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The Scrutiny and Anonymity of Royal Hairdressers

The hairdressers to the queen, Princess Diana, and Kate Middleton can teach Meghan Markle’s wedding stylist a thing or two.

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Every day for weeks, the internet has been wondering about Meghan Markle’s wedding hair. Who will do it? What will it look like? The American actress, is, of course, marrying Prince Harry on May 19. People are pretty sure they’ve figured out Markle’s wedding dressmaker, so now her hair is the subject of rampant speculation.

There has always been intense interest in anything related to the royals because that family is so untouchable and their images are tightly controlled. Princess Diana once told her hairdresser Sam McKnight that she brought him with her on her sometimes “harrowing” visits abroad for her charity work because “there are lots of people who are expecting Princess Diana, and I don’t want to let them down. They don’t want to see me coming out the gym. They want to see Princess Diana.” Hair shapes a person’s image, and image is powerful.

The messy bun, slightly less messy.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

But Meghan Markle’s unique situation seems to have raised the bar to new levels: She’s a commoner, an actress, American, divorced, and biracial with naturally curly hair, all characteristics that have earned her extra (and unfair) scrutiny. And as reported by Racked’s Nadra Nittle, Markle has already broken royal protocol several times, making her a loose cannon, relatively speaking, and heightening the intensity even more.

Who will style thoroughly modern Meghan?

One of her so-called breaches involves her infamous “messy bun,” which was first called out in early January as a protocol “taboo.” Since then, websites have meticulously documented and analyzed every time she wears one. Will she wear one to the wedding? Will she go curly? She usually has a smooth yet bouncy blowout, but who knows?

A former hairstylist just revealed that Markle gets keratin treatments to straighten it. Wearing her hair in its natural curly state would likely cause a commotion, as Margo Jefferson writes at the Guardian in her analysis of how Markle has navigated racial issues. Reading through all the coverage, one gets the sense that everyone is holding their collective breath to see if Markle will do something shocking, at least by royal standards. But no matter what she does, the person who styles her hair will also be thrust into the spotlight.

A few weeks ago, the Daily Mail published the tidbit that London-based hairstylist Miguel Perez would be the lucky guy. An even juicier side note in the story was that he is also Amal Clooney’s stylist and she allegedly introduced the two. According to the paper, he said, “Yes, I do Meghan’s hair. I do Amal’s, and Meghan is friends with her. I also do George’s, I do the whole family. ...” It was quickly repeated everywhere.

Getty Images

The same day, Express in the UK published a story noting that Markle’s likely wedding hairstylist would be Joey Wheeler, from London’s Richard Ward Salon, which is frequented by Kate Middleton and her whole clan. That was not nearly as widely reported, likely because it lacks the Amal Clooney connection. It did hilariously say that what convinced Meghan to go with Wheeler was the amazing job he did on Harry’s beard. (He also supposedly gave Prince William an expensive buzzcut.)

The dramatic wrinkle is that Perez refuted these reports on his Instagram a week or so later, writing:

There is a fake news that I am doing the royal wedding, I can confirm I did not even meet Megan, there is someone out there that it will be doing it, out of respect please any magazine or online information are not true, when this came out I sent and email to be correct it, so please whoever is using my instagram pictures and quoting me it’s all fake.

Either he freaked out because he realized that he revealed too much, and this post is a red herring, or it really is fake news. We won’t know until the day of the wedding.

But how exactly did we get to this level of royal hair stalking, and what is at stake for the hairdressers? This age of social media and 24-hour reporting could pose some professional challenges to whoever ends up with this potentially life-changing gig.

“The royals guard their privacy intensely, and it’s a constant struggle for balance in terms of what’s of public interest and what should remain private,” royals reporter Victoria Arbiter said in an email to Racked. “Fashion labels are quite fortunate, [since] when a popular royal is snapped wearing their brand, the photos are beamed around the world almost immediately, so no further comment is needed. The same doesn’t apply for hair and makeup.”

