Having never been trendy and never having had anything but the dullest of haircuts, speaking to John Belfield was something of a revelation for me.
Short hair, spiked up with wax, has been the order of the day for yours truly for as long as I can remember – apart from a period in the early Nineties when I had those ‘curtains’ sported by umpteen indie bands.
Had I been a regular at John’s salons over the years, however, things could have been very different.
Over five decades he has seen numerous trends and styles come and go and has always managed to remain at the forefront of changing fashions.
It all started humbly enough.
When John started work in his father’s barber shop in the late 1950s he was just 12 years old. The place had no running water and his job was to clean out the slops bucket, sweep up and do the menial tasks expected of any young helper back then.
It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that John would go into ‘the family business’ because he actually passed the entrance exam to go to building college.
But there are plenty of people across North Staffordshire who are grateful that he did continue with scissors and clippers – and I’m not just talking about the tens of thousands whose hair he has washed, cut and styled.
John, now aged 65, said: “I once counted up that there were about 35 different salon businesses across the area that I knew about owned or run by people who had worked for me.
“It makes me very proud to know that I helped to nurture talent and provide employment for hundreds of people over the years.”
John is an internationally-renowed, globe-trotting, award-winning hairdresser who is a born and bred Stokie. He remains the only British male to win first prizes in both the men’s and ladies categories at the Hairdressing World Championships.
In hairdressing terms, he’s a home-grown superstar who says he is enjoying his job now more than ever and never gives any though to retiring.
Like any industry, hairdressing has changed hugely over time. At one time, barbers were very functional, one-room businesses offering a short back and sides or a shave to blokes who dropped in off the street.
John was one of one of people who broke that mould – making a visit to his salon and enjoyable experience and offering his services to both men and women at a time when it was the done thing to have your hair cut and styled by someone of the same gender.
He said: “I was one of the first to offer services to both men and women – even though we had to partition the salon because some men, in particular, didn’t feel comfortable having their hair cut sitting next to a woman.
“There were also many men who didn’t want anything fancy. They didn’t want anything beyond the basic wash and cut and would say: ‘I’m not one of those blinking woofters’.
“I remember my dad taking me to the George Hotel in Burslem to watch a demonstration by an Australian fella who showed us how to do the blow-wave. It would have been the late Fifties and, at that time it was revolutionary. I also went to train up in Manchester and that experience really opened my eyes.”
John told me that people really did walk in and ask people for a Cliff Richard or Elvis Presley quiff or, during the Eighties, for a style that would make them look like a film star or pop singer like Madonna.
Or a member of his staff…
He said: “During the Eighties I was employing 15 to 20 people in my salon in Hanley and people would come in and ask for their hair to be styled liked Jane or whoever.
“During the early part of the decade we experimented with hair extensions – but we don’t do that anymore. It was also, of course, the period when people liked to have their hair highlighted or ‘streaked’.”
Because of substantially lower rents, John moved his business from Hanley to Newcastle in 1986 and has never looked back. He now owns two salons.
Despite cutting and styling the hair of many celebrities over the years, self-confessed comb and scissors man John, refuses to differentiate between famous faces and ordinary customers.
He said: “They’re all celebrities to me. The biggest compliment anyone can pay me is to open my door and walk into my salon and sit down.”
Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia