January 24 2010
I am a vain man. There, I’ve said it. I suspect that anyone who knows me might have guessed as much already but I have put it out there. Looks are subjective, and I have got used to mine. I will not go too deeply into my own body image but I have a massive problem with ageing. It is the inevitability that I find so irksome; the fact that every day I am looking at a gradually degrading and decaying structure – cheery, isn’t it?
Still, at least I could comfort myself that I had my hair. And then, suddenly, I didn’t. Or at least I started not to. It is only when losing things that you begin to appreciate their true value, but the subtleties of this point were lost on me in my blind panic.
It started something like this – I have long had what I believe is called a high forehead, an intellectual brow, if you like. I didn’t like it that much but I was used to it. And as the hair above my temples began its slow march towards the back of my head I did not mind too much – I felt it might impart a little bit of Basil Rathbone or George Sanders poise and elegance to my demeanour. I could live with the widow’s peak and, for a long time, I was happy to delude myself into thinking that this was all that was happening to my hair.
It was when preparing for a party with a 1920s theme, plastering my hair to my head with some gunk, that I finally had to admit that, as well as the elliptical encroachment where I parted my hair, the peak itself was thinning. I felt physically sick as I pulled the comb through my hair and looked into the mirror. Instead of seeing a Gatsby-era Robert Redford looking back at me, I encountered the gaze of the man who starred in the Hamlet advertisement – the one with the comb-over whose problems with a photo booth are only resolved by smoking a cheap cigar.
I went to that party, but was only able to see other men with hair. With every full head of hair I felt a pang. My dystopian view of life (it is not a case of the glass being half empty, but rather knocked over and trampled under foot) did not help but, try as I might, I found little to recommend losing my hair.
For the next couple of years I tried a variety of pills, preparations, ointments, gels, unguents, and shampoos. I cut my hair short. I grew it long. I tried looking at my reflection in a different way: never with the light behind or above me, as that highlighted the dome-like curvature of my sub-follicular cranium. I was going to get Shakespeare’s brow, but without the bard’s turn of phrase, insights into human nature or royalties.
It was torture – I mean torture. I became ever more desperate in the measures I took. I hoarded bottles of PhytoPhanère (£31; 120 capsules), which is supposed to strengthen nails and hair. I massaged ampoules of Vichy Dercos Aminexil (£36; 18 x 6ml) into my scalp. I even started scrutinising those before-and-after adverts where a bird’s-eye view of a nearly bald pate is juxtaposed with a skull that seems to belong to a gorilla, or the front-on image of a man with gloomy mien and little hair next to the same man, this time smiling, having had his head Astroturfed. I’d secretly looked down on Melvyn Bragg for a billowing bouffant that looked like it needed planning permission; I now envied him.
For a long time I kept my misery to myself, or if I mentioned my fears I tried to laugh them off. I felt doubly bad, first for losing my hair and then for caring about it so much. I felt I should be confident and Yul Brynner like about it, and not craven.
And then one day I was sitting in the late Doug Hayward’s Mount Street tailor shop when my anxiety overcame my shame and I blurted out my fears. I believe the god of haircare was watching over me that day as Doug said I should get over to Philip Kingsley.
So it was that I turned up in the office of the man known as the “hair doctor”. I found a genial gent in a smart Hayward suit, with a kindly face and best of all, rather a lot of hair. Apparently, he had stopped his falling out some years ago and, as he will have been in business for 50 years next year, time has had plenty of opportunity to work on his head. I emptied my heart and a large leather holdall of all the stuff I’d been taking and using. He smiled and said that we have to lose 15 per cent of our hair before we notice, and that although it seems to happen at once it is a gradual process. The bad news was that I had lost up to 30 per cent in some places and he could not replace it; the good news was that he could slow down and halt further loss if I followed his plan. He had my attention.
Kingsley gave me some pills, some scalp tonic, and instructions for a blood test, but the most important thing he gave me was hope. There is a lot of science but, apparently, it boils down to protein and hormones. The more protein I took in the better my hair would like it, and if my blood test permitted he would give me some anti-androgen drops (androgens are male hormones) that would deal with the hormonal side of things (the test did permit, and every evening since I have massaged them into my head). I said that I had been taking protein supplements, but he said supplement was the key word here and that they were useless unless my diet, particularly at breakfast, was balanced. Apparently, I would have to add something else to my four or five matutinal espressos if I wanted to hang onto my hair. He recommended eggs and some sort of fish or meat, so ever since I have taken smoked salmon and poached eggs every morning. I also had to cut out black tea (something to do with the tannins) and then we would see.
I cannot overstate the importance of handing the problem over to someone who knew exactly what they were talking about. I did exactly what he said and within weeks I noticed that less of my hair was falling out. Whereas I had been afraid to wash my hair, finding strands in my hands, I now began to look at it without the same sickening fear. Philip also made me aware of a treatment called Propecia, the active ingredient of which, finasteride, while being used to treat prostate problems, was discovered to have beneficial effects on hair loss for some men. All I know is that I take one of these burnt-sienna-coloured pills every morning along with my Philip Kingsley nutritional supplements and my salmon and eggs and, as far as I can tell, my hair now seems less inclined to fall out.
The result? I am free to obsess about my expanding waistline and waning eyesight.