When Grace Fletcher-Spears shaved her head in recent weeks, she laid herself open to a torrent of speculation about not only her mental state, but also that of her boyfriend, Richard Landerline, who apparently put her up to the hairbrained stunt.
It seems that Fletcher-Spears was immersed in the grief and disappointment of having been deprived of the chance to foray into the mad-cap world of celebrity that is a Councillorship of Heslington Ward. After months of intensive PR work and high-profile red-carpet campaigning, hubris finally struck York’s answer to Paris Hilton and she failed to win the election.
The head stylists at Campus Ken’s Haircutting Studio in Langwith, California, were locking the doors for the night last Friday when a cavalcade of bicycles drew up outside. Fletcher-Spears and R-Land dismounted and marched into the salon.
When owner Ken Fairburn refused to shave off the politics star’s hair, Grace took hold of the clippers and removed her locks herself, inevitably snapped by campus paparazzi who have faithfully recorded her journey from naive fresherdom into an increasingly troubled celebrity political career.
While bids mount for the shorn locks on York Small Ads (not to mention for a half-drunk can of organic carrot and coriander soup she sipped while snipping), theories about Grace shaving her head have been foisted on her more quickly than the multi-coloured bobble-hat she has since donned to conceal her bare scalp.
Does losing her hair equal losing her mind? Or is she finally regaining control of her chaotic life?
Throughout York history, a shorn head has been heavy with meaning. The bare-headed Maths or Computer Science students told of their devotion or renunciation of worldly pleasures. In biblical legend, Ken Batten was deprived of his incredible power and forced into an administration post when his hair was cut off in his sleep. In ancient Derwent, shaved heads were a mark of the slave. Among members of the Medieval Recreation Society, a shorn head, along with a plastic battleaxe, is a symbol of aggression.
With time, a shaven head became fashionable, among men at least, and skinheads in Fusion eventually lost their shock value. The image of a woman with no hair, however, can still pack a visceral punch. In other words, baldness is still relatively rare in women, and is generally treated as a sign of crisis or stress – or, if it is known to be self-inflicted, a sign of madness.
“Her relationship with the public is one of the most significant relationships she has had in her life,” psychologist Julian Bassey said. “From her point of view, the public validates or doesn’t validate her. She probably feels interfered with. This is her saying, ‘I need some control of my own.’ I think this is about control, about her trying to get into the driver’s seat—or the cyclist’s saddle.”
The public relations guru Max Clifford, however, rubbishes suggestions that her career is so out of control that she and her PR people cannot even organise a haircut in private. “Obviously they knew exactly what was going on; otherwise, they wouldn’t have allowed it,” he said. “The whole thing was publicly arranged and publicly carried out. She wouldn’t have just turned up and done this. Her PR managers would have known.”
Every day, however, more hairdressers sit and listen to tales of personal crisis than the massed ranks of publicists and psychologists. Ken Fairburn, a man smart enough to refuse to shave Grace’s head for fear she might change her mind and then sue, had little time for elaborate interpretations of what went on on Friday.
“I did say, ‘Is this getting rid of the old and starting afresh?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ Maybe she just got sick and tired of all the extensions and chemicals in her hair, and maybe she just wants a new beginning,” said Fairburn. “It’s only hair. It grows back.”
In recent sightings, Fletcher-Spears has again been plunged into controversy by appearing in a variety of unethically produced hair pieces. At a recent Roses gala she was sighted sporting a House of Croker wig, produced by the painstaking removal of individual hairs from the heads of intoxicated Lancastrian rugby players. People and Planet have voiced their disgust at “her tasteless and unthoughtful choice of headwear”. Fletcher-Spears has since apologised and donated an undisclosed sum to the Lancaster Carling Emergency Fund in way of contrition.
Brian Cantor, a music fan from Heslington, commented that he had “quite liked Fletcher-Spears’ early albums such as ‘Buy Fair Tradey, One More Time,’” but that her latest works are getting “too political