You've seen Top People's Crimper Nicky Clarke on TV. Perhaps you've treated your locks to his patent tonics and body builders, his scalp smoothies and rug gumbos. You may even have visited his flagship salon in London's prestigious Berkeley Square. But today this magazine brings you what would otherwise cost long money: a private appointment with the stylist in his sanctum of sanctums, the exclusive consulting room where he runs his sought-after fingers through some of the world's leading hair.
"Is this the Princess Margaret room?" I ask him straight out.
"She's dead," Clarke counters, reasonably.
"All right. Is it true that it's known as Madonna's Brazilian Suite?"
He laughs, but I sense that this is a thin disguise for the answer no.
I've come to see Nicky about going blond. It's not a direction I favour just now, but I'm backing my hunch that it's of interest to at least some readers. It's one of Fleet Street's hoariest truths that no one ever lost money by running articles about hairdressing in the New Statesman. And it seems that a lighter look is the number one request that people make when they're under the scissors.
I wonder whether Clarke would tell a glum client: "I've got just the thing for you, madam: go blonde."
"I wouldn't put it that way," he says, teasing the corn-coloured coiffure of model Rhian. "But when somebody feels down, one way to enhance their mood is with a fresh cut, and that could mean a fresh colour as well."
I ask Clarke about a report attributed to the World Health Organisation, which says that natural blondes are disappearing. The gene for fair hair is recessive, and soon there'll be only a handful of flaxen-tops, probably in Finland. These poor creatures are less attractive to the opposite sex than bottle blondes, who are, frankly, blonder. I should have known the story was dodgy. For all the merits of the WHO, they're not the people you turn to for style tips. It seems a freelance journalist was behind the claim. But rumour can be halfway around the world before truth has got its curlers out. All unknowing, Clarke and I are discussing people whose hair tone might not be entirely their own.
"Tony Blair? Ann Widdecombe?"
"Well, she's a fairly obvious one, but it wouldn't be right for me to mention names."
"Were you the man behind her make-over?"
"I wasn't actually, but I think it looks much better."
On a far shelf, I spot a tariff. The first item is "Cottage Cheese and Fruits of the Day, £7", catered by a firm from the wicker-hamper end of the sandwich trade. Clarke's assistant tells me that going mano a mano with his boss could cost "£200, £300", although the first sit-down is the costliest, while Clarke works out a strategy for your crowning glory. Elsewhere in the salon, a woman has a pair of metal tongs in her hair, which is slathered in various dressings. It looks like a bowl of delicious salad.