Unfortunate things can happen to a budding male hairdresser. Number one: your hair starts falling out at the age of 19. Number two: you have a combover. But Toni Mascolo can now afford to laugh at those early setbacks: "When you are a young man, you try to hide it. Like that footballer, Bobby Charlton."
The Toni in Toni & Guy, the 64-year-old Mascolo started off with one salon in south London and is now head of a company with operations spanning Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the US. The family is thought to be worth around £250m, and last week he picked up a Cavaliere Ufficiale, the Italian equivalent of a knighthood. In attendance at the London ceremony and celebratory dinner were his wife, daughter, two sons, one bishop, nine priests and around 140 other friends, relatives and business acquaintances.
Sitting with his 32-year-old son Christian in the opulent surroundings of the Dorchester Hotel bar, he is evidently a contented man. He recalls wistfully how, as a young boy growing up near Pompeii, he would walk home from school past his father's hairdressing salon. "I had a stool where I would sit and would wash hair, which made my father very proud. By the age of 12, 13, I was doing perms. It was a hobby. It's always been a hobby. I still go into the salon to cut hair."
Of course, as with any great Italian saga, this was not how things were supposed to have been. He had originally harboured plans to become a lawyer but that changed when his father moved the family to London. Mascolo, then 14 and known by his real name of Giuseppe, spoke no English, so despite excelling at school back in Italy, he had little choice but to start working in his father's salon.
Toni & Guy got off the ground in 1963 when Toni and his brother Gaetano - who changed his name to Guy - decided to open their own salon in Clapham. There are now around 400 Toni & Guy outlets worldwide (most of them franchises), as well as a range of other interests: the products business label.m; the Toni & Guy branded products developed with Alliance Boots; a small chain of coffee shops; and another, more recently launched hairdressing chain called essensuals.
And so the list goes on: the hairdressing academies; Innovia Design, which supplies the salons with fixtures and fittings; an IT business; and an in-house media agency.
Add in a lot of charity work, both in the UK and Italy, and you would think that would keep Mascolo busy enough. But no, for he is currently trying to shake up a group with annual revenues totalling around £175m, so it can either be passed on to his children or sold.
The first step came four years ago when the product business Tigi was demerged. This is now run by Mascolo's three brothers, who live in Dallas, as are Toni & Guy in the US, Canada and South America. Mascolo himself owns everything else.
"We currently have about 10, 20 different offers on the table from venture capitalists," he says. "But we're restructuring to become like a public company. I was once told that rather than go public, it was always better to get the company to that level and then get somebody to buy it."
"Either that or Dad will still be running it from his grave," chips in Christian.
His father, impeccably dressed in a pink shirt and tie and speaking with a heavy Italian accent, smiles wanly. This is, for all the exit talk, emphatically a family business. Christian, Mascolo's oldest son, runs essensuals. He trained as a hairdresser but happily admits to having his sights on his father's job. Daughter Sacha is global creative director and her husband James Tarbuck - son of Jimmy - runs the company's media arm.
Only Pierre, the youngest, is not involved in hairdressing - an actor, he recently featured in the controversial film Kidulthood - but family money is never far away. His father helped finance Pierre's first short film, and then set up a production company to get Kidulthood off the ground. "He wanted to be an actor but he came to me and said, 'Dad, nothing is happening, could you help it happen?'," Mascolo recalls. "I'm very proud of him and he's doing very well. The [production] company will eventually be transferred to him and his partners."
Mascolo's empire, though, has recently been in the news for less glamorous and more sinister reasons. Last week it emerged that a 16-year-old girl had allegedly been raped at the Toni & Guy annual hairdressing awards at Alexandra Palace in north London. "I was horrified and so upset, because I'm a family man," says Mascolo, who had left the awards before the alleged incident took place. "We're all one big family. The police are dealing with it and we're helping every way we can. But I have children and it's terrible, it's horrible. Things like that should never happen."
While the police continue their investigations, Mascolo will get on with running his business and clearing the way for the next generation. His wife, apparently always slightly disappointed that she married an Italian but has lived all her life in England, is keen for him to let go so they can buy a house in Italy.
Yet Mascolo may prove resistant to that, as new ideas and expansion plans are constantly buzzing round in his head. Label.m, for example, was launched as a salon brand following the separation of Tigi, but is now being marketed to non-hairdressers. The Toni & Guy branded products range is also being expanded and will be sold in the coming months in more overseas markets, either with or without Alliance Boots. Meanwhile, he expects his coffee- shop chain Fratelli Deli to have grown to 20 outlets in the next three years.
"The company is growing so fast," he adds. "Essensuals could be as big as what we are at the moment. He [Christian] will have enough to do in the future. The company is very profitable but we don't take it as profit, profit, profit. We are going to be spending a lot of money.
"Everyone says it's so easy to get to the top. To stay is a lot harder. We're only just touching the surface. If I had another 50 years, I could keep busy for another 50 years."
And for a Surrey-dwelling Italian, his inspiration proves to be somewhat unlikely: Sir Ken Morrison, the pugnacious, septuagenarian chairman of the Bradford-based supermarket chain Wm Morrison.
"When I saw him, I thought he was getting on, and then he's taking over another thing - he's only just starting out. There's so much to do, consolidating and creating the perfect salon every- where you go. The hairdressing you know you can do - but customer service can always be better and so on. Every salon should be a perfect salon."