A Look At Life: Red Hair

6th July 2012

Seeing Red

Heather Harris

Prince William is the heir – and Prince Harry is the hair. When it comes to highlighting the advantages of red tresses, our Royal playboy is head and shoulders above the rest. Whether he’s falling out of nightclubs or standing in Westminster Abbey his crowning glory always looks spectacular, accentuated, obviously, by the premature baldness of the rest of the Windsor clan.

Historically, red has long put other colours in the shade. In Greek myth, redheads turned into vampires when they died, and in Roman times you got far fewer ginger slaves for your denarius, such was the premium on their shiny little heads.

And here’s a knock out fact. In 2002, it was discovered that it took longer to sedate redheaded patients and that they required 20 percent more anaesthetic.

My own deep seated admiration for all things ginger began in childhood, when my tea-drinking mother used to ‘dunk’ her ginger nut then hand it to me to suck. Whilst the inferior digestive could not withstand the rigours of this communal enjoyment, the nut held firm.

Fast forward a few decades and the same humble biscuit saw me through two pregnancies. Morning sickness was no match for its stomach-settling properties and my husband used to joke that I was bound to give birth to two ‘ginger-nutted’ babies…but, sadly, the recessive MC1R red gene, carried on the 16th chromosome, failed to put in an appearance and one blonde and one black-headed twin arrived with hair-raising speed.

I was secretly disappointed. Being of mousey stock; I always yearned in my youth to be a ‘ravishing red head’ or ‘sexy strawberry blonde’. As a student, experiments in the bathroom merely resulted in permanently henna-stained ears and a lingering stench of ammonia.

Hence my shock at recent comments by supermodel Lily Cole. Despite her trademark flaming locks keeping her bank balance out of the red since she was first spotted, aged 14, in Covent Garden, Lily’s school days were not so rosy.

Speaking in The Mail On Sunday she confessed, “I remember feeling very insecure. When I’d meet people, I would think they wouldn’t like me – that was an actual thought process – because I’m a redhead. It’s absolutely absurd.” She accuses today’s education system of not taking “the issue of hair-based discrimination seriously enough.”

The truth is that ever since children were invented, they have been highly skilled at ridiculing anything that is not the norm – from height to weight, from colour of skin to sexual orientation, from speech impediment to colour of hair.

Research also shows that, perhaps for some Darwinian reason, ‘ketchup heads’ do tend to stick together. Turn to the history books and it’s been well documented that the first ginger humans to roam the earth some 50,000 years ago, ‘gravitated together to form a colour-coded bond’. And this was in Africa – not in Scotland as urban myth would have us believe.
Interestingly, in Year Seven at my son’s school the same behaviour emerges. Brown-haired bullies don’t stand a chance against the sheer numbers of the ‘Ginger Ninja Club’.
Add to this the undisputed street cred of recent winners of the ‘Redhead of the Year Award’ – DJ Chris Evans and Mad Men TV star, Christine Hendricks (who also took the cup for ‘Cleavage of the Year’) – and it’s clear that red is the new black.

Sales of rosy-hued hair dye have been rocketing in the last year – up 17 per cent – clearly boosted by L'Oréal’s front woman, the other Ms Cole. Her copper-headed appearances have definitely made her fellow red-heads truly believe, ‘We’re worth it’.

Much to my parental joy, my own daughter has recently seen red and hit the bottle. These days even the sink remains unscathed after a 20 minute dyeing session and the waft of spring meadows under the bathroom door.

She can, of course, no longer wear orange, pink or purple above the waist and blushing is strictly out. But we all agree that this is a small price to pay for her new traffic stopping look.
I’m seriously tempted to follow her lead. After all ginger hair follicles don’t turn grey. And despite the fact that redheads actually start out with less than the average 120,000 single hairs per human head, they hang on to them for far longer than their malting mousey-haired mates.

So Prince Harry should take note. He may never get the royal crown but in the style stakes he’ll always brush off the competition and win by a head…

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