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Keep your hair on? If only...

Features | By William Cook

Many bald men will tell you losing your hair is no big deal. Don't believe a word of it, says William Cook

‘There are worse things than being bald,’ said my wife, as I stared morosely at the stranger in the bathroom mirror. After several years trying (and failing) to thicken my thinning mane with a vast array of expensive potions, I’d finally admitted defeat and had been to the barbers for a number-one crop. ‘It looks much better like that,’ said my wife, in the sort of reassuring tone she usually reserved for telling our young son that one of his pet goldfish had gone to heaven. ‘Much better than your old comb-over.’ ‘I don’t have a comb-over!’ I replied. ‘Of course you don’t, dear,’ she said. ‘At least, not anymore.’
That was fifteen years ago, in my mid-thirties and, looking back, I realise she was quite right. There are worse things than being bald, it did look better cut short, and I did indeed have a (sort of) comb-over: not a full-blown Bobby Charlton or a Robert Robinson but a comb-over nonetheless. Since that fateful day, I’ve been out and proud about my shiny pate, and I find my baldness has come to define me. Many bald men will tell you losing your hair is no big deal. Don’t believe them. There isn’t one of us who wouldn’t have his hair back tomorrow, given half a chance.
Naturally, compared with genuine ailments, male pattern baldness is an utterly trivial affair. Nevertheless, it was still a tremendous shock. Unlike a lot of baldies, I never thought I’d lose my hair. My father never went bald, and neither did either of my grandfathers. Having started out with a thick head of hair, I suddenly went completely bald, in the space of a few years. I’m embarrassed to admit it but, when my barber first revealed the ghastly truth, I actually fainted in the his chair.
Why was I so upset? As any bald man can confirm, it may be a harmless affliction, but few physical changes are quite so stark. Once I’d given up the ghost and shaved off what was left of my rapidly retreating thatch, my appearance changed so dramatically that some old acquaintances didn’t recognise me. Ever since I went bald, in my mid-thirties, I’ve felt like a hairless ghost of my old self.
Being bald is a complete pain in the arse. Unless you wear a hat, your head gets terribly cold in winter and horribly sunburnt in summer. I’m still searching for a way to cover up without making myself look like a total prat. As William Hague learned to his cost, any bald man over thirty looks ridiculous in a baseball cap – and most other hats aren’t much better. My experiments with flat caps, trilbys and fedoras have all been abject failures – making me look like one of those strange middle-aged men you see loitering in the background on the Antiques Roadshow. Since we now live in a hatless age, you’re bound to look the odd one out.
Most women swear that baldness is attractive, but hard evidence doesn’t bear this out. Would Beatlemania have ever happened if the four moptops had been the four slapheads? Would a bald Elvis have been so big? Elton John flew the flag for bald pop stars for a while but, having come out of the baldy closet, he acquired a miraculous new head of hair and promptly went back in again.
It’s the same story on the screen. Sean Connery is the sexy bald actor par excellence, but he wore a toupée throughout his time as James Bond and there’s never been a bald Bond since. Most bald actors are character actors. Bruce Willis is an exception, but even he looks better with a rug.
You’d think politics, show business for ugly people, would give us baldies a better chance but the verdict at the ballot box is even worse. The last bald man to be elected president of the United States, Dwight D Eisenhower, had to win a World War to get elected. Every US president since Ike has been heroically hirsute. Donald Trump is living proof that we’re instinctively biased against baldies. Do you really think he’d have won the election without that synthetic ferret on his head?
Here in Britain, we haven’t elected a bald prime minister since Clement Atlee, a man who governed before the television age, when hats were still de rigueur. Iain Duncan Smith would have been unelectable even with a full head of hair, but Hague was a fine candidate – until that baseball cap debacle. Neil Kinnock (bald AND ginger) never stood a chance.
So what are the upsides of being bald? It’s a pretty short list, but there are a few minor compensations. Going bald forced me to get fit. I’d always been a bit chubby but, like Kenneth Clarke, my hair helped to conceal it. The prospect of being fat AND bald was too hideous to contemplate (imagine Ken Clarke with a chrome dome). For the first time since I left school, I started exercising again, and I’ve never really stopped. In a broader sense, going bald made me get my act together. You’ll never get a clearer signal that your youth is well and truly over, and that any headway you make from now on will be due to the stuff you do, rather than the way you look.
Although I’m eaten up with envy for any man over forty with a bouffant barnet, I sometimes think a hairy head can hold a good man back. Look at Melvyn Bragg. His South Bank Show was brilliant to begin with, but it eventually became a running joke, thanks to cutaways of Melvyn preening his luscious locks. On the radio, where every broadcaster is a bald man (or a plain woman), his performances are masterful. On television, Melvyn is the thinking woman’s crumpet – on the wireless, he’s one of the great thinkers of our age. If only he’d gone bald when he was 35, like me, just think what he might have amounted to.

This story was from April 2017 issue. Subscribe Now