Embarrassing? Yes. Eye-watering? Definitely. ANDREW PIERCE was horrified to discover he had thinning hair but 55 excruciating injections (and wearing a hot water bottle) worked wonders
When Prince William sported the tell-tale signs of following in the tradition of Windsor men and losing his hair, I was the first to gleefully report it.
And after David Cameron became Leader of the Opposition in 2005, I spotted from my perch in the press gallery of the House of Commons that he, too, was thinning on top.
After a good squint, I realised that, in addition to his usual left-to-right quiff, Mr Cameron combed his hair backwards over the bare patch, creating a rather peculiar double parting.
When I bumped into Mr Cameron outside the House of Commons a few days after my revelation about his follicular embarrassment, he let rip. ‘I’m furious with you, Piercey,’ he bellowed. I laughed it off. After all, I’ve known the Prime Minister since he was a young researcher at Tory Central Office and even then he was terribly image-conscious.
Unlike me. After all, I was a hardened hack, a man who delighted in exposing the foibles and vanities of others. A footling thing such as a receding hairline wouldn’t bother me!
Or so I thought. Today, some years after exposing two of the most prominent men in the land as tonsorially challenged, fate has dealt me a cruel hand in revenge. My hair is disappearing, too — and fast. I’ve long had the odd grey hair, and I could cope with those just fine. But the discovery two years ago that I was going bald was too much to bear.
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It was far more painful than the onset of crow’s feet, wrinkles or my sagging midriff. My hair loss struck at my very soul.
Baldness generally begins, as millions of men know only too well, with a thinning of hair from the crown or top of the head, and a similar regression of the hairline around the temples.
This is usually due to increased levels of a type of testosterone that causes the hair follicles to narrow, impeding growth.
Baldness can also be caused by a physical or mental trauma, or chronic illness. It’s a sign that the body is downgrading the importance of hair growth to concentrate on more salient issues. In this case, hair can grow back when the body returns to normal.
My condition, though, is more straightforward. It’s called middle age. But that didn’t make it any less of a terrible shock.
Male pattern baldness is caused by an unlucky stroke of genetics and seems to be passed down predominantly through the mother’s side. So, if your maternal grandfather or uncles are bald, be warned: you may lose your hair, too. As I’m adopted and have never traced my blood family, I have no older male relatives to observe.
With no history to fall back on, I had no way of predicting whether I would be lucky enough to have a full mane of hair like Michael Heseltine as the years advanced or whether I would end up looking like a slimmer version of Friar Tuck.
As I approached the big 50 in February 2011, I felt as if I had dodged the baldness bullet that had afflicted so many of my contemporaries. Then, my very own sword of Damocles fell, taking my hair with it.
By chance, I saw a film of me on a platform at a public speaking engagement in Cardiff the previous October — and my eye was caught by a white glimmer on my head. At first, I thought I was imagining it. So I re-ran the film. Endlessly.
There was no doubt about it. There was a distinct expanse of white scalp on the crown of my head. I was mortified. I phoned my three closest friends. The first two sheepishly admitted they had long seen my baldness developing, but hadn’t mentioned it because they didn’t want to upset me.
My third friend bravely decided to lighten the mood by telling a joke. I can still remember it: ‘A man goes to the doctor and says: “Doctor, doctor, my hair keeps falling out. Can you give me anything to keep it in?” The doctor replies: “Yes, here’s a paper bag.” ’ Hilarious? No, me neither.
When I quizzed my hairdresser, I found he, too, was guilty of fibbing about the state of my follicles. He tried to reassure me that going bald was fashionable — but then he is a thirtysomething version of Bruce Willis, so he would, wouldn’t he?
While it’s true there are plenty of poster boys for the nervously thinning-haired male — such as Hollywood acting hunks Jude Law (who until recently used to hide his depleted locks under a cap, even on the red carpet), Vin Diesel and Jason Statham — I was secretly haunted by fears that I would end up looking naff and bald. Think Foreign Secretary William Hague and his wretched baseball cap.
By then, I was in a real state. What would baldness do to me? Would it dampen my natural joie de vivre? Shatter my boundless confidence?
I couldn’t help but think of former Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten. If I was to believe him, hair loss could cause all manner of problems.
He was happily married with two lovely children until, he claimed, his rapidly receding locks caused a mid-life crisis. This in turn, said Oaten, led him to seek distraction in sex, culminating in a rather squalid scandal in 2006.
