Andrew Barton is a breath of fresh air. The British hairdressing icon, best known for his role as resident hair expert on hit TV show Ten Years Younger, may count a string of A-list celebrities among his clientele but he’s as down to earth as the next man and exudes enough warmth to melt an igloo.
As soon as I arrive at Urban Retreat, a luxury hair and beauty destination inside Harrods, the critically acclaimed hairdresser wraps me in a generous hug before proceeding to show me around the impressive facilities in which he works as creative director. It’s a magical place. There’s a Moroccan spa, separate hair, nail, and beauty treatment sections, and a retail emporium featuring both exclusive and established brands. No wonder Barton has a smile on his face. His energy is contagious.
The 50-year-old, who also has a successful signature haircare range at Asda and operates a hair consultancy business, is clearly passionate about what he does. Nonetheless ‘Barty’, as he is known to friends, is the first to point out that things could have turned out differently if he hadn’t been adopted at the age of four months old and brought up in a loving environment.
Below The Prince’s Trust and CoramBAAF Adoption & Fostering Academy patron tells Relax Ya Self To Health why he’ll always remain true to his working-class roots, how he finds moments of calm in his hectic schedule and why Ibiza holds a special place in his heart.
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. You really are a breath of fresh air. You seem so happy and light. What’s your secret?
It’s just who I am and part of that is to do with the fact that I feel blessed and grateful for being adopted as a baby by an incredible family that naturally weren’t mine but became mine. As soon as we [Barton’s brother was also adopted] were old enough to understand, our parents explained that we were special and had been chosen. We grew up believing that which helped me embrace it and not feel uncomfortable about it. My life may have been very different without adoption. We’re a close-knit family. My mother was an incredible woman. I lost her seven years ago and it breaks my heart every day. I miss her because she was my best friend as well as my mum.
Did you always want to be a hairdresser?
I didn’t always know what I wanted to do. At school, I wasn’t that academic but I was good at design, art and creative things. At first, I wanted to be a surface pattern designer working with fabric. Then the working class lad in me that kicked in. My dad was a miner who worked in the pits and I grew up on a council estate. At 16 I decided I wanted to get a job and earn my own money so I got an apprenticeship in a hairdressing salon. Very quickly I realised that hair is art. It is design, imagery, and creativity. I’ve become that surface pattern designer only I work with a different surface.
What’s the funniest hairdressing situation you’ve found yourself in?
[Laughing] A client bringing in an Afghan hound that had long shaggy hair and saying “this is exactly the length, the colour and the texture that I want my hair to be.”
How would you describe your personality?
I’m very proud of being a Yorkshireman and I think we have a reputation for being quite down to earth. I recently had a meeting with a lawyer regarding my will. As I was leaving the office he asked me if there was anything else I’d like to say. I replied: “As long as it says on my gravestone ‘well he worked hard’ that is the biggest compliment to me.” My parents instilled into me the power of graft and hard work.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve overcome in your life?
Being bullied at school. Some of it was around adoption and I was kind of the darkest skinned child in the village I grew up in so was bullied for that too.
What’s your favourite motto?
To never accept OK as a standard – the woman who trained me up as an apprentice hairdresser taught me that. I’m quite tough on myself but that’s been a real driving force for me professionally.
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
I don’t know if I want to [Laughing]
Why do you love your job?
It’s the power of transformation. Not only changing how somebody looks but how they feel about themselves as well. It’s that smile when they see their hair after I’ve finished it.
Why is it important to follow your dreams?
It’s about fulfilment and being happy in what I do. As I’ve got older my goal is about having the choice to do what I want, how I want, with whom I want, and when I want. I like to have the choice – whether that’s working 16 days of 16 hours shifts or enjoying some downtime.
Do you enjoy exercise?
Yes. I do some form of exercise every day. It’s a routine I don’t have in my working life. I train for fitness reasons but also work in a business based on image and have to look good – I’ve still got the same waist size I had when I was 20 and quite like that. I do a combination of yoga, swimming, training for a marathon and weightlifting. Exercise sets me up for the day, it helps me to escape a little bit and kind of forget some of my responsibilities. It’s me time.
How do you stay balanced?
I’m very disciplined around diary structure and I’m a big note maker – I write everything down which I find helps. Reading, socialising with friends cooking, exercise, holidays… I need to make sure that there’s always some time away from my profession and my work. Running is like meditation for me and propels me to a different place. I live in central London, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral. I often run by the River Thames early in the morning. It’s great to see the mist rising over the water, the foxes or wild geese. You’re away from the noise but in London. I still pinch myself that I live in one of the world’s most exciting vibrant incredible cities.
What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?
I lived in Australia in my early twenties so part of my soul is in Perth on the West Coast where my sister and great friends are. The light’s incredible there. Ibiza’s very special to me too. I married my husband just outside San Jose eight years ago. We rented a beautiful old farmhouse, which had its own forest with views down to the ocean. We’ve been going to Ibiza for 15 years but I’ve only been to the clubs maybe twice. I love the nature, flowers and fauna of the island. We usually rent an old Finca up in the north and hardly leave. My ultimate holiday destination – and I’ve been very blessed to visit eight times – is the Maldives. It’s just pure escapism. It’s not for everybody. Your resort is the island and you can walk around it in 30 minutes. I just walk one way and then walk back the other way. I’m not a city break type person. I like being outside in nature.
You’re launching an exhibition in your native Barnsley next month called Beehives, Bobs and Blowdries. Can you tell us a bit more?
Yes. It charts the historical, cultural and iconic references of hair and hairdressing over the last 50 years. I’ve collaborated with my friend Donna Bevan, who is a fashion research consultant and journalist. We grew up together on the same council estate and her mother was the local village hairdresser who did my mother and grandmother’s hair every Friday. When I finished school on a Friday afternoon, I used to see them being transformed from these working-class women into Elizabeth Taylor. It was just incredible! That’s when my interest in creative design began.
Were you adopted or are you thinking of adopting a child? We’d love to hear how adoption transformed your life in the comments below.