THE COURT OF KING NICKY

FASHION Rich women will do almost anything to get Nicky Clarke's hands on their hair. Is he a genius? Or just a master of self-promotion?
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The Independent Culture
NICKY CLARKE is this generation's celebrity hairdresser - the superstar crimper with the superstar clients, Princess Diana and Liz Hurley among them. His insatiable desire for publicity is surpassed only by his enormous charm and his boundless energy.

On Monday mornings, from the moment his salon's switchboard opens at 8.30, there are non-stop calls from women wanting appointments with him, and him alone - as many as 350 of them. But Nicky Clarke only takes 40 appointments a week, and they're booked by 8.45. Which leaves 50 hopefuls on the week's waiting list, and 260 to try their luck the following week.

Clarke usually works on three clients at once. While one is having her hair shampooed, he is cutting another's. And while another is having her hair rough dried, he's cutting somebody else's, and so on. He's been criticised for working with a team of three assistants, but that's the way he likes it. "Herb Ritts [the photographer] has five," he says.

He opened his Mayfair salon in 1991, in the middle of the recession; instead of the black and chrome look favoured at the time, he filled it with antiques, so that it felt like a house (the furniture appreciated in value, too). It was a success from the start. Clarke seemed to have the knack of knowing what clients wan-ted, perhaps because he had a "majorly dodgy hair-do" aged 15. "People don't want to look coiffed and preened," he says, "they want their hair to have touchability."

He started work in 1974 aged 16 at Leonard, Swing-ing London's most glamorous salon. When Stafford Cliff-ord, Leonard's manager, and John Frieda, his senior stylist, left to set up on their own, Clarke went with them. Four years later, Clifford and Frieda split up, and Nicky joined Frieda. Ten years later, they too parted, acrimoniously. For a year, Nicky worked with his brother; then, in 1991, he and his wife and business partner Lesley borrowed pounds 100,000 to open the Mount Street salon. He's now British hairdresser of the year, and insured for a million pounds. Not bad for a lad who left school with two O-levels.

His partnership with Lesley reminds him of that of Yves St Laurent's with Pierre Berge: "He would be nowhere without St Laurent, and St Laurent would be nowhere without him," he says. This man thinks big. !

LIZ WHEELER

Liz was born in Denmark. She went to finishing school in Switzerland, and in 1968 met her English husband when he was on business in Denmark. They moved to England to bring up their son and daughter, now aged 26 and 23 respectively. She has lived in Chisle-hurst, south-east London, for 23 years.

BEFORE

I could never settle with anyone until I met Nicky. I found it very difficult to find somebody who's good at cutting and styling. I've been coming to him for years and I have a weekly appointment with him, which costs me pounds 65. Every four or five weeks I have it cut a little and that costs me pounds 120. I go for the glamorous look - and Nicky makes it look modern. If you ask someone else to do that, it ends up looking like an old-fashioned shampoo and set. If your hair is no good, it doesn't matter what you put on, you don't feel right. But if your hair is good, you can put on an old dress and still look good. Hair is the most important accessory. I go to keep fit classes about three times a week and I play bridge once a week. I also have a Rottweiler - I love my baby and she's never been in a kennel. When we go on holiday I have people to stay in the house to look after her. Everybody has privileges, don't they?

AFTER

I love it. It's been done very glamorously - he knows I like it off my face. I'm going to a ball on Saturday. I'll be wearing a black halter- neck dress by Donna Karan and very high strappy sandals and a wide black patent belt.

CLAUDIA SIMON

Claudia has been a presenter on Top of the Pops and London Tonight. For the past three years, she has been a sports reporter on Sky TV; she is a keen sportswoman who enjoys showjumping, mountain biking and hockey. Her burning ambition is to be the skiing correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.

BEFORE

I'm really fussy about who does my hair. I've tried everywhere - Daniel Galvin, Neville Daniel, Michaeljohn - and at last I found Carl, here at Nicky Clarke, who always does my colour. Now I'm looking for someone to cut my hair regularly. I'd like Nicky to do it, but he can never do it if you ring up the day before like I do. I've just got to be more organised. He's like Edward Scissorhands - hair flying everywhere. I've got straight, normal, flat hair that doesn't have any style. He was explaining to me that if you put layers in the back then it will lift the top and it gives you a different outline. There's much more to it than you think - the volume, the shape, the difference between the length at front and back. You can look after your face but if your hair doesn't look right then you look awful.

AFTER

I gave him an idea of what I wanted - a bit of body - and I wanted to be able to put it up. It's natural looking and it's not too glamorous. It cost pounds 75; it's worth it. It's like when you go to a health farm - you spend a lot of money, don't you? LADY LIZA CAMPBELL Sister of the Earl Cawdor, Lady Liza studied a writing course at New York University and afterwards worked as a freelance journalist for Vogue and Tatler in London. In 1991, she went to Africa, married there and had two children. After returning to England with her children, Storm, four, and Atticus, three, she has returned to freelance journalism.

BEFORE I've got two small children, so I don't spend a lot of time doing my hair. It's head over the side of the bath, a quick wash, and then I'm out of the house with it wet in under a minute. Every eight months or so I do something pampering to cheer myself u p. It's nice watching Nicky because it's mesmerising. He's so good with his hands; it's like watching someone re-caning a chair. The salon is great; it's nicely decorated and everyone is incredibly attentive - people rushing up with glasses of waterwith ice and lemon already in them. It'll cost me pounds 190, with pounds 2 or pounds 3 for the person who shampooed it. The whole thing about tipping is a bit awkward - shoving money into people's hands. Generally, I include it on the cheque so that theper son at the desk can give it to them. What do you tip Nicky Clarke? I would imagine he's probably too grand to be tipped.

AFTER It's such a transformation - I'm usually fairly grungy. I love it, I think it's just great. I came in a tired housewife and I'm going out a very happy siren. KATHY KIRBY When Kathy was 22, she married a Daily Mail executive in Manchester, where she was working as a journalist. She stopped working when she had her two children and, 12 years ago, divorced. She now lives alone in Sloane Street and has been working as an int erior decorator for 12 years.

BEFORE I suppose I've been to every hairdresser in London over the years, starting with Leonard in the Sixties. It was like a party every time you went there; he was so flamboyant. I can never get in here to have my hair cut every six weeks, so I go on the wai ting list and usually get to see Nicky every two or three months. He cuts it so well that I can handle it myself in between times. I know it's expensive, but I just think of it as not buying a sweater or a shirt for one or two hundred pounds. A friend wh o's a hairdresser comes to my house to do my colour and I just go locally ( I live in Knightsbridge) for my manicures. Since the Eighties, I've been doing up houses. Sometimes I buy up properties, decorate them and sell them. Then I can have my months in Spain and play golf. I don't play in England - I'm a fair weather golfer. When I'm abroad, I let someone else 'trim' my hair, but I never let anyone 'cut' it. In a perfect world, I'd like Nicky to fly out and cut my hair, but wouldn't everybody?

AFTER It's super and so stylish. It sits on my head so well. In fact, it's ideal because I'm going to a ball tonight.

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