They used to think I looked like Bridget Fonda. Nowadays, it's "Zoe fucking Ball"!

There seems to come a time when just to be "healthy" and "in possession of all my senses" offers a unique satisfaction, and when having a birthday stops being a chore. My Nan had the ability to summon up bags of excitement over the vest and pair of knickers that she received every year from me via Marks & Spencer's. The same gift every year was met with the same pleasure and an equal amount of mock surprise. "Fancy that, knickers and a vest," she'd say, chewing her bacon butty and shaking her head in wonder. "What a lovely surprise." Her birthday always ended with the words: "Good. That's another one out the way," as if the race to the grave was one she hoped to win as soon as possible.

For me, July elicits uncharacteristically gloomy, doom-laden comments. "It's my birthday next week," I tried, mock-cheerfully, to a fellow journalist at the New Statesman's summer party.

"Are you over 30 yet?" he glowered, as if to indicate that being in one's thirties was some kind of highly infectious venereal disease. "Your body starts working against you after 30. Did you know that?"

Yes, I did. Older people (women, normally) have been telling me the same thing ever since I hit 25. Apparently you are growing, developing and blossoming until the age of 30. Then your whole system starts turning itself off bit by bit, depleting, failing, sagging and rotting.

The journalist paused and looked me up and down; "That means you'll never be as slim as you once were, my dear." And with a camp wave of the wrist he summoned more wine.

Still, I didn't need his help to feel gloomy. Ever since the age of seven, I've felt glum as late July approaches. When I was a child, the cakes, balloons and musical chairs barely drowned out the audible march of time in our house, and we all knew there was only one response to the joyful yelp, "It's my birthday today!" and that was: "Another year older and deeper in debt." The unavoidable truth of this maxim has stayed with me ever since. Still, sipping champagne at the NS party, I managed to glean a little selfish pleasure from being the youngest person within eyeshot for most of the evening. I was even introduced several times as "young Lauren".

The people you resemble change with age as well. A couple of years ago, strange men would cross rooms to tell me, "You look like Bridget Fonda." This was very nice indeed. But, as I've got older, by some weird fluke, my lookalikes are getting younger. At the traffic lights yesterday, a young lad came jogging over to my open window to shout: "You are Zoe fucking Ball." His friends stopped skateboarding over the crossing and flocked around my car. "Look, it's Zoe Ball. We've got Zoe Ball in her car," they yelled at confused shoppers. Not many seemed to believe them. They were considering whether or not to try and hold me hostage. But then the lights changed and I shot away. In their excitement, none of them had thought to wonder why a millionaire would choose to drive around in a dented Rover Metro instead of a Jeep or a Porsche.

Still, I shouldn't complain - at least I'm not Francis Wheen. Back at the NS party, he was surrounded by guests, all of us trying desperately not to say what we were thinking. I shifted from foot to foot and bit my lip with the effort of not saying, "Oh my God, Francis, you look exactly like Iain Duncan Smith."

After a couple of awkward minutes' intelligent conversation, Francis finally snapped and burst out, "I wish people would stop saying I look like Iain Duncan Smith." None of us had done so, but we all sighed with relief. "Even Tory backbenchers are coming up to me and pledging their support," he sighed.

Ageing, balding and sagging is a funny old thing. I wonder if Francis Wheen would be as unhappy if we had all been thinking, "God he looks like Michael Portillo."

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, So what tribe do you belong to?