Mick Jagger is criticised for being wrinkly. But he's 57! Would we really prefer him on his seventh nip and tuck?

I've just returned from a week-long fundraising trek in Nepal with Penny Smith on behalf of the Children's Society. Our arrival coincided with the end of the Maoist guerrillas' ceasefire and the announcement of a state of emergency. However, the moment we saw the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas glinting in the distance, Osama Bin Laden himself would have been hard-pushed to deter us from setting off. In a group of 50 of the charity's UK supporters, we headed for the hills. Local newspaper reports took the edge off any fear. Apparently the Maoists were operating in a distant part of the country and honouring promises not to harass foreigners. Aside from their battles with the police, the guerrillas' worst crimes to date included demanding donations from passing Sherpas (for which they issue receipts). The Maoists' terror credentials were further damaged by the local media's continual misspelling of their name. We were warned to be on the lookout for "Moist" guerrillas. In our tent at night, curled up together for warmth, Penny and I speculated on how we'd be able to spot their approach. Perhaps a series of damp patches on the dusty footpaths?

Perhaps it was the sight of the Nepalese going through a daily battle just to stay alive, but one look at the papers on my return convinced me we really have to get a grip in this country. It's not like we've got such a lot to be proud of at the moment. Queues for beds in hospitals, homeless people on the streets, a Prime Minister who runs around begging America to let our troops go to war, infrastructure that's falling apart, a terrible record on pollution and waste disposal, and an overfished North Sea soon to be closed to cod fishermen. Fifty years after supposed emancipation, women are still not on equal pay, children aren't safe on the streets and racist attacks are a drunken Friday-night norm. But why should we worry about all that when we've got celebrities to distract us? Robbie Williams's battle with fame immortalised in 140 minutes of documentary, Liz Hurley's struggle with single motherhood straddled across the front pages, Geri's search for spiritual enlightenment, Mr Madonna telling his wife to cover up. The list of strangers' lives we spend our days gorging on is endless. In my line of work, you meet them all and, quite frankly, the "celebrity" lifestyle is as mediocre as everyone else's. Perhaps if we cauterised our showbiz obsession, we might get around to tackling real issues that would improve our lives. First step is stop buying Hello!, OK!, Heat and all the other dreadful rags that convince their readers that other people are having a better time. Trust me, they're not.

Our addiction to drivel was never more in evidence than with the deluge of vitriolic publicity about Mick Jagger having the audacity to release a rock album in his fifties. My grandmother died this year at the age of 96. One of my favourite memories of her is from our last Christ-mas together before she fell victim to Alzheimer's. Tears of laughter poured down our faces as she demonstrated her jiving skills using a Unicycle as a partner. I once found her, at the age of 80, outside her cottage, shovel in hand, obscured by a hail of earth as she planted a row of fast-growing fir trees to block out the housing estate being built across the road. She flirted relentlessly with any man I brought to her home, and loved a joke so long as it was dirty. Which brings me back to my friend Mick: what exactly is his crime? In a nation where ageing is treated like a disease, he refuses to duck out of sight and spare us the ghastly sight of a man in his fifties still living life to the full. Mick is ridiculed for being wrinkly. He's 57, for heaven's sake. Would we really prefer him on his seventh nip and tuck, clinging on to the face he first showed us at 20?

My week in Nepal enjoying the silence of the mountains left my ears ultra-sensitive. I was suddenly capable of overhearing conversations four tables away in crowded restaurants. Hence I picked up this example of film-industry philosophising in one of the media's favourite watering holes. Young director to ageing producer: "The thing about directing features is you've got to be prepared to give up everything, commit 100 per cent, live and breathe it . . . I mean, even to the point where you may have to remortgage your second home!" Perish the thought.

Three cheers for Princess Anne. I'd only just stopped celebrating the fall of Kandahar when a longer BBC news report alerted my attention to the Princess Royal stepping out in a dress last worn 14 years ago. It's good to see the BBC continuing its tradition of fine journalism. Numerous fashion experts were consulted on the protocol of recycling clothing. Despite being late for Sally Green's now legendary Christmas party, I stood there rooted to the spot. Should I leave the house in the Ben de Lisi minidress I'd just dragged from the bowels of my wardrobe after 12 years? Time was against me. On arrival, I pushed my way through the likes of James Rubin, Chelsea Clinton, Stephen Daldry, Ruby Wax, Charles Saatchi and Bob Geldof until I found someone who really mattered: Paula Reid, the Sunday Times's vivacious fashion guru. "Are minis back in or not?" I hissed, keeping my coat firmly wrapped around me. "Yes, definitely," replied Paula. Heaving a sigh of relief, I removed my outer layer.

Seconds too late, I noticed that Paula's hemline brushed the floor. Fashion really is a fickle business.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The ignorance of the Islamophobes