Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Justin's progress

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The Independent Online
HE GOT his first leg up from Vidal Sassoon in 1956 after he organised the wine for the hairdresser's wedding reception. Plonk would be a better word. At that time Justin de Villeneuve, an East End kid, was simply Johnny Davies and the wine - paint stripper, he called it - had fallen off the back of a lorry. Johnny Davies took the labels off and replaced them with vintage ones. The guests floated around the Park Lane Hotel saying wonderful vin, and Vidal was impressed. Johnny Davies became his assistant.

It was then that he acquired his first French name - Christian Saint Forget (pronounced Fourjay) - and became a hairdresser. 'I would hold the hair while Vidal cut. It was pure nonsense, but the customers loved it.' Five years on he became an instant expert on Hepplewhite furniture, and with a partner with a pukka double-barrelled surname became an interior decorator. At that stage he became Justin de Villeneuve, a name he thought appropriate to his new profession. He nearly called himself Harlow de Villeneuve because he rather liked the joke - Harlow New Town. It was the start of the Sixties: his last name, but not his last act. Twiggy, his greatest invention, had yet to come.

Justin de Villeneuve's life has now become a musical. It includes his childhood in the Blitz and evacuation to J B Priestley's home in Hertfordshire, his early working life as a runner for Rachman, as a bouncer in Soho and a spell as a fairground boxer named Tiger Davies. He married, was divorced, did the hairdresser and interior designer bit, met Twiggy, became master of the King's Road, and fixed Hollywood movie deals. After the Sixties there was a decline, through life as a music impresario, pop band manager, and now self-proclaimed poet. A Fake's Progress will have one 'showcase' performance at the Hackney Empire tonight before friends, punters and impresarios from the West End. Justin hopes to open there in the spring.

For all of you who can't remember, Justin met Twiggy through his brother Tony, a genuine hairdresser. Lesley Hornby, 15, from Neasden was his 'Saturday girl'. She wanted to be a model. Justin met her in 1965. 'It was like showing a dog the rabbit,' he said.

In 1966 he had her hair cut short by his mate, Leonard, photographed by another mate, Barry Lattigan, who picked the name Twiggy. The photograph was put on the front page of the Daily Express by its fashion editor, Deidre McSharry, as the Face of '66 and a super-model was born. Justin and Twiggy became partners and made an enormous amount of money.

I went to the old Fulham public baths and wash house, now called the Dance Attic, to meet today's Justin, aged 53. I found him in a creche, nursing a baby who belonged to his violinist. Next door, Paul King, a singer and television presenter from Birmingham who plays Justin, and Sonique Clarke, a black singer from Crouch End, London, who plays Twiggy, were going through their routines.

Justin was in his new Vandyke mode: flowing locks, goatee beard, black clothes, a gold watch chain across his midriff. 'People have been pleasantly surprised,' he said, referring to his musical. 'I hope everyone will stop treating me as a Jack-the-lad and recognise me for what I am, a lyricist, a writer.' Within seconds he was discussing Bertolt Brecht and comparing Fake's Progress to The Threepenny Opera. There was a touch of Cabaret, Isherwood and Berlin of the Thirties, he said as I listened open-mouthed.

He chose Sonique to play Twiggy, he said, because she was the best singer in the business. They had tried lookalikes, but it hadn't worked. It didn't matter that she was black because the actors were just masks. And you, Justin? 'I am a mask, too.'

(Photograph omitted)