When a man ten years her junior started chatting her up at a hotel in Antigua, make-up artist and beauty entrepreneur Ruby Hammer did what most midlife women do: she assumed he was after her daughter.
That was back in 2004. Ruby, newly divorced, was 42 and on holiday; he was 32 and worked for the hotel chain.
‘I thought, well, he’s younger, he probably likes my daughter Reena, who was then 18. He’s just friendly with me because I’m her mum. It didn’t even occur to me that he liked me. It was not on my radar.’
Six years later, she married him — he is Martin Kuczmarski, nowadays the chief operating officer of private members’ club Soho House — but not without plenty of soul-searching on the significance of that age gap.
Co-founder of Ruby & Millie, Ruby Hammer, 58, reflected on her marriage to Martin Kuczmarski (pictured) who is ten years her junior
Indeed, when he proposed to her at a hugely romantic Valentine’s Day dinner in London in 2005, rounded off with a silver jigsaw heart from Asprey — when you put the heart together, it read ‘Marry Me’ — her hesitation almost ended the relationship altogether.
‘I said to him: “Marriage is not a joke. I’ve been through it. I thought it was going to be for ever. I was married for 15 years and look what happened. I’m ten years older than you, I have a grown-up daughter.
“I can take anything else that gets thrown at me in arguments, but I won’t be able to address the age difference, because I can’t. And I know these things can come out when people are angry. And if that gets thrown at me, I might kill you,” ’ she recalls, with a gleam.
They had a huge row. He paid the bill and stormed off.
With a career in the beauty industry spanning more than 25 years, from exotic photoshoots and haute couture catwalks to the co-founding of hugely successful cosmetic brand Ruby & Millie, for which she got an MBE in 2007, Ruby has devoted her entire working life to making women look beautiful and feel confident.
But still, a younger man temporarily stumped her. When Ruby realised Martin liked her, ‘it was quite hard to adjust to’.
Had it been the other way around, of course (if she was ten years younger than him), no one would have batted an eyelid. In fact, her first husband, entrepreneur George Hammer, was a decade older than her when they married in 1985.
She told her mother Martin was far too young — but it was her mum who persuaded Ruby to go on a date.
Having been married to a man ten years older and a man ten years younger, Ruby (pictured) said age doesn’t change anything
‘She said: “On paper, your previous husband should have ticked all the boxes. He was older, a businessman, an entrepreneur, but it didn’t work out. So there are no guarantees in this life.” ’
With experience of both sides of the same coin, as it were, which does she think works better?
She laughs at such an old-fashioned question. Age is just a number. Women shouldn’t judge themselves, or think they lose erotic capital as they mature, Ruby insists. ‘I’ve been married to a man ten years older and a man ten years younger, and, trust me, it doesn’t change anything.’
She admits, however, that there was one unavoidable stumbling block to marrying a man ten years younger. When Martin first declared his feelings, she panicked at the thought of their out-of-sync biological clocks.
‘He was at the age when young men will want to have kids and, straight away, I had a vision of years of IVF.’
It wasn’t what she wanted, so Ruby asked him to take his time and think very hard before asking for her hand again.
‘I said: “If you decide you do want to marry me, we need to have a chat about fertility and will I naturally be able to get pregnant? I probably don’t have the greatest eggs any more . . . but, anyway, if I can get pregnant, look at your job and the hours you work. At this age, I’m not going to sit at home with a new baby while you waltz off.
“Whatever happened with my ex-husband, we were co-parents. He was a hands-on husband and a hands-on dad.” ’
Ruby urged Martin to have a discussion about fertility before agreeing to get married. Pictured: Ruby and her daughter Reena
There were, then, plenty of adult conversations on the subject of adding to the family.
‘I said to Martin: “OK, I’m not saying no, but I’m saying you are a young man and an only child [his parents were divorced], and you need to go and speak to your mum in Italy and the friends you grew up with, not just your work colleagues.” ’
Her friends thought she was mad, she laughs. ‘They said: “Oh, just take him to bed and don’t worry about it, it will all be all right.” But I said: “No, let him think about it properly.” ’
So he went away and did — and, when they married in 2010, it was a fairy-tale affair paid for by both bride and groom.
How different to her first wedding in 1985, when Ruby’s Bangladeshi father paid, in traditional fashion, for everything, with a party later hosted by George.
‘I literally left my parents’ home and went to George’s home,’ she says thoughtfully.
Ruby was just 24 then, and close to her very young mother, who she credits with inspiring her entire career. ‘She had me when she was 17. I used to watch her getting ready and was fascinated by the wonderful transformative power of make-up. I’d think: “Ah! My mum’s like a Bollywood star!” ’
When she met George, Ruby was at a loose end after studying economics at university.
Ruby (pictured) who did everything to save her first marriage, said she would be crying in the shower and then have to go and meet an executive from Boots
‘He was a businessman with interests in spas and beauty brands and, through a friend of his, she started assisting make-up artists at London Fashion Week. Gradually her own career took off.
Reena was born two years after they married and, together, George and Ruby brought the beauty brands Aveda, L’Occitane and Tweezerman to the UK.
In 1998, the couple paired up with PR specialist Millie Kendall to create Ruby & Millie cosmetics.
With its clear-packaged, wind-up lip glosses and cheek tints, and its emphasis on different skin tones, the brand felt decades ahead of its time. ‘We wanted a diverse, inclusive brand that everybody could aspire to,’ says Ruby. ‘We challenged the labs on product testing to ensure all shades were tested on all tones of skin.’
