IN the past I've not seen a great deal of similarity between myself and HM The Queen. Now I know despite the disparity in age, lineage and wealth, we're sisters under the skin.

This week her hairdresser Paul Burgess found out he had not been sacked because the salon had been taken over. No, the Queen had requested his replacement but had asked for her involvement to be concealed.

How refreshing to find out that the anointed ruler and head of the Commonwealth is just like everyone else: terrified of offending a hairdresser. Forget feng shui, cognitive behaviour therapy or psychoanalysis: the real power lies in the hands of your stylist. You don't agree? Think of how much people will pay for the best. Demi Moore once spent $350,000 having a scene reshot because her hair didn't look right; President Clinton closed an airport and spent $200 shortening his.

But of course, as in any religion, people expect miracles. Willy Russell's Educating Rita sighed over the fact that women expected to be transformed into Farrah Fawcett-Major by a haircut.

It doesn't happen. Disciples can turn nasty when their faith is tested - witness the number of recent legal actions. Only this week Madeleine McDonald, a 38-year-old hotel receptionist, received nearly pounds 3,000 in an out-of-court settlement after she was left "looking like a 70-year- old" by her local salon.

But hairdressers' ability to transform is not just on the physical level. There is also a strong emotional and spiritual bond as well. One friend described how he had once been saved by a friendly stylist who persuaded him to abandon his Kevin Keegan-style perm for a more flattering crop. "I was overwhelmed with gratitude," he says. "I became totally dependent on her, paying pounds 48 for a haircut for years, because I could not break off the relationship."

For retribution is usually swift if you dare disobey the gods. I broke off the relationship with my stylist. An hour later I was standing crying in the middle of Kilburn High Road. "I look like a dog," I wept. "Yes, but a very nice dog," said my then boyfriend trying to cheer me up. He still doesn't quite understand why we split up.

Even if HM decided that Paul Burgess was not to her liking ages ago but still murmured approval when he showed her the back of her head she can be grateful she has not had to to put up with the more devout of hair worshippers. Roman Polanski was so obsessed with maintaining Faye Dunaway's sleek bob in Chinatown that he once spent half an hour trying to tease a single stray hair into submission. Finally, in fury, he ripped it out by the root. Dunaway immediately stomped off the set, closing down production for a day. The rest of us would probably have meekly agreed that it looked better now.

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