Published: 25th February 2007
Los Angeles is a land where conventional time no longer exists. "There are no seasons, it's always the same sunny blue sky day after day, so you never feel you're getting any older," said a friend, tranquilly. Here you can pause the passing of the years, or even rewind a little - breasts can be pert again, skin taut, forehead uncreased.
Age is no bar to anything in LA, least of all relationships - look at 44-year-old Demi Moore, all glowing and toned on the arm of 29-year-old husband Ashton Kutcher.
So perhaps the rise of the cougars should be no surprise. They're a new Angeleno phenomenon: rich, powerful and - unlike Demi - predatory older women, whose natural habitat is the high-end shops, bars and spas of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and whose chosen prey is younger men.
Chris Breed, the Brit maestro of the Hollywood club scene - he looks about 28, but isn't - has seen them in action. "It's a complete role reversal," he said over dinner at Maestro's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, a frenzy of mirrors and laughter. "But if you want to get on in this town, you go where the power is, and often the older women have power: power to cast an actor in the right role, power to get a man into the right club."
"These girls don't want steady relationships," said Chris's friend. "They've had that. Some of them have been married four times. They want to keep their money. Their attitude is, I'm rich, I'm in great shape, I don't give a shit. They shred young men alive."
"Do the men mind?" I asked. He grinned. "Hell, no." At that moment, a woman swept in wearing a floor-length leopardskin coat, her hair bleached blonde, her lips cartoon-character colossal and exaggerated with so much lip liner and lipstick, she seemed to be more mouth than face. One hundred per cent cougar. Behind her hovered a slight young black guy, with white trousers slung low, and black beanie hat pulled down in an attempt to keep some street cred.
I later saw her haughtily leave the restaurant, and the doors nearly swung back on the poor guy as he bleakly followed.
"These girls," the friend continued, "they carry Viagra in their handbags. Viagra and Cialis, the 36-hour drug. They are vicious. They call the shots."
By now, I was seriously curious. The bleached blonde had whetted my appetite and I wanted to see the cougars in action... and even, if I dared, see if I myself could succeed as a cougar for a night. In the interests of research, of course. When they're not cutting deals and taking meetings, it seems cougars keep trim and smooth-skinned in the spa at the Beverly Wilshire, have lunch at Spago and at The Ivy, and dine at Cut, Wolfgang Puck's new restaurant, on the tenderest Wagyu steak. You'll see cougars at the Peninsula hotel bar, at the Four Seasons bar, at the Standard downtown, at Hollywood parties, or in trendy West Hollywood, taking their boyfriends to the Asia de Cuba restaurant at the Mondrian.
I put on my lip liner, polished my claws and chose the Peninsula for my first cougar-watching safari. And straightaway, success: a hunting pair, both in their forties, one a realtor with a perfect-doll face and fair hair, the other dark and assertive.
The blonde tucked her hair behind her ears. "They don't leave us alone, the young guys, though we're old enough to be their mothers. See, the older men can be boring."
"The last time we were here, we met two young rappers," the dark one said, her eyes glittering. "They were adorable. The older guys don't look after themselves. Young guys really like us, and we like them. And," she added, smiling, "they have more energy."
Emboldened, the next evening I went with a girlfriend to the Four Seasons. This time, I was going to go the whole hog, and dressed accordingly - that is, looking as rich as possible. Diamonds are best, apparently.
It is the form that cougars always, always make the first move by going over and talking to their prey. Years of conditioning and being British make this very hard, even for an intrepid reporter in search of the truth. Thankfully, before we forced ourselves to pounce on a group of guys, two came over.
"Hey, can we join you - you don't look happy," one said, with a grin. "Yes, you don't look happy," echoed the other. They were twins, from Cleveland, Ohio, working in a Hollywood gym as trainers: fit, good-looking, an eye-catching mix of black, white and Indian. "We like older women," one said. "They're not as complicated as the young ones," said the other. Well, that was probably true. I could see that. Maybe this cougar business wasn't so bad.
And they were there for the taking. There's a website devoted to cougars - this is California, there's a website for everything - and www. urbancougar.com notes that the prime cougar prey is "the under30 human male who has consumed an alcoholic drink within the hour". Just about any guy in his twenties who has had a drink can be seduced by any reasonably sexy older woman, they reckon. And looking at these two, I could see they were right.
Trouble is, I just thought they needed mothering. They needed to find some pretty twins, and each could marry one of them and they could all live together happily. And besides, I had a husband waiting for me back at my hotel. I had to face it: I just wasn't cougar material.
But perhaps it wasn't a wasted evening for the boys. Just as my friend and I were about to leave, two women in their forties came in. They had fake gems sewn onto the seats of their tight jeans, and they had the trademark colossal lips. They flashed the boys a pair of dazzling smiles, and walked straight over. The real cougars had arrived. We left them to it.
Need to Know
Sally Emerson was a guest of British Airways Holidays.
Hunting grounds: It's easy to set up your own tour of cougar haunts. First, check the website www.urban cougar.com: there's a listing of bars and hangouts, as well as tales from the cougars and the "cubs" (their willing victims).
Then find yourself a place to stay. The action will be on your doorstep if you put up at the Beverly Wilshire (00 800 6488 6488, www.fourseasons.com; doubles from £230), the Fairmont Miramar (00 1 310 576 7777, www.fairmont.com; doubles from £168), or the Hollywood Roosevelt (00 1 323 466 7000, www.hollywoodroosevelt.com; from £140).
Essential restaurants include Spago or Cut (both at www.wolfgangpuck.com); Mastro's Steakhouse (00 1 310-888 8782); and The Ivy (274 8303). And don't miss a drink at the bar of the Four Seasons (273 2222).