Vidal Sassoon is a delightfully witty man. He took the floor, told us he’d been invited to talk about hair and remarked
Don’t you think Charles I had a rather short haircut? Cromwell went a little too far.
His talk was an 18 minute autobiography, some of which I shall summarise here. He was born to a single mother in 1928. His father was something of a playboy. He “spoke seven languages and had sex in all seven.” His family moved from Shepherd’s Bush to Petticoat Lane when he was very young and he has fond memories of his time there. He loved the richness of the place, the multiethnicity, the multitude of professions that passed through. He and his brother spent their time running around the markets “everybody there spoke three languages: English, Yiddish and rubbish.”
When he was five his family’s financial circumstances meant that his mother had to deposit him in an orphanage. A year and a half later he was joined by his brother. His favourite memory of the place is the bath, where he could frequently be found. The water made him feel alone and free. In 1939, aged 12, he left the orphanage to be evacuated. He wasn’t afraid, but he was a city boy in the middle of Wiltshire so he wasn’t completely content either.
At the age of 14 he started as a shampoo boy in a hairdressers. His mother had pushed him into it, but he was happy. There were a few more anecdotes about his career, but this is the part that most resonated with me. What he wanted us to take away from his talk is that we can do anything we want. We don’t need professors to tell us what we are and aren’t capable of.