. Suzanne says she was feeling irritable, couldn’t sleep to save herself and, worryingly, was starting to lose that high energy she prided herself on. Although the most noticeable change of all – particularly to her husband Duncan (48) – was how stressed she had become, and how over-emotional she now was, crying at the drop of a hat.
“I couldn’t understand it,” she admits. “I’ve been through all sorts of amazing and crazy things in my life. When I moved here from the UK, I had five pounds in my pocket. Was I stressed about it? No! I could always turn it around into a positive – ‘Oh, that’s okay I don’t have money for food, I could do with losing a few kilos!’” Her new, hyper-sensitive self certainly wasn’t the woman that Duncan – 10 years her junior – had come to know. “When he met me, I was the millionaire who then lost everything... And I still coped. I wrote a best-selling book about how to cope for goodness sake! But all of a sudden, I couldn’t. Silly little things were happening and I was bursting into tears. I was shouting at my husband and flying off the handle!”
Suzanne, who built her fame in New Zealand as the face of products such as Natural Glow and TV shows including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, decided it wasn’t how she wanted to live her life. She took supplements while working on her own blend and had the help of professionals to make a specialised drink. And she spent time talking to women about their experiences to see if she was on the right track. She’s recently launched her latest product, Happy Balance – four years in the making, it’s a dietary supplement aimed at women aged 35 and over.
One of her current jobs, overseeing recruitment and training for make-up brand Thin Lizzy, sees her spending days at shopping malls talking to customers, providing the perfect opportunity for Suzanne – who can truly talk the hind legs off a donkey – to gain insights into Kiwi women’s lives.
“So many women I speak to tell me they’re feeling the hot flushes, they’re feeling angry, they’re rowing with their husbands, they’re crying during TV commercials and I’ll say, ‘Oh, how old are you?’ and they’ll tell me, ‘I’m 48 – but it’s not menopause!’” Suzanne quickly realised the “M word” fills most women with fear or embarrassment – something that’s unchanged since her mother’s era. “Back then, they’d whisper that they were going through ‘the change’. They couldn’t even say it out loud.”
With her friends not talking about it, Suzanne missed her mother more than ever. “I wish Mum was still alive,” she says with a heavy sigh. “It’s funny, but when I look back, I didn’t tell her enough how lovely she looked, how great her hair was, because I thought she was just old and wouldn’t care. Now, I realise, of course she did. You feel exactly the same as you age – you just get more of a shock when you look in the mirror and don’t recognise yourself.” It’s why Suzanne thinks many women are terrified of talking about menopause – this false idea that it means women are somehow now “past it” and should be put out to pasture.
“Back in the day, they used to call it ‘the vapours’, like you’d come down with something terrible. The thought process was very much ‘Oh, no, she’s going through menopause. Well, that’s it, send her out the door, goodbye!’ But women need to know it’s really not the end of the world! You can carry on. It’s just another stage.” Suzanne’s now determined to talk about it with whoever will listen. “I try to approach it with some humour. Every day I’m in the malls talking with women, I’ll talk about it – I talk about it to everyone, no matter their age. I’ll say, ‘My Thin Lizzy, it stays on – it doesn’t matter even if I’m having one of my hot flushes!’ And the young girls get a good laugh out of that, but I say to them, ‘Oh, just you wait!’”
In fact, it’s comedy on the whole that became a big focus for Suzanne in 2014, when she decided to add “stand-up comedian” to her résumé. “I didn’t want to be a little old lady who said things like, ‘Oh, I nearly became a stand-up comedian.’ If I only have until I’m 80, that’s only 20 years left – I realise I can’t leave things any longer.” Early last year, Suzanne began spending her nights at amateur comedy clubs, taking to the stage alongside gobsmacked twenty-something males. “They would see me and say, ‘Whoa! Suzanne Paul! What are you doing?! Why on earth are you here?’”
In truth, Suzanne says she had a point to prove. “I wrote a comedy series – starring me – for TV and I thought it was really funny, but when I took it to the various television companies, they said, ‘Yes, but who is going to laugh? It’s only going to be women of your age who find you funny.’ They didn’t think that was a big enough market!”
Not satisfied with that response, Suzanne turned the material she’d written into stand-up routines. “My whole act is about ageing – that just when you get it together, your body falls apart. I wanted to see who was going to laugh. And the answer was, everybody – from hen’s parties to teenage boys, old men to young women.” Her point proven, Suzanne has begun working on her comedy series, which she will film as “webisodes” for the internet so people anywhere in the world will be able to watch them. It also means Suzanne will be one step closer to ticking off her list of goals.
“I want a TV series, I want a movie,” she says. “I can’t see any reason now, with the internet, why I can’t be an international celebrity at my age. I have a picture in my diary of Jane Fonda – she’s full of vitality and is working at 77. “There are so many things I want to do. I’m certainly not finished yet. And I want women to see that growing older, going through menopause, it’s not the end of you. Not by a long shot!”