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Hair apparent

Star hairstylist George Northwood, the man behind Meghan Markle’s tousled look, talks to Joanna Taylor about how lockdown and Black Lives Matter have changed his business

This past year has been an unsettlingly quiet time for the nation’s hairdressers. Not George Northwood, though — a media frenzy erupted when the London super-stylist confirmed
he was the Duchess of Sussex’s go-to hairdresser. While it was known that he’d done Meghan’s evening look for her wedding, their ongoing working relationship wasn’t public knowledge until Northwood posted photos of the duchess’s greatest hair hits on his Instagram account.

The pair were introduced by Ross Barr, her acupuncturist and his friend. ‘We almost instantly hit it off,’ says the 42-year-old with a crisp all-over crop (no terrible lockdown hair here) from his home in west London. ‘She’s such a warm, lovely person. She’s a Californian girl and I really connect with that — I love California.’

Now that the duchess has decamped to Santa Barbara and the coronavirus has stopped travel, Northwood is obviously seeing less of her, but says that the pair maintain a working relationship. He will continue to be on hand with the hairspray when she visits the UK.

Along with Larry King, the Hersheson brothers, Josh Wood and Adam Reed, Northwood is part of the elite band of London stylists who are almost as famous as their clients. A chop with the man himself will set you back hundreds of pounds and there is a long, long waiting list.

“Growing up gay, I’ve had a lot of female friends. A lot of the time I feel like I’m one of the girls”

This is no surprise given his client list includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Rachel Weisz, Daisy Edgar-Jones and long-time friend Alexa Chung, whose carefree, low-key style became the catalyst for
Northwood’s success. Now his trademark mussed-up style is synonymous with the London look: slightly scruffy but still sexy.

While he does style men’s hair, Northwood says he’s always gravitated towards women. ‘Growing up gay, I’ve had a lot of female friends. A lot of the time I feel like I’m one of the girls.’ Plus, he says, there is a lot to learn from the opposite sex. ‘I’ve taken inspiration from everyone I’ve worked with along the way. I’m very lucky to have been around so many different people who have achieved a lot.’

In normal times he’s wielding the scissors at his Fitzrovia salon or jetting off around the world to tend to A-listers. Last month, he launched Undone By George Northwood into Boots. Designed for those of us who can’t splurge on a salon trip, the shampoos, conditioners, styling products and tools are designed to make achieving those signature textured waves that bit easier.

Locked down with his whippet, Willow, during the pandemic, Northwood decided to go back to beauty school. ‘When the Black Lives Matter movement happened, I had time to reflect. I used to think Afro hair was a specialised subject because when I went to hairdressing school, it wasn’t even available.’

He enrolled in an Afro hair styling course with expert Kevin Fortune. ‘I’m years behind in my experience so I need to keep working on it. But I took on La Lah who’s a specialist and we now offer Afro hair services at the salon. Women should be able to go into any salon and enjoy any experience.’

Two decades ago Northwood entered the industry by chance. Originally from Luton, he was a budding actor and bar manager working in Bristol when a colleague, who also happened to be a hairdressing lecturer, spotted something in him. ‘I went to her house one evening and tried out on a doll’s head. She said:
“Oh my God, George, I can tell you’re a natural.”’
For those of us not blessed with such skills, Northwood recommends stepping away from the scissors during lockdown.

But if you’re desperate, ‘just cut the front, the bits that you can see on Zoom. Leave the back for when you can see a professional.’ His salon should reopen on 12 April and he says he and his team can’t wait to make women feel ‘chic, special and look like the best version of who they are’ once again. I don’t know about you but my dodgy DIY fringe and I can’t wait, either.