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Going grey gracefully

It's become one of the most requested colours in salons but what happens when your hair takes on that silver fox look naturally during lockdown? Bairbre Power reflects

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Dame Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench

Dame Helen Mirren

Dame Helen Mirren

Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada

Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada

Kelly Osbourne

Kelly Osbourne

Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Dame Judi Dench

After months of being incredibly strong-willed, I'm afraid I might weaken and reach for the bottle. I'm not talking some wimpy, overpriced rose wine here. I'm talking the hard stuff. Hair dye.

I was so certain last month that I had cracked the habit of a lifetime and would quit colouring my hair.

Over the course of lockdown, I didn't write the novel and I didn't paint the house. All I had to show for the last five months of life mostly spent indoors was a head of grey root. So I thought, why not turn a negative into a positive, and keep it?

This, coming from a woman who has been painting her grey hairs ever since she discovered them in her fringe at age 19, was quite some seismic change.

In my lifetime, I have been a natural sable brown - that's the darkest brown before black - followed by a DIY plum and henna-red phase during my student days. I had morphed back into a brunette again at 21 and tried some highlights, for the fun of it, when I applied for a job in TV. Then I was talked into a Sex and The City Miranda Hobbes 'rich copper red'. The root regrowth with that colour was a total nightmare so I had to wave it goodbye. Finally I winged my way on to the blonde page in the hair salon's portfolio of hair colours so how did I now find myself in this place where I was actively considering embracing the silver fox, the very thing I'd spent a small fortune trying to avoid over the last four decades?

Hiding grey hair was, for me, about trying to look well and to hold back the ravages of time, putting the best foot forward and all of that.

Being more accepting of grey hair after years fighting it every two months is not about throwing the towel in. Lockdown has been a time of recalibration, and casting off society's expectations can be liberating. Over the years, grey hair has that unsettling quality of making you feel older as you desperately hide the telltale signs. But all that has changed, thanks in part to a new brigade of young style queens who see a value in pearlessence and having a glossy silver mane.

The irony is rich: that young teenagers are buying boxes of home colour to acquire exactly what their mothers, and their grandmothers and ancestors before them have been fighting to hide.

Kelly Osbourne has been a major influence in young woman wanting to embrace silver hair. She showcased her grey, then lilac looks in 2012 at the tender age of 27. How the rest of us, the ones forking out a hefty hair maintenance bill bi-monthly, smiled at her Hollywood zeal and youthfulness enthusiasm.

I last got my hair 'painted' as I call it, back in February on the eve of going to Paris Fashion Week and, six months later, no one is more surprised than I am at the possibility that I might wave goodbye to being a 'bottle blonde'. I got through lockdown by applying root cover-up powder which camouflaged the greys with that annoying blue-whiteness. Then I used to go all painterly. I'd lift sections of my hair with a pencil and spray the underside of the hair with a wash-out hair colour which created the illusion of dark streaks in my hair. Hardly a masterpiece but it did the trick.

Researching a possible move away from colour, I'm fascinated to discover more about hair and the differences in families. My late father had jet black hair on his 60th birthday while I had grey hairs at 17. Melanin gives colour to human skin, eyes, and hair and it's the ratio of two types of melanin - eumelanin and pheomelanin - that determines your natural hair colour. The size and shape that the melanin molecules form when they cluster in the hair shaft give the unique tones within a hair colour.

While I have been masquerading as a blonde in recent years, now the question for me is whether to pursue full grey, go back to blonde again or explore a middle ground of keeping the rapidly expanding grey base but maybe introducing some light minky tones to give it some depth.

My decision will be coloured by the fact that going grey will mean being more proactive about wearing the right make-up so I don't look pale and washed out.

And getting your roots painted blonde every few weeks brings its own financial implications. Gosh, would I be able to finally afford one of those Rick Owens leather jackets by giving up my dedication to staying blonde and embracing the old silver fox?

When it comes to silver-haired women on the big screen, two names always crop up - the two dames - Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. For sheer dramatic effect, I love the signature black and white coned beehive 'cheetah' hair style made famous by Daphne Guinness, a signature take on Cruella De Vil's white streaks. Who could forgot the silver tresses worn with devastating style by Meryl Streep in her Miranda Priestly role in the 2006 film, The Devil wears Prada.

For years I used to joke that one day I would go to Australia, shave my head and come back grey haired but in the end, it didn't take a trip to Oz. The Covid-19 lockdown supplied me with an opportunity to transition on several fronts, from discovering old interests and building friendships, right down to gifting me a head full of grey hair. In normal circumstances, I most certainly wouldn't have done patchy roots and uneven colour with the world watching but in the privacy of my home, it was fine. I'm fortunate because in a world of 50 shades of grey, it turns out I have a good grey. A white grey and not a 'can't make its mind up' salt and pepper. Highlights and few slices of dark colour might be a crutch and I wouldn't say no to a blonde streak at the front. Is that cheating? The good thing is though, if it all goes pear-shaped, and I can't rock the grey, I can always reach for the bottle.

Belfast Telegraph