Belfast Telegraph

A visit to Bangor is a very hairy experience

By Frances Burscough

I had never seen so many beards in all my life as when I moved to Bangor in the ‘90s. Long hair and beards. Everyone had them, everywhere you looked. Even some of the women.

Bear in mind that it wasn’t the trend elsewhere at the time. In those days, young men in the rest of the UK wore their hair short and gelled into spikes, techno-style, or floppy and foppish like Joey off Friends, or however David Beckham was wearing his hair that week. But in Bangor the male population was like a cross between the members of ZZ Top, the Twelve Apostles and The Dubliners.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism; I love beards and always have done, but it was certainly a bit of an anomaly. My (ex) husband started to sprout a beard himself within a few weeks of moving to Bangor — just to blend in with the locals, he said — and when I went into labour with Luke I was half expecting him to emerge with shoulder-length hair and a goatee. Was there something in the North Down water that made their hair grow thus? Or was it perhaps simply a practical and/or evolutionary response to the chill winds that blew in off the Irish Sea? Whatever the reason was, I just couldn’t understand it.

It seemed like Bangor was stuck in a time-warp, somewhere in the mid seventies.

In retrospect it turns out I may have been wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that Bangor Man wasn’t behind the times, he was way ahead of them. It took the rest of the masculine world more than a decade to catch up and realise that the way forward was full-on facial hair. In the last five years the bearded look has finally caught on — again — and now the fashion capitals of New York, London, Paris and Milan are all in line with our humble seaside town.

So what exactly happened five years ago to cause this sudden shift in tonsorial trends I hear you ask?

Game of Thrones, that’s what.

No sooner had Ned Stark and Khal Drogo strode onto the screen with full facial fuzz  than it seemed like all men everywhere wanted to embrace their inner Dothraki. And who could blame them? These characters were the very essence of manliness and women (and gay men) were swooning accordingly in response during every episode.

At last true heroes of the silver screen —  Tormund Giantsbane, Davos Seaworth, Rikard Karstark and Jorah Mormont to name but a few — looked like real men are supposed to look, even though they weren’t actually real but made up by one old man (with a beard of course!). Once and for all, this marked the end of the new millennium “metro-sexual” male with glossy gelled hair, exfoliated skin, whitened teeth and semi-permanent guy-liner. Men were men, once again, just as God intended.     

Game of Thrones and, more specifically, R.R. Martin, I thank you.

And so at last it returned last Monday — with Series Five, no less — and naturally it was really worth the wait. Once again we were treated to some heart-stopping, stomach-churning, jaw-dropping action involving a cast of thousands and some breathtaking scenery courtesy of good old Norn Iron.

But for me the best part of any episode of Thrones is spotting my friends in the background of almost every crowd scene. Seriously, there are so many blokes from Bangor working as extras in GoT (mainly in the Nights Watch) that the town should be renamed Castle Black.

If you don’t believe me here are just some of the faces I’ve spotted in recent episodes; Gerard Gallagher, Andrew Thompson, Jensen Regan, John Render,  Robert Render, Paddy Cassells, Richard Hodgen, Gavin Stewart, to name but a few, are all from Bangor and some of the first friends I made when I moved here in the 90s. And what do you reckon is the one thing they all have in common? Their beards of course. Long hair and beards.

If ever proof were needed that Bangor men are movers and shakers of style, there you have it.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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