He wrote at the time how hair loss had come to completely overshadow his political life: ‘Any TV appearance would result in a barrage of emails not about the issues I’d raised, but about my lack of hair. Whether supportive or not, they all asked what had happened to my hair. ‘It’s perhaps not surprising that I became more and more obsessed by its disappearance.’
Now, I’m not suggesting that, like Oaten, I’m so depressed that I am about to embark on sordid sexual shenanigans as compensation for my receding hairline. But losing my hair felt like the most public signal of my loss of youth.
The reverberations were endless. Even the simple act of showering became torturous. To see my hairs disappearing down the plughole was horrifying. I even began to wash it less often in the vain hope it would slow down the process.
When that didn’t work, I tried having my hair cut more, in the misplaced belief it would grow back quicker and thicker.
Obviously, looking back, I was kidding myself. Most people’s hair grows about half an inch each month irrespective of cutting.
And so I resorted to products to cover the gaps. I invested in hair wax to try to plaster my hair over the bald zone. This had only very limited success.
As a last resort, I started to use the gym exercise bars to hang upside down in an attempt to create a rush of blood to my scalp, which I hoped would stimulate hair growth. I only succeeded in almost breaking my neck. It was hopeless.
So, like many other hopeless cases the world over, I resorted to scouring the internet for a cure. I was desperate to avoid the dreaded comb-over. Surely there was a pill or something that would help me?
I quickly found out hair loss for men is big business. There are 5.5 million hair products for men, many of which are devoted to stopping it disappearing.
A few weeks before my 50th birthday, I went for the magic pill route: Propecia, which costs around £660 for a year’s supply. You need to have a prescription, but apparently it works well at saving hair on the crown of the head.
There was one drawback, though. The tablets can adversely affect your libido.
To hell with it, I thought, and bought them anyway — to no avail. The relentless march of baldness continued. I gave the trichologist approved drops a whirl. All you have to do is rub them into your head. They cost £52 and last six weeks, but they were useless.
Then I discovered a treatment called Nanopeptide Mesotherapy. It involves a cocktail of vitamins and minerals injected directly into the scalp.
It is claimed this stimulates the hair’s natural regeneration process by strengthening it, while energising the follicles to produce long hair shafts.
I signed up for a two-month course with Lee Garrett, an aesthetic practitioner at Freedom Health in Harley Street. I decided not to tell my closest friends what I was up to, curious as to whether they’d see the difference and also slightly embarrassed about where my hair-loss obsession was taking me.
It wasn’t going to come cheap. Each session weighed in at £350 and involved 55 injections. It all sounded rather eye-watering, physically and financially. But I was relieved to find each session would be over in less than ten minutes.
Did it hurt? Thankfully not. The injections felt like a series of small pinpricks that were only fleetingly uncomfortable.
Each night during the treatment, I had to attach a hot water bottle to my head for 15 minutes to stimulate blood flow. This, the experts say, helps to secrete oil from the scalp which, in turn, pushes out the hair. The results are remarkable. My hair is thicker and stronger, and my bald patch has shrunk in just eight weeks.
Lee, who went bald when he was 30, says it’s too late for him to rescue his own hair: it only works if there is still a decent mane. But he has clients — male and female — who have suffered partial alopecia and even they have noticed an improvement. The treatment also helps those who have been through chemotherapy.
So, what did my good friends think? Impressively, all of them, independently, have remarked on the transformation.
After seven sessions, my treatment is complete. I have to go back in six months for a top-up, and every six months after that. I’m also using a special shampoo and conditioner and persevering with the hot water bottle when I remember.
I must admit that some of my other friends think I should have gone bald gracefully. But now I’ve been through the painful process of thinning up top, I can see what a cruel blow hair loss can be, especially to men of a certain age and vanity.
The thickness of a man’s hair instantly conveys power, attractiveness and energy; thinning inescapably suggests your potency and vigour are slipping away.
I’m not alone in feeling this. Many high-profile men have felt the pang of loss when their hair begins to thin.
Some, like me, have resorted to rather extreme measures. Famously, footballer Wayne Rooney invested £30,000 in a hair transplant. But I’d never do that. I’ve seen the results of hair transplants close up and it’s like sporting a mini-version of the Bayeaux Tapestry on your head.
Today, I feel more confident, attractive and young. My partner’s noticed the spring in my step and has taken a close interest in the outcome, as his own hair is thinning. So I’ve booked him in for injections.
If you’re feeling a bit light on top, I suggest you do the same. As Samson discovered to his cost, a man isn’t anything without a full head of hair.
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