Shaun Hughes is the director of Shaun’s of Marylebone on Paddington Street. The hairdresser and hair replacement specialist launched his business 27 years ago and works alongside his wife. The couple live just up the road on Harewood Avenue
Interview: Jean-Paul Aubin-Parvu
Images: Orlando Gili
I was born on 26th August 1956 at a private nursing clinic right here in the heart of Marylebone. My father, who died in 1972, was the well-known pop-turned-opera singer David Hughes. Having a famous dad is never easy, because you have such a big act to follow, but I feel I’ve achieved a lot simply by keeping a business going for this long. And working here and being with clients is a little like being on stage—it’s quite theatrical. Occasionally, just occasionally, I sing to them while I’m working. I really enjoy the theatre of doing people’s hair and the excitement of looking after clients and making them happy.
My family lived in the Hyde Park area until I was two and then my father bought a house up in Elstree, Hertfordshire. As a youngster, I was just really focussed on trying to get on in life. I wasn’t brilliant at school, as I don’t have an affinity with numbers and letters, but I do have an affinity for connecting with people, so at the age of 16 I decided I’d be better off leaving school and going out into the world to study hair.
A talent for communication
I started off at Michael John in Mayfair, moved to Leonard of Mayfair on Grosvenor Square and eventually worked at a number of places in different parts of London. During this period I found that I really enjoyed learning languages and meeting people from different cultures. I then spent three years travelling and working abroad, including in Paris, which was where I learnt to speak French. I discovered that I could pick up different languages simply by listening to them, so I speak French fluently and also some German, Arabic and a little Yiddish. I have a talent for communication, which is why I’m a hairdresser rather than an academic.
I launched Shaun’s of Marylebone on Paddington Street in 1992, and have been here ever since. I had always loved Marylebone and actually worked in the area for many years before having my own business. At the shop there are large black and white photographs of me aged 20—they were taken back in the 1970s when I worked for somebody on Crawford Street. I also worked at a place on York Street from 1983 to 1986, so a lot of my life has been spent around this area.
There are two sides to Shaun’s of Marylebone: hairdressing and hair replacement. My wife and I are in business together. Haircutting is her side of the business, whereas hair replacement is my speciality and it’s what I’m particularly good at. Giving clients a natural-looking head of hair gives both them and me a great deal of satisfaction. Pleasing somebody where others can’t and making them feel good about themselves gives me a lot of inner happiness.
As well as advising clients on treatments to make their hair grow, my work also involves hair transplants. I liaise with two or three transplant surgeons, and my role is to help people both before and after the transplant. Cutting hair after a transplant is quite specialist, as there are some elements to it, particularly with the scarring, that other hairdressers simply wouldn’t understand. My clients range from their early twenties right up to the oldest, who is 92. Many of them become regulars and I still have clients from when I worked in York Street back in the eighties.
Uphill and downhill
Marylebone has changed over the years. It was very upmarket when I was young, but then went downhill for a number of years. Marylebone High Street wasn’t very good. But now the whole area has come right back up and is deservedly back in the spotlight. I only live a short walk from work and there are so many lovely places to stop for dinner on my way home. My favourites include Casa Becci, Fishworks, The Golden Hind on Marylebone Lane and the vegetarian Indian restaurant right next door to it, Woodlands. I tend to work late and often go for a meal afterwards, and I really love just being able to turn up and say: “Can you squeeze me in?”
Walking to and from work means that I bump into so many people I know. I’ll suddenly see someone and will stop and talk to them. I guess that’s through having had the same business in the area for 27 years.
As I work mostly in a basement I don’t see a lot of daylight, so in my free time I enjoy being outside. I spend as much time as possible in the sunlight and really like gardening and just pottering around. I only have a small garden here in London, but have a second home in France, in Saint Paul de Vence, where I get to do quite a lot of gardening. My passion is to sneak away over there whenever possible. I get to use my French when I’m out there, which I really enjoy.
I also like listening to music, but I’m a little old fashioned. I enjoy opera, classical and music from the 1950s and 1960s. My favourite songs include All I Have To Do Is Dream by the Everly Brothers and Billy Fury’s Halfway to Paradise. I’m a huge fan of Elvis Presley and used to have my hair looking like Elvis in all the pictures.
Making people happy
My plan is really just to carry on as I am, to keep trying to make clients happy and to enjoy the satisfaction I get from communicating with people. What I love most about my job is making people happy. That in turn makes me feel happy and is what gets me up in the morning. I’m not looking to retire. Enjoying the communication and satisfying people—I don’t think I could live without it.
Of all the professions, hairdressers seem to be quite happy, I think because they get to connect with other people every day. Hairdressers get to hear everything. When you’re behind a chair with someone for 90 minutes, you get to know their whole life.
Sometimes I get carried away and adapt to people’s accents. So if I have somebody from Egypt or Israel, for example, because I have such a musical ear I start adapting to their sound. But then either my wife or a colleague will say: “Shaun, you’re doing that thing again.” And I don’t even realise it. I just love communicating with people.