Gavin was in his element. As the symphony of hairdryers rose, Arabella, aka the Duchess of Cornbridge, was complaining about being papped when a gust of wind lifted the hem of her dress. “So unfair,” she moaned as Gavin executed a deft French roll. “So, this new salon?”
Gavin had come some way from the Sunderland suburb from which he hailed. The accent was gone and his iPhone contained a contacts list to rival Burke’s Peerage. It was his skill with the scissors that had done it: an apprenticeship at Kensington’s Curl Up & Dye had proved a fruitful launch into high society. Gavin had ended up at Alberto Briggini, the world-famous Chelsea salon where London’s smartest women clamoured for his highly paid hands.
But Gavin longed for an establishment of his own. “Gavin Carmichael” had a fine ring to it (his actual surname, Smith, had been buried along with the accent). And if the duchess could be persuaded to defect, he really would be one of the most famous hairdressers in the world.
Six months later, and the salon in South Audley Street gleamed. Gavin’s new range of own-brand products lined the walls, set off by the sleekest of styling chairs, vast art-deco mirrors and a crystal chandelier. A discreet bar plied the clientele with green juices and champagne and the last of the court battles with Alberto was over; the clause in Gavin’s contract about stealing clients had expired and he was free to style who he liked. And here she was, the duchess’s gorgeous sister Poppy, whose ankles had transfixed the nation at the recent Cornbridge christening.
Across London in Onslow Square, howls were emanating from the salon. “He can’t do this!” shrieked Alberto, his Italian accent lapsing under the stress. “Calm down,” said Chloe, his ever-faithful receptionist. “I’ve got an idea,” she said, picking up the telephone.
Gavin hummed a happy tune: the appointments book had filled up for the next year and he was just about to attend to his latest client when a rogue copy of The Sun caught his eye (Gavin forbade tabloids in the salon). On the cover was a renowned 1960s rock star, now sporting the most peculiar shade of aubergine hair. “Secrets of Peter’s new mop top!” shrieked the headline. “Star seen leaving Gavin Carmichael’s new salon!”
Gavin had begged Peter to reconsider his colour choice but he’d been insistent – and Gavin had been too delighted by his defection from Alberto to suspect a stitch-up. Once he’d recovered from the shock, Gavin rallied. Alberto wasn’t the only one with The Sun on speed dial.
“The scumbag,” screeched Alberto, throwing down the paper. The headline was “Jumping snip!” and underneath was an exclusive about Poppy forsaking Alberto for the new salon everyone was talking about. This meant war.
And so the headlines came, thick and fast. “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair!” said a Made in Chelsea star as she defected from Gavin back to Alberto (a year’s free blowdries had proved an irresistible incentive).
“Scalped!” came the retaliation above a picture of a British pop star and known client of Alberto’s, bemoaning how her long-term use of hair extensions had left her with unsightly bald patches.
So it was with suspicion that Alberto greeted Gavin’s request for a ceasefire, but, allied to an invitation to visit the new salon, curiosity got the better of him. “Another glass of Dom Pérignon?” urged Gavin. Alberto felt curiously dozy. Fighting to keep his eyes open, he noticed the remains of something white at the bottom of his glass. “Gavin, how could shsssjsjsj…” As his snores began to reverberate around the salon, Gavin picked up his clippers and ran his hands through Alberto’s cherished curls. “Take that, a***hole,” he muttered, shaving a perfect “A” into the back of Alberto’s head.
A week later and Alberto still refused to leave the house. “I’ll be ruined,” he wailed to Chloe, repositioning his fedora for the hundredth time. To add insult to injury, Gavin had taken a snap of his handiwork and Alberto’s crop was all over the internet.
“It’s a sensation. Look!” She pulled out a copy of The Sun. “The hottest chop in Chelsea” said the headline, with pictures of David Beckham, Cara Delevingne and Keith Richards sporting copycat cuts. “The salon phone is ringing off the hook!”
“Well, if my public needs me…” Alberto frisbeed the fedora to her and headed for the door.