Toni Mascolo is standing in the shiny hallway of the Regent Street branch of Toni & Guy, giving my just-rolled-out-of-bed head of hair a careful once-over.
"I was expecting someone a little older, so I think we may go for something a little more interesting," he says. "It may take a little longer. Men's hair is always more difficult to cut."
Interesting. Shudder. The dreaded word for any man who views a trip the hairdressers in much the same way as an appointment with the root-canal surgeon. But on this occasion, I'd like to think I'm in reliable hands.
It is 45 years since Mascolo, 66, opened the first branch of his Toni & Guy hairdressing empire, in Clapham (his brother Gaetano is "Guy"). Today, with over 300 T&G branches in the UK, and a 200-odd worldwide, the name is as much a part of the fabric of the British high street as M&S or Gap.
If Vidal Sassoon's wash-and-wear perm created couture coiffure for London's glitterati, then Toni & Guy brought it to the masses, in Nuneaton, Nottingham and Newark-on-Trent. The chain has had no small effect on our locks, our wallets, and our language, too. Regulars no longer visit their crimper but rather their "senior creative stylist". Hair gels or wax are referred to as "product" or, more specifically, "texturising gum" or "moulding clay". Even if you don't go to a Toni & Guy, there's a good chance your hairdresser has signed up in some way to the Mascolo revolution.
Everyone from Gregory Peck to Diana Ross and the Supremes have, at some time, sloped through one of its salons. The famously hairdresser-friendly David Beckham was a regular at one branch during his time in Manchester. ("But not his wife, no.")
On top of the salons, there is the lucrative range of grooming products, the training academy, a furniture business, even a string of coffee shops, under sister-brand Fratelli Deli. Not only has this brought Mascolo great wealth (rich lists have estimated him and his family to be worth around £220m), but also recognition. On Monday, he will collect an OBE from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for services to the hairdressing industry.
All in all, not bad for a boy from Naples, who arrived with his mother and brothers in London back in 1956 to join his father, who was by then working in a barber in Knightsbridge that Sophia Loren sometimes frequented. A stylish fellow, Mascolo sounds not altogether unlike the humorous poet T A Daly's Giuseppe Da Barber ("Giuseppe, da barber, ees greata for 'mash', He gotta da bigga, da blacka mustache, Good clo'es an' good styla an' playnta good cash"). He was enjoying life in soon-to-be-swinging London when his wife's middle-class family thought it wise for their daughter and children join him. Soon after arriving, young Toni, who had already learnt to cut hair, went to work with his father at a barber in the West End owned by a man called Vickery. "I was 15 at the time," he recalls. "Hairdressing was a hobby so getting paid for it was great. The place had good clients, very influential people, like the writer Malcolm Muggeridge." Often a young, out-of-work Christopher Lee would drop by for a snip, though he couldn't always pay the bill. "He always said, 'Don't worry, one day I'll be famous, don't worry about the money!'," says Toni, laughing. It was also at Vickery's that he met Charles Forte, the Italian hotelier. "He gave me a £1 note and said, 'I hope this is the start of your career'."
In 1963, he and Gaetano found a space in Clapham and did just that. While Gaetano eventually moved to Dallas to tackle the US market, it would be no exaggeration to say that his brother continued to change the face of British hairdressing. Salons then were usually the preserve of Dot Cotton types. Compared with many crimpers, Toni & Guy is not exactly cheap – standard cuts start at around £30. But still, that's relative chicken feed to the John Friedas and Nicky Clarkes that this particular salon counts as neighbours.
As for the financial crisis currently affecting the country, Mascolo seems relatively unconcerned. He's been through recessions before, citing 1989 as his toughest year to date. "If the quality is there, there's no problem. Those that offer good value will survive, those that don't will disappear."
He's particularly looking forward to his date next Monday with the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, who will be presenting him with his OBE medal. He has been honoured already in Italy, but says this award gives him even greater pride. "That was a great honour, but on Monday, it will be even more special, because I live here. I am very patriotic about being Italian, but I would give my last drop of blood for England. This is where my family is from."
After a few final touches to my hair, ("Short – much better I think"), he's off to Chelsea where he hopes to see his beloved Blues thump his compatriots, Roma. He has a great seat, he says, just behind the manager's dug-out. It sounds like a plum position to hear "Big Phil" Scolari's rantings. "No, he doesn't shout much," he laughs. "It's usually me making all the noise!" For the past 35 years, it's a noise that has been heard way beyond the environs of west London.Reuse content