Dyeing for a change 

When I walked through the door aged 14 with cornflower blue hair, my mother, Barbara, burst into tears. I came from a respectable family, my father, Beric, was a joinery manufacturer with three successful factories. 'Only common people dye their hair,' she cried, 'it's not something people from our background do.' 

My hair was naturally very thick and black with red highlights which would catch in the sunlight. But while everyone else seemed to love it, I found it a bit of a handicap. I was only 4ft tall at the time, and felt the dark colour made me look even shorter especially as I had pale skin. 

I'd seen, from visits to the hairdresser, that you could dye your hair every colour under the sun. At 14, I felt strong enough to deal with the inevitable reactions to being different. 

Dyeing my hair blue was a way of letting everyone know that I would never be the 'Laura Ashley', middleclass person they all wanted me to be. I had rebelled, and I found the whole experience very liberating. 

And I know I'm not alone. According to a new survey, seven out of ten women have dyed or highlighted their hair all their adult lives. 

The psychology of changing your hair to be different or to feel better is why so many women do it. It has allowed me to be distinctive and different - to feel sexy and good about myself. 

Although I did it to break the rules, some do it to signal a new start. That is proven time and time again when women change their hairstyle after breaking up with a partner. 

I got a hell of a lot of stick for the way I looked. Taxis and buses refused to stop for me, and I was constantly on the receiving end of comments such as: 'I didn't know there were clowns in town.' But instead of making me feel more fragile, it made me stronger and more determined to be what I wanted to be. 

When my career as a singer took off in the 1980s, I moved to London and as I was becoming famous, I was lucky enough to get it done for free. My hair, which had been the bane of my mother's life when I was younger, was now making me a fashion icon. 

Even though I'd been dyeing my hair for more than ten years, I had no side-effects whatsoever. Yet there was one occasion when it went wrong. 

For some reason I didn't go to my normal hairdresser, and they let an apprentice loose on my hair. I wanted to have it dyed jet black with lots of pillar-box red streaks. It was all going well until she tried to bleach the black strands. Apparently the black dye is even more aggressive than bleach, so my hair went to powder. 

After years of going to the hairdresser trying outlandish hairdos, I knew it was going to happen but the apprentice ignored me. In the end they had to cut the whole lot off, which didn't look too bad, but I never went back there again. 
Throughout the 80s I continued to get my hair dyed bright primary colours every few weeks, but in 1993 I decided enough was enough. 

Like many women, I found my hair colour was dictated by my career and my age. Margaret Thatcher famously advised us to go lighter as we get older. I was turning my hand to TV presenting, and decided to change peacock vibrancy for blonde elegance. 

Blondes may have more fun, but my main reason for going blonde was professional. The brightness of the colour reflects off the skin and makes you look younger. 

Being blonde has helped me understand why so many millions of women have done it - I've got more work out of it and had more fun. Fortunately, no man has treated me like a idiot - they wouldn't dare. 

So am I going to keep dyeing my hair? Of course I am. After all, there's precious little else you can change without going under the knife. 

INTERVIEW: CHARLOTTE DOVEY 

Daily Mail
28th August 2003