Opinion & Features

Mary Kenny: Kylie flies the flag for marriage

Kylie Minogue: at 47, she has proudly announced her engagement (PA)

When Kylie Minogue, the Australian songstress, was treated for breast cancer in 2005 while still in her 30s, it seemed like a memento mori to young women of her generation, and those who had grown up watching her in a popular soap opera. That such a golden young person could have a brush with a serious illness shocked some young women I encountered.

Ms Minogue made a good recovery, and now, at 47, she has announced her engagement to an actor almost 20 years younger, Joshua Sasse. What matter a difference in age when true love is involved? Yet it is fascinating that in an era where marriage is said to be in decline, where cohabitation is on the increase (and there is much pressure to make cohabitation equal in law to marriage), such an essentially old fashioned and even courtly tradition as an “engagement” not only lives on but is proudly practised by secular icons of celebrity.

It is fascinating, that is, how the betrothal – as the engagement was once termed – continues to survive and thrive even when other customs and traditions have been junked or consigned to “the dustbin of history”. I notice that it is not at all unusual for a couple who have been living together for some time, have purchased a house together and may even have a child together, to then announce their “engagement”.

I have been present when veteran cohabitees have not only announced an engagement to the assembled company – sparkling ring proudly displayed – but where the affianced male has declared that he went down on one knee to pop the question. I have even heard such a male fiancé say that he asked the fiancée’s father for “her hand in marriage”. Quaint!

So the engagement endures, and Kylie Minogue is its embodiment. I don’t see why the putative fiancée shouldn’t propose to the putative fiancé, by the way. It is a leap year, after all.

I wish there had been a maths teacher like Colin Hegarty when I was at school. This son of an Irish building worker and a home help grew up in Kilburn, north-west London, in modest circumstances, but was educationally encouraged by his parents. He’s so amazing at teaching maths (at Preston Manor School, Wembley) that he’s a contender for the Global Teacher Prize – that is, being named the world’s best teacher.

His attitude to maths is so positive (and much of what he says can be extended to other disciplines too). Nobody, he believes, is inherently bad at maths. Believe in yourself. Don’t revise – practice. Do some maths every day. Sign up for an extra course.

Implicit in all this is Mr Hegarty’s enthusiasm for his subject and his desire to impart it. He also has a “wall of inspiration”, featuring Michelangelo, Malala and Malcolm X – and he takes his words about constant practice from David Beckham.

Colin Hegarty is in contrast to my own experience of maths teachers: often brilliant in an abstract way, but imparting the joy of mathematics didn’t come easily to them. Some mathematical geniuses are on the autism spectrum – amazing minds, but unable to read human emotions.

I can just about do “sums”, but for years I rattled off Pythogorean theorems that I never understood. Sometimes today, when I walk around a square-ish location in a city street, I wonder if, indeed, the square of the hypoteneuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides – and would it make any difference which route I took? Perhaps I should ask Colin Hegarty via one of his internet maths tutorials.

Pope Francis has been criticised for “meddling in politics” after his remark that he didn’t regard some of Donald Trump’s values as Christian. This is always a touchy area for a pontiff: the Wasp opposition to Jack Kennedy, back in 1960, was that a Catholic in the White House would mean the Holy See pulling the strings.

And yet, if what Francis said was naïve politically, I felt it came from the heart: as a Latin American himself, it is surely natural that he should have a fellow-feeling for the Mexicans against whom Trump wants to construct a wall.