My fringe benefits: Mumsnet threads are dedicated to it, and some cruelly joke it makes her look like a raunchuy 70s movie star. But in this uproarious confession, RACHEL JOHNSON says her fringe is what makes her a ‘hairlebrity’
The moment I wake up, before I put o-o-on my make-up, I say a little prayer . . . to my hair. Only because I have twice as much as a normal person (‘crimpers’ over the years have complained: ‘Ooh, it’s got a life of its own, hasn’t it? I should charge you double for your blow dry!’).
My natural state — a state I strain to shield from the public gaze — is a wild bed-head cross between the Dulux dog and an old-fashioned cotton mop. My mane is thus my first waking concern.
Sounds superficial, I know, in these ultra-serious times, but I am not alone.
The stand-out line for me from the entire Fleabag series is when Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sister Claire has a disastrous asymmetric slice and sobs: ‘I look like a pencil! I’m going to lose my job!’
Journalist Rachel Johnson, sister of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, talks about why she loves her fringe despite it being ridiculed by posters on MumsNet
IN THE FAMILY: Rachel Johnson’s iconic blonde mop of hair has made her as famous and recognisable as her brother, Boris
Fleabag knows this is a major female crisis, a solid 11 on the scale of one to ten.
‘Hair. Is. Everything,’ Fleabag hisses. ‘We wish it wasn’t, so we could think about something else occasionally, but it is.’
Fleabag, I fear, speaks for me — if not all women. A Bad Hair Day is a Bad Day. I cannot be seen until I have smoothed mine down with sizzling hot tongs or it has been blow-dried by some magician lady from HMU (hair and make-up) into some semblance of my public style, i.e. a heavy fringe shading into — this is important — flicky but not too flicky Farrah Fawcett waves.
On Mumsnet there is a thread called ‘Rachel Johnson’s Hair’ where users compare thoughts about my ‘look’ in a somewhat competitive manner.
One user wrote: ‘An Afghan hound with all those layers?’ Another mused underneath: ‘No, a Seventies porn star.’ While a man called Benji Huish has tweeted: ‘I spend way too much time contemplating Rachel Johnson’s fringe. Do hairdressers dare not touch it? Can she legally drive a car with it? Does it hide a dark secret? Is it alive?’
I have to admit I am rather proud that my fringe has a higher public profile than I do on social media — but it’s a labour of love. So I was utterly unsurprised by a recent survey, which revealed that more than one in ten women blames guess what for being late for work?
Rake’s Progress: My Political Midlife Crisis is the latest book from Rachel Johnson
The trains, the bus, over-sleeping, sick kids, a global pandemic? Nope. You guessed it . . . hair.
In the nubile 25-34 age bracket an incredible one in five — particularly in Newcastle and the North East — blamed ‘styling issues’ for their tardiness, and, overall, 2 per cent of women admitted pulling a sickie because they couldn’t face showing their hair in public (i.e they blamed their hair for not going to work at all).
It’s not just a Geordie/WAG thing, either. A while back I booked in for a cut at the fabled Josh Wood Atelier in Notting Hill, West London, but got a call saying that Gary was unavailable and I rebooked. ‘
Sorry about that doll,’ Gary said as he snipped away the following week, ‘but it was an emergency.’ Turned out that he had been whisked to Russia in a private jet to sort out the hair of an elegant Russian client.
‘If her hair’s not right she’s not right,’ he told me, as if this was perfectly normal. Which, in a way, it is. If the hair’s right, all’s right with the world. This is why I ‘sport’ a fringe. It’s like a dress — it’s a one-stop shop of a style.
Rachel promoting her new book, Rake’s Progress: My Political Midlife Crisis, on Loose Women
It hides frown lines around the eyes and is therefore — think Jo Wood, think Sandra Bullock, think Goldie Hawn — a very youthful look, or so I like to think.
The problem is, it’s hard to achieve the perfect length. Fringes are either too long or too short. Too short and you look like a part of a trendy knitting collective. Too long and it looks as if you have something to hide.
