By Russell Paul Hughes
Key Themes: autobiography, relationships, family, depression, humour
‘You’ll never make a hairdresser’ is an autobiography detailing the life of a young boy living on a deprived housing estate in Manchester and tracing his progression to the present day and the realisation of his dreams.
The novel includes many humorous experiences; the loss of his virginity to a wheelchair bound client, mobile hairdressing within the housing estate representing the culture and lifestyle of all involved, down to the very poignant moments on the loss of a dearly loved sister to cancer at the age of just 37.
The novel also explores the innermost thoughts and feeling of the author, not only his depression which resulted from the onset of epilepsy at the age of thirty but also on a deeply personal level when he realised that as a heterosexual husband and father he was living a lie.
Following these revelations he embarks on a journey of discovery which finally leads him to the confident and fulfilled gay businessman he is today.
About the Author
Russell was born in 1966 and raised in Wythenshawe, South Manchester.
Russell’s hairdressing career began in the early 1980’s but his dream of becoming a hairdresser began much earlier when he first visited a salon in Manchester at the age of 13. Never losing sight of his dream Russell broke away from the tradition of locally based factory work and began a journey of training and apprenticeships in salons throughout Manchester. By 21 Russell had opened his own salon ‘The Crop Shop’ in Hale, Cheshire and was finally realising the dream he had held onto throughout his youth.
Russell moved to North Wales with his wife and children but continued to base his work in the vibrant city of Manchester where the hair industry and business opportunities were rapidly developing; and where he was able to maintain close family connections with his older siblings.
In 1997 Russell was struck by tragedy when his dear sister Allyson died. His loss of the person he describes as ‘a mother figure’ left him so bereft that his life spiralled into turmoil. As severe depression and epilepsy took hold of him, Russell spent long periods of time hospitalised whilst everything which he had built in ruins. The illness he experienced would be life changing and lead to him losing everything that his life was built on; the last foundation being his marriage when Russell confronted his sexuality and openly admitted that as a heterosexual husband and father he was living a lie.
A long and lonely period of recovery followed during which Russell struggled to not only build his own emotional and physical strength but to find a way back into the hairdressing industry and to re-establish himself as a successful business man. Russell remained based in North Wales throughout this difficult time undertaking a number of jobs in order to become self sufficient again.
The salons and customers which have shaped Russell’s hairdressing career span a period of almost 30 years and form the backdrop to his book, in which customer encounters are intertwined with the personal hurdles Russell overcome with bereavement, sexuality, depression, epilepsy and dyslexia; but throughout these challenging times Russell kept hold of his dream and his humour, and with the ability to reminisce in such a poised, yet entertaining way has enabled the creation of his first novel ‘You’ll Never Make A Hairdresser’.
Russell now runs his own salon ‘Russell Paul Hairdressing’ based in Prestatyn, North Wales where he lives with his civil partner Jonathan.
I remember the salon we went in was located in the downstairs of the building. I was feeling better by the time we got there but was still gutted that I was about to spend so much time in this hairdressers, but how unprepared I’d been for the experience I was about to encounter. I will never forget going downstairs and walking on that salon floor. I had never seen anything like it in my life. To me it was one of the most fascinating places I had ever visited. Mum was guided away by a young girl and I was told to wait in the reception area. The seat I chose to sit in was directly opposite a cut out in the wall, and I could see all the ladies sat in chairs having their hair done. I remember thinking the hairdressing salon was so beautiful. There was a fountain right in the middle of the reception area which amazed me because I had only ever seen a fountain outdoors, and that was in our local park and even then it was never working. I thought the salon staff were very glamorous and my eyes moved around quickly; from the girls cutting hair to the ones who were either making coffees or going to help customers with their coats. I loved it. It was another world to me and one that was so far away from the world I lived in.
Mum seemed to be there for hours and during my wait a couple of the staff came over to me to chat for a while. I think they must have felt sorry for me having to sit there all that time waiting for my mother, but little did they know I was loving every minute of it! A younger man came over and asked if I was fed up with waiting. I told him I didn’t mind and with that he said I could go through to the staff room to have a drink with him. I jumped at the chance and walked across the salon floor as if I’d been working there for years. The look on my mother’s face when she saw me was a picture! My memory of the staff room is that it was full of, what seemed to me, beautiful men and women. They were having their lunch and I remember they were very nice to me. They offered me a drink and food but I only took the drink. They were all talking about a customer’s hair and what they were going to do with it. I wouldn’t have minded if I never went home again and I never gave poor Carol a second thought. I was hooked and knew from that moment on I was going to be a hairdresser even if it killed me. When mum finally did appear she walked over to me in the reception.
‘I bet you never thought I’d be that long did you? Well, it serves you right for being fucking ill. Next time you’ll go to school won’t you?’
She actually thought she had taught me a lesson but little did she know she had just given me the best thing she would ever give me in my whole life, and that was an introduction to hairdressing. Strangely, she told me to stand outside while she went and paid. At first I couldn’t understand why but later on I soon found out it was because her hair cut had cost so much money. If I’d seen this and told Dad it would not only be me who’d have been ill because he’d have killed her!
I never found school easy. I don’t know why and I don’t want to blame anyone, but I found nearly ever topic so difficult to understand. I hated reading, writing, spelling, maths and sport. When I look back I thank God I found hairdressing because without it I don’t know what I would have done. I was always being sent out of class for not doing as I was told and when I did try to tell the teachers that I simply couldn’t do the work it only made things worse. There were some teachers who knew full well I struggled but insisted on asking me to read aloud to the whole class. I remember just standing there one day with the teacher shouting at me to read. The more I looked at the pages of this book the more I couldn’t work any of it out, and so the tears slowly ran down my face. It was embarrassing but at the same time a relief when this teacher told me to get out of his class as I was ‘thick as shit’ and he couldn’t do anything with me any more. I did tell my parents, but after laughing they just told me to piss off and go and play out. Some back up they were!
My father had his own business recycling waste paper which earned him a lot of money, but the majority of this went to support the local pub (or his office as he would say).When my brother Tommy left school he went straight to work for my dad. Everyone else in my family either worked for Smiths crisps or Paxo stuffing and I didn’t want to work in a factory. The lucky ones got a job working in the Mr Kipling factory making cakes, and once you were in there I was told you had a job for life. My sister was considered one of the lucky ones when she started working there. I would go and meet her from work and see hundreds of people coming out after their shift. They wore white coats and had silly looking hats. Well if that was a job for life I’d think, God help me.