So unlike, say, Jen Atkin and the Kardashians, hairstylists to royals don’t usually become household names, despite the intense interest in their clients’ every gray hair sighting. When they do try to capitalize, it sometimes leads to trouble, a situation that seems to have escalated with each successive generation of British royal women.

Queen Elizabeth’s hair (and hairdressers) has not changed much in 60 years

Queen Elizabeth’s hairstyle is a signature of hers, much like her corgis and monochrome Easter egg-colored ensembles. There is a stability and sameness to it that’s comforting. It never makes news or headlines.

In Netflix’s series The Crown, Prince Philip (played by Matt Smith) says to the queen (played by Claire Foy) in 1957 of her then-new hairstyle, “Should you ever feel compelled to ride a motorcycle, it could always double as a helmet.” While there’s no way of knowing if this conversation actually happened, this is particularly funny because in 2012 the Telegraph reported that the queen, despite being quite safety-conscious, has never worn a hard helmet while riding her horses. “I never have, and you don’t have to have your hair done like I do,” she’s said to have retorted to someone who pointed this out.

The queen in 1976.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

The queen in 2008.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

She has only had three hairstylists since becoming queen. There have also been reports that she sometimes does her own hair and makeup, especially when she’s in the country.

Charles Martyn, the second one, seems to have been the very soul of discretion. A 1990 People feature on the queen noted that he would do her hair every Monday at 4 pm. He never confirmed queries that she used to use a hair dye called “Chocolate Kiss.” There’s very little other information available about him online, which is probably to his credit, at least in the eyes of the royal family. He was with her since 1968.

The queen has bestowed her third and current hairdresser of the past two decades, Ian Carmichael, with various honors, most recently making him a member of the Royal Victorian Order in early 2017. He does her hair twice a week, and accompanies her on trips. He’s also been fairly discreet, giving one interview in 2013 in which he recommended that women in their 40s and 50s not cut their hair short. The only thing he said about the monarch personally was, “Of all my clients, the Queen is by far my favourite. She has wonderful hair.”

Princess Diana marked the beginning of the modern-day royal hair frenzy

Then came Princess Diana, often called the most photographed woman in the world. In a famous BBC interview in 1995, she said, “We had the media, who were completely fascinated by everything we did ... whether it was my clothes, what I said, what my hair was doing — everything. Which is a pretty dull subject actually, and it’s been exhausted over the years.” That was the understatement of the century — people couldn’t get enough of her hair and clothes.

In the early days of Diana’s marriage, her hair was fluffy and mumsy and very of the ’80s. That all changed in 1990 when she met Sam McKnight, the stylist who worked with her until her death in 1997. He was responsible for her short, androgynous crop and for the various iterations of it, like a slicked-back version that read more runway than regal.

McKnight was, and still is, a successful editorial hairstylist, working on both fashion shows and magazine shoots; he also has his own hair care line. He’s styled some of the most famous women on the planet, like Kate Moss and the ’90s supermodels. He met Diana in 1990 at a British Vogue shoot, according to his 2016 book Hair by Sam McKnight. At the time, he styled her hair to appear shorter under a tiara, which she liked. She apparently then asked that if he was given free rein to do something to her hair, what would it be? He responded that he would cut it short, which he did right there after the shoot.

The cut caused an immediate media feeding frenzy. “I had been used to working on Vogue covers and celebrities, but this level of media attention was out of the ballpark,” McKnight said in an email to Racked. “The press scrutiny affected my family too. They were harassed unnecessarily.” He told the Daily Mail in 2016 that photographers had “camped outside” his parents’ house, forcing them to move out for two weeks.

McKnight has always remained fairly mum about the details of his time with Diana, even demurring on dishing personal anecdotes to Today 20 years after her death. But obviously, the ’90s were a different time as far as social media and accessibility.

“Social media today has changed the industry. On the one hand, it’s a good thing. I enjoy Instagram and sharing my work with the world. But private clients — and that is what the royals are — have an aversion to social media,” McKnight says. (Markle deleted all of her social media accounts in January and shut down her lifestyle site The Tig last year.)

