On Saturday afternoon in the Daniel Galvin salon in central London, a lovely young woman called Saskia is doing my hair colour. She has never done it before, so I ask her to cover up the grey at my temples, which might look good on George Clooney but is a bit barn owl on me. However, I don’t want to go too blonde. That is really important.
‘But it needs to be bright,’ she says, and I sigh inwardly because I know what this means.
It means two shades below Andy Warhol on the platinum chart, with additional lowlights visible from outer space. However, for once, I don’t care. I’m just grateful for the appointment, which must be about the last one available in the capital now that Boris has extended his lockdown to include hairdressing salons, too.
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but hairdressers were still open for business last weekend and many were doing a roaring trade, especially colourists. Hair dye is still the most powerful weapon older women have against ageing and ageism — and no one, least of all me, is giving it up without a fight.
Is hair really that important? Yes. ‘You are only as good as your last haircut,’ says the writer Fran Lebowitz, writes JAN MOIR
All over the country many rushed for appointments at the last chance roots ranch before salon shutters came down for God knows how long.
I made mine a while back and was torn between cancelling or supporting the salon, and decided on the latter. It didn’t seem risky back then. Now, such reckless narcissism is unthinkable.
Yet who am I kidding? I would have crawled there in my slippers through a plague pit for an appointment with a Galvin professional before lockdown.
Those of us with dye jobs large and small know the day isn’t far off before the terrible truth about our natural hair colour is revealed to the world; a gaping furrow of mortification peeling open on our skulls for all to see.
So you can understand the urgency to book a slot. It was like grabbing a seat on the last helicopter out of Saigon, only more important. And a good maintenance cut is vital, too. My hair grows like knotweed.
I had to move fast, to avoid riding out Covid-19 looking increasingly like a head of lettuce.
Is hair really that important? Yes. ‘You are only as good as your last haircut,’ says the writer Fran Lebowitz.
As it happened, the salon actually closed when I was there. Daniel Galvin himself was outside in a face mask, directing operations, looking sad.
‘I can’t believe this is actually happening,’ he said. The old master is 76 now, and his flagship salon has been on this London street for 43 years.
Madonna, Camilla, Diana and Mrs Thatcher have all been his clients at some point. Say what you like about them individually, but you have to admit they are all collectively, thanks to him, the most excellent blondes.
Like most hairdressers, Saskia works on commission and tips. She doesn’t know how she will survive, living with her boyfriend in a small flat in West London. ‘I do know one thing,’ she says, as she mixes up the semi-permanent colour and dabs it onto my roots. ‘I am going to be doing a lot of colour-correcting when we open again.’
An image of woolly-headed Muppets, screaming and beating down the salon door, flashes through my mind.
Professional hairdressers such as Saskia are aghast at the thought of Mrs Amateur getting her hands on a box of Midnight Mink home kit and dobbing it on with enthusiasm, but what is the alternative?
‘I know,’ she says, ‘but one wrong thing and it ruins years of good colour.’
However, I think I can speak for the women of Britain when I say it is ‘no surrender’ time when it comes to grey hairs. We will fight them with our bleaches, we will fight them on our kitchen sinks, we shall go onto our ends and we will colour them, too. And nothing is going to stop us.
So many things are going to be denied to us over the coming months, but losing our hairdressers is one of the unkindest cuts of all. The good cheer that a salon appointment brings should never be underestimated.
So farewell hairdressers, you magicians with your tender ministrations, your long-handled tint brushes and your pin-tailed combs. You are the keepers of secrets, the ever-thinning line between a good and bad hair day.
You bring lustre to the lank and hope to all. Lighting the darkness is what you all do, in ways big and small. It is what you have done forever, and we are all going to miss you madly.
I loved my last appointment — I don’t even mind being blonde again. But from now on, like everyone else, I’m on my own.
The product that’s tailored to you
Maymie White, 50, created blonde highlights using Custom Hair Color Set, £23, and Light Set, £32, all esalon.co.uk. Maymie runs the charity treatmentbag.co.uk, which sends luxury goodies to chemotherapy patients. She lives in Somerset with her husband and four children.
WHAT IS IT? You create an online profile — your hair type, dyeing history, desired shade — and a consultant mixes you up a tailored colour.
OUR TEST: To hide grey strands, I have highlights as well as a root cover-up every few weeks, which I’d assumed would be hard to recreate at home.
Apparently not: first, I covered my roots by mixing my personalised hair colour into the developer bottle, and shaking it up. Then I brushed it over my roots, waited half an hour, then rinsed.
I dried my hair before doing the balayage — natural-looking highlights. The mixture was very stiff, but the final result is low-key, golden highlights. The grey isn’t evident and my hair feels soft and shiny. It even looks good from the back!
Maymie White, 50, created blonde highlights using Custom Hair Color Set, £23, and Light Set, £32, all esalon.co.uk
The celebrity hair guru’s range
Sarah Tulley, 33, went from red to chestnut using Josh Wood Colour Level 6 Permanent Colour, £10, with Shade Shot Plus Chestnut, £15 (joshwoodcolour.com). Sarah lives in Scarborough with husband Chris, 35, and their two children, 13 and 14. She works as a customer care adviser.
WHAT IS IT? Josh Wood’s colour is loved by celebs such as Kylie Minogue. You can get the look by combining all-over colour with a range of ‘shade shots’ — tailored boosters that can give your hair warm or cool tones.
OUR TEST: This Josh Wood colour was easy to use. I just put my chosen ‘Shade Shot’ into the Chestnut Brown dye and shook them up together, applied it all over my hair and left it on for 30 minutes. I’m over the moon with the results. It’s elegant but a complete change.
Best of all, when my roots start to show, they have amazing touch-up products.
Sarah Tulley, 33, went from red to chestnut using Josh Wood Colour Level 6 Permanent Colour, £10, with Shade Shot Plus Chestnut, £15 (joshwoodcolour.com)
The spray that changes your colour
Jan Rook, 68, went from brown to grey using L’Oreal Colorista Semi-Permanent Colour Spray in Grey, £6.99, amazon.co.uk. Jan is an actress. She lives in Essex and has one grown-up child.
WHAT IS IT? A wash-out colour spray that contains charged particles that bond to your hair, giving you colour that won’t rub off until you shampoo — it uses the same technology as for spray painting cars, so it’s tough stuff.
OUR TEST: When I worked in banking, I visited the salon all the time. After retiring at 53, I started home-colouring my hair a dark blonde, but I’m after a fashionable all-over grey.
It took two bottles to colour my hair completely, and I loved the silvery finish. I actually think I look younger now.
The next morning it still looked OK, but there was a silvery shimmer on my shoulders. I easily washed it out this morning — I loved it.
Jan Rook, 68, went from brown to grey using L’Oreal Colorista Semi-Permanent Colour Spray in Grey, £6.99, amazon.co.uk
The one infused with aloe vera
Pinky Lising went from light brown to very dark red using Clairol 4RR, £5.50, sainsburys.co.uk. Pinky, 35, works in childcare and lives in London with her three children.
WHAT IS IT? A new range infused with coconut oil and aloe vera to protect your hair.
OUR TEST: I’ve used home dyes before, but worry about drying out my hair. The semi-permanent dye I used contains coconut oil and aloe vera. It smelt delicious, and was easy to use. I just shook the colour and applied it to dry hair from the roots.
When I rinsed it off, it just looked darker brown, but as it dried, a rich, shiny red emerged. I’m so impressed.
Pinky Lising went from light brown to very dark red using Clairol 4RR, £5.50, sainsburys.co.uk
The temporary hue that will pack a punch
Nurse Liz Trowbridge, 40, went from blonde to copper using Tint Rinse, £13, esalon.co.uk. Liz lives near Cheltenham and has an 18-year-old daughter, Mya.
WHAT IS IT? Once, temporary dyes barely made an impact — and tended to fade quickly. But new advances mean you can create brighter hues in minutes that last a few washes, without permanently discolouring your hair. This version contains wheat protein to smooth hair cuticles and collagen to boost moisture.
OUR TEST: I’ve been blonde since I was 16, and I’m a diehard fan of proper salon care.
A friend of mine is a stylist, and she does my hair at home after salon hours, so it costs me only about £40 every few weeks for highlights and lowlights.
I’m very careful with my hair, and am meticulous about my roots never showing. Still, I was happy to give this a go and hoped it would be an elegant, subtle shade. It was a single tube of tint which foamed up as I applied it.
I did a test on a small amount of hair first, which revealed a lovely copper colour. Although it was left on for only three minutes, it certainly made an impact!
I have to admit, the final result is a lot brighter than I’d expected and I’m not entirely sold on it. I’d far rather trust an expert.
Nurse Liz Trowbridge, 40, went from blonde to copper using Tint Rinse, £13, esalon.co.uk