Mine is, I am proud to say, too long. Indeed, my Instagram profile warns followers: ‘Will block anyone who tells me to cut my fringe.’
It’s also too shaggy. But, despite appearances, even my unkempt mane is a daily chore when it comes to ‘female admin’.
Rachel and her fringe in earlier years (left) as a child and (right) earlier in her career
The problem women like me have is that low maintenance does not survive the collision with high- definition television. Women know that when they appear on screen, what they look like counts for 90 per cent of the viewers’ judgment, and only 10 per cent of attention is paid to what they say.
This is why women have to spend thousands of pounds a year and hundreds of hours on grooming and clothes more than men — simply to do the same job.
When I was doing politics briefly last year, I was asked to attend a launch event for the reveal of candidates for a new political party. The event was in Bristol on the Tuesday after Easter. I was a lead candidate for the South-West region. What do you think my first thought was? It was: ‘What am I going to do about my hair?’
She pulled off a heavy fringe for her role in St Trinian’s, then later sported a side-swept Helena Christensen look. But her most recent mid-parted long fringe (left) is actress Gemma Arterton’s best look yet
When you look like actress Lily James you can make almost any hairstyle look chic, including the severe side-parting she showcased at last year’s Yesterday premiere. But the messy fringe she had at the Golden Globes in 2018 (left) edges it
With bone structure like that, supermodel Naomi Campbell can pull off both looks. Forced to choose, we would go for the long fringe she paired with a smart bob (left) — classic and elegant.
Barely a month after wearing her hair long and loose at this year’s Golden Globes, actress Saoirse Ronan had a short, choppy fringe cut in for the Oscars — it frames her face perfectly and gives her an edgy look.
There was no hope of getting a blow-dry (Isis, the quaintly named salon in the nearest town on Exmoor of Dulverton, was closed) and the only ‘product’ in the house was dog shampoo belonging to my beloved dead dog, Coco. I used it.
If my fringe could speak, it would have told me then that my stab at being an MEP was not going to be a storming success. As I wrote in my diary at the time: ‘In terms of my barnet alone, I was doomed.’
I catastrophised about my fringe flopping (in the wrong way) for days because I knew the launch would be filmed for the news channels. You may bark with scorn, but every time I’m on telly, people tweet random comments like: ‘More hair than head,’ and upload pictures of me with Rick Parfitt of Status Quo (to be fair, we are peas in a pod).
In fact, my hairstyle seems to have a whole parallel life of its own. I even have an entry on the celebrity hairstyle site Hairlebrity under the banner headline: ‘RJ’s new haircut (updated March 2020). Everything you need to know about her controversial new style.’ I’ve made it at last!
In fact, I’ve never changed my hairstyle since childhood (there’s nothing I can do, it’s always been one massive fringe — like Purdey in the Avengers). My mother used to cut me and my brothers’ yellow pudding bowl hair with kitchen scissors, in the traditional way, towel around shoulders. I did once have a perm, which made me look like a poodle or a member of Bananarama.
It’s so much part of my identity now that when I go to the hairdresser I start hyperventilating when they go in to my fringe.
‘Not too much!’ I shriek. ‘Don’t make it go up at the corners!’
The aforementioned Hairlebrity website asks browsers to vote on what haircut they would like to see on me, offering a menu of nine styles including ‘pixie cut’ and ‘long bob’ and ‘side-swept bangs’. Dream on, Hairlebrity people! I’m never changing it.
One, it would upset the children and, two, I have an ongoing competition with Claudia Winkleman, the Strictly presenter, as to who has the heaviest, most eye-shading ‘bangs’. I win on thickness but her hair is glossier and straighter.
Still. I may have lost the European election hands down to Ann Widdecombe. But I think if the punters were only voting on who had the fringiest fringe — I would have stormed the South West.
Rake’s Progress: My Political Midlife Crisis by Rachel Johnson is published by Simon & Schuster, £16.99.
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