John-Paul Flintoff

Do or dry

A few weeks ago, my wife said something that made my blood run cold. “The only way to have good hair every day is to marry a hairdresser,” Harriet sighed. “Or turn your husband into one.”

To get a blow-dry at a top salon can cost up to £100, I’ve since learnt, and some people spend that more than once a week. Prominent people pay stylists £1,000 a day to travel with them on overseas trips. Cheaper options are available, of course, but you can never tell when you might have an emergency, Harriet says, so she sent out emails arranging for me to train in blow-drying with the experts.

Before I knew it, I was in a salon in Chelsea with the jet-setting stylist Zoe Irwin and a sinister plastic head on a metal tripod, rolling its real human hair around a brush and blasting it with a hairdryer built like a Kalashnikov. Irwin, whose clients include Leona Lewis and David Walliams, was obviously amused by my wife’s wheeze, despite the (admittedly slim) possibility that if every chap did the same, she would be out of a job. She was also tremendously encouraging, showing me how to get the hair fairly dry before dividing it into sections for straightening, and how to shoot away from the roots while taking care not to suck stray hairs into the back of the dryer. “Perfect,” she said, not once but twice.

To Irwin’s surprise, I never lost my cool. “Some people would be throwing the hairdryer around by now,” she said. I burnt my thumb and the back of my hand, and my arms and legs ached, but, on balance, it was a success. Thanks to Irwin, I had mastered the essentials.

To take things up a level, I went to see Joel Goncalves, the amiable, twinkly-eyed creative director at John Frieda in Mayfair. His clients include Elle Macpherson and Sophie Dahl. He, too, thought it was a marvellous idea for husbands to do blow-dries. Indeed, he does it occasionally for his wife, and says they have great fun. If other chaps did the same, Goncalves argued, it could even help their marriage. “Doing somebody’s hair is intimate,” he says. “There’s a lot of touching. If a husband offered to do a blow-dry, it would be like giving his wife a box of chocolates.”

Hmm. Perhaps if the husband in question is creative director at a leading salon. If not, I suspect wives might stiffen with fear. “At first it won’t be easy,” Goncalves said. “If hair got caught in the hairdryer, it could end in divorce.”

He asked what my friends might say. I said I wasn’t sure — not to my face, anyway. “But what would their wives think?” Before I could answer, he said, “Just imagine the jungle drums”, and performed a mime suggesting excited women on the phone.

With that happy thought, we got down to business. He introduced me to Sunny, a charming young model who, for the next four hours (four!), complained not even once as we dried, wet and dried her hair again.

Goncalves talked me through various technical points to do with cuticles, root lift, body and the need to get hair 95% dry before straightening. He taught me the angles at which to hold equipment and what that equipment should be (a Mason Pearson brush, a vent brush, a round brush with bristle, an ordinary comb, a big comb, a powerful hairdryer that does hot and cold). It was a lot to take in, but Goncalves was patient.

His technique differed significantly from Irwin’s. When straightening hair, section by section, he starts with the hairline and the crown, not the back, “because this way, the client looks good for a greater part of the session”. Instead of drying while unrolling the brush, Goncalves blasts it in one place for a spell, then unrolls the hair and strokes it firmly to take the heat out of it. And rather than holding the dryer between his knees, he hands it to an assistant.

But the biggest difference was having Sunny here instead of Irwin’s macabre plastic head. I was about to do things to a stranger that, if I’d tried them in the street, would have had me arrested.
Hairdressing, I realised, is not merely a technical job: it’s about keeping another human being happy from one minute to the next. I could not tell Sunny, as I tell my six-year-old daughter when brushing out tangles, to stop fussing because “they’re not all that bad and I’m trying my hardest”.

Goncalves thought I needed to be a tiny bit more like Warren Beatty in Shampoo. “You have to enjoy it. It should be an enjoyable experience.” But this seemed harder than any technical business with brushes or dryer. Goncalves could gaze at Sunny’s reflection in the mirror and say with conviction, “You look gorgeous.” If I tried that, I’d feel like a creep.

Perhaps it would come with practice. He can do a blow-dry in about 15 minutes from start to finish. My own first effort was taking five times as long. But this turned out to be an advantage, because the chap coming to make a video for the Sunday Times website was two hours late, and by the time he arrived, I was feeling a lot more confident. I had stopped looking tense, Goncalves said, and was holding myself like a hairdresser (which I took as a compliment). Better still, the video man, finding me drying Sunny’s hair and Goncalves sitting down, thought for a moment that I must be the real hairdresser.

It took me a long time, but I did eventually finish Sunny’s hair. She looked gorgeous. And it was all my own work. Goncalves made a polite joke about me being ready to do Saturday work in a salon, and I went home feeling rather pleased with myself. I fear I may even have told Harriet I had missed my vocation.

I went out the next morning to buy the necessary brushes, but couldn’t find a round one with real bristles. I bought something vaguely similar made out of plastic. After lunch, with a mirror set up on the kitchen table, I got to work on Harriet while she sipped coffee and read the paper. Alas, the first section I rolled onto this dodgy brush — her hairline — got into a dreadful tangle and she had to sit still for half an hour while I teased the hairs out, one by one. My home-made hairdressing career appeared to be over before it had started. The jungle drums were silent.

I was determined not to give up and phoned Goncalves, who laugheda lot but was also sympathetic. “It happens to everyone,” he said, andencouraged me to keep on trying. Amazingly, Harriet is willing to let me have another go — but only if I promise to get hold of all the right equipment.

Who needs the salon?

Okay, chaps, a blow-dry is one thing, but there’s a reason, other than indulgence, why women go to salons: most treatments require not only skill, but a fair amount of not-too-pretty, up-close-and-personal interaction, too. So we won’t be asking you to perform a bikini wax any time soon (not unless we’re looking for an excuse to end it). But in the interests of purse protection, here are a few beauty DIY suggestions you should be able to perfect, or at least help out with, without too much trouble.

Mani/pedi
Ideal for foot (or hand) fetishists. We’re not suggesting you should embark on cuticle trimming and suchlike, but a simple paint job will be as easy as pulling on your socks. Average saving £68

Fake tan
You’ll see every inch of us here, so do be aware of what you’re agreeing to. Spray tans need proper equipment, so you’ll have to revert to the traditional mitt method, rubbing cream all over. Not as much fun as real whipped cream. Average saving £25

Leg wax
Again, this isn’t pretty, but we can do it to ourselves, so we might just be prepared to let you have a try. The main thing to remember is that he who hesitates is lost, so when you pull off a wax strip, think of it like a plaster. You’ll probably only get one shot at it, bearing in mind our pain threshold. Average saving £45

Massage
We’re not expecting expertise, but a bit of massage oil, a bed and some towels, and you can ease away the worst of our stress knots (and, yes, we can do this one for you, too). Average saving £85. Edwina Ings-Chambers

1447 words. First published 3 October 2010. © Times Newspapers Ltd.

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