Kate Middleton and a hairstylist’s cautionary tale

No offense to Prince Charles’s second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, but there was a dearth of glamorous royal hair to ogle after Princess Diana’s death. But once Kate Middleton hit the scene, hers became the source of constant media attention. The lead-up to her 2011 wedding to Prince William was awash in headlines like “How To Do ‘The Kate.’” Her shiny, bouncy mane was the epitome of princess hair.

Kate Middleton on her wedding day in 2011.
Max Mumby/Getty Images

Unlike Markle’s situation, it was known that Richard Ward would be doing Middleton’s hair for the wedding because he and other stylists at his eponymous salon had long been styling her. He had styled her hair for her engagement photos, and he told E! News of the waves he created, “A lot of girls wanted it, especially a lot of Americans.” Again, understatement of the century. Claire’s in the UK sold out of plastic tiaras after the hair team revealed they used one to practice Middleton’s wedding style. Searching “Kate Middleton wedding hair tutorial” on YouTube turns up more than 760,000 results.

On Middleton’s wedding day, Ward and James Pryce, another stylist at Ward’s salon who had also cut Middleton’s hair for several years, gave her what they called a “demi-chignon,” a half-up/half-down style. Pryce gave quite a few interviews along with Ward, and accompanied Middleton on her tour of North America in 2012. But then there was a falling-out.

Pryce left Ward’s salon in 2013, according to the Telegraph, for circumstances that are not totally clear, though they seem to have been messy. He set out on his own to grow his career off the glory of the perfect waves of a princess but (unlike those waves) seemingly fell flat. “He launched a Facebook page and Twitter account which featured hundreds of pictures of Kate and her various hairstyles to promote his business. Obviously, that did not go down too well with the Palace at all,” a source told the Telegraph.

“Those working for the royals and those providing services to the royals are required to exercise the utmost discretion,” explains Arbiter, the royals reporter. “It would be considered very bad form to be seen to be cashing in on their connection, and should that happen, the person in question would be given the immediate heave-ho.”

Kate Middleton in 2013.
Max Mumby/Getty Images

It appears Pryce was heave-hoed, much like the Queen’s longtime bra-maker, Rigby & Peller, when one of its fitters discussed her visits to the palace in a book. Pryce currently has about 650 Instagram followers and gives occasional interviews, like one he did in February with British Cosmo, in which he talked about products he uses, but he does not seem to be in the royal inner circle any longer. (Pryce did not respond to requests for comment.)

Middleton has continued to go to Ward’s salon for trims and color, but Amanda Cook Tucker is her go-to stylist for events and when she travels; she has been since 2012, according to Tatler. Cook Tucker was snapped leaving St. Mary’s Hospital’s Lindo Wing after the birth of baby Louis a few weeks ago and was presumably the one responsible for Middleton’s giving-birth-day blowout.

Cook Tucker has a connection to the royal family, since her ex-husband owned the salon where Charles Martyn, hairdresser No. 2 for the queen, also worked. She never gives interviews, but she recently had a close brush with social media disaster.

In January, she posted an image of a bunch of brushes and hair tools on Instagram, with the caption: “Think that’s everything! #worktrip #packing.” It didn’t last very long. She not only deleted the image soon after but also deleted her whole account, per People. Oops.

Which brings us back to Meghan Markle and her soon-to-be royal hairstylist. Sam McKnight has some advice for that person.

Max Mumby/Getty Images

“It was a special time for me, those seven years, to be a small part of history, and I loved every minute,” he says. “So I would say to anyone in my shoes: Do a great job, respect privacy, and enjoy every minute. Treasure that glorious time.”

Also a caveat. “You will be privy to much private information and chitchat, which should remain that: private,” he says. “It is the unwritten rule of the hairdressing profession, with the utmost respect for that precious relationship.”

So for god’s sake, don’t put anything on Instagram.

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