It’s ironic that just as Ruby & Millie was at the height of its success, her marriage was unravelling. ‘I felt like I’d failed,’ she says. ‘I’d be crying in the shower and then have to go and meet an executive from Boots.’
Ruby did everything she could to save the marriage, but realises now it was never quite a relationship of equals — another of the unavoidable consequences of such an age gap, perhaps.
‘I looked up to George because I was that bit younger. It was an amazing marriage until it went pear-shaped. But he was used to doing things his own way.’
She remembers George turning up with a new Bentley Continental to take her and Reena for a spin. ‘I thought: “OK, it’s his money.” But he would never have thought of consulting me before spending such a lot.’
Ruby revealed she’s pro-ageing, having never had to exercise in her life until she reached age 58. Pictured: Ruby and Martin
Only years later, when she saw a therapist, did she realise quite how angry and upset it had made her. Now she always checks things with Martin, ‘because I’ve gone through that myself’.
She divorced George when she was 40. He remarried quite quickly and used his share of the proceeds of a multi-million pound sale of Aveda (to Estée Lauder in 1999) to found the super-salon Urban Retreat at Harrods. Ruby, meanwhile, took a 50 per cent share of their firm Hammer Holdings as her divorce settlement.
Today, at 58, slender with tumbling hair, Ruby can still turn heads, though she is realistic about what women go through ‘physiologically and hormonally’ after menopause. Unsurprisingly, she’s expertly made up today — though it looks as if she is hardly wearing any make-up.
She chats matter-of-factly about going grey, tweezing fine chin hair and her body changing: ‘I was a skinny Lizzie my entire life, but I’m not the same shape any more. I’d never exercised in my life, but I have to now.’
Not that she’s about to wallow. ‘I’m pro-ageing. You’ve got no other option. When you’ve lost both parents — my mother was only 67 when she died — to age is a privilege. The longer you’re alive is a blessing.’
Ruby (pictured) admits she worried Martin wouldn’t want a wife who goes to bed early and would wish that he was with someone young and glamorous
Like many, she has known the exhaustion and anxiety of looking after a parent while going through her own midlife wobble. She was 50 and entering the menopause when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and describes it now as a shattering time both physically and emotionally. It was then she began to panic.
She worried that Martin, who DJs at friends’ parties under the name DJ Sultan, wouldn’t want ‘some crabby old bat’ who wanted to go to bed early for a wife. ‘You think: “Oh my God, is he looking at these glamorous young people and wishing he was with them?” ’
Not that Martin gave her cause for concern. ‘He was exactly the same person. He wasn’t any different. And it’s not like I’d ever hidden my age from him. He had seen my passport, met my daughter, met my mum. He’d been with me through many life experiences.
‘But in any relationship, whether there’s age disparity or not, none of us can take things for granted.’
For a while, Martin was confused by the change in her. ‘I told him: “I’m not making a drama out of it, but I’m kind of having trouble finding out who the hell I am. You’re going to have to Google the menopause, read about it and then talk to me.”
‘And he said: “But could I have some guidelines, just so I don’t get it absolutely wrong?” ’
Ruby (pictured) said she and Martin almost look the same age because his hair is totally white in places now
Clever chap. He was also far too diplomatic to point out any of signs of ageing.
Instead, it was her daughter who took Ruby aside to whisper about new smatterings of grey. ‘We were on holiday in the sun and Reena looked at me and said: “Mum, you’re going to have to do something. You look as if you’re ill.”
‘If all my hair had been grey and looked good, I’d probably have gone with it. Every woman makes her own choice. But there were these gaps of light. It was this splitter-splatter effect and it looked odd. Reena said: “Have it dyed professionally.” And it did make me feel better.’
‘Martin’s hair is totally white in places now. And, actually, that disparity almost makes us look the same age.’
Ruby and Martin never did have a baby of their own and, after many late-night heart-to-hearts, decided not to opt for IVF either. Instead, Martin was by her side when Reena, 33, got married last year — as were George, now 70, and his wife Nemri. Ruby is pinning her hopes on grandchildren.
Not having kids has meant she and Martin have been able to give each other proper time. ‘We have just focused on each other. We give each other full attention.’
Ruby said Martin (pictured) has joked about her running off to find a third husband
She has also reinvigorated her career, working on magazine cover shoots as a make-up artist with women such as Helen Mirren and Ruth Jones.
Last year, she also launched her new make-up start-up, Ruby Hammer, the first label she has owned herself. (Ruby & Millie was owned by Boots until it ceased production in 2011).
But, after experiencing burnout in her 30s with Ruby & Millie, she doesn’t want to work that hard again. The new range is deliberately conceived, therefore, as a small capsule collection of beauty essentials, including a stackable brush set (hailed by Vogue as ‘a make-up bag must-have’) and a nail kit, in her signature red.
‘I want to bring a little joy to our dressing tables with items that are useful and needed,’ she says.
Sometimes, yes, it still hits her that Martin’s friends are much younger than her and often have young children. But most of the time, having an energetic younger husband is a wonderful morale boost. ‘He’s really loyal. He even joked that it wouldn’t be him running off to find a new woman, but me, off to find a third husband.’
Though she still likes to tease. ‘Martin reminds me that I kept saying he’d have to last at least 16 years [a year longer than her first marriage], before I could begin to trust him. Sorry, George,’ she says with a wink.
‘So now, Martin says: “Well I’ve lasted it, so now I’m off.”
And I say: “OK, I’ll find another one. And the next one will be 20 years younger!” ’