Grey Pride: Peter Capaldi is not the only one surfing the silver wave

Bravo BBC for regenerating Doctor Who as a retired spin doctor with a shady past and a salt and pepper barnet, says Alex Clark





Truth time: that moment when you come across something white and unfamiliar on your head is not a good one. Here are some words that do not spring instantly to mind: hurrah; distinguished; wise. Here are some that do: pubic; clapped-out; dye (and, also, die, as in ‘all things must one day die’).

Ash cloud: Pixie Geldof at the Elle Style Awards, 2009 But now there is someone on hand to help us feel better about the ravages inflicted by the years; appropriately enough, a Time Lord. When Zoë Ball did that slightly terrifying shout into the camera to unveil Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor Who, there were several possible responses. ‘Thank God this excruciating programme is over and poor Bernard Cribbins can go home,’ was the first, obviously. ‘F***, it’s Malcolm Tucker,’ was the second. Various thoughts about the programme makers’ inability to visualise anyone other than a white male in the role might have occurred. But somewhere the cerebellum would have registered the fact that here was a bloke in his fifties, making no attempt to hide his greying hair, or its receding-ness, or his crinkly eyes or laughter lines. And we were all thrilled.

The relatively late ascent of Capaldi’s star doesn’t tell the story of his career, which stretches back to the 1980s and such prize gigs as Minder and Local Hero. There he was, slogging away, getting critically acclaimed and all that, but hardly what you’d call a household name. Then he did a load of swearing and now he’s an effing national treasure.


Greyness is a cultural signifier. Stress and age is one state it implies; the other is quite the opposite, a deeply pacific calm


But Tucker’s filthy language wasn’t all he had going for him. Capaldi also sucked us into the screen by giving us a man on the edge; every sinew straining, his day punctuated by incompetents and ne’er-do-wells on the make. You never thought of Malcolm eating, sleeping, going for a walk, having sex, watching the telly, taking a bath or climbing Ailsa Craig with a pair of binoculars round his neck. You only ever thought of him shouting at someone in a corridor. No wonder the guy was grey.

Ice queen: Nicole Richie at the Met Ball, NYC, May 2013For all that it is simply a physical process, greyness is a cultural signifier. Stress and age is one state it implies; the other is quite the opposite, a deeply pacific calm. Hence Holly Hunter’s character in Top of the Lake, the magnificent GJ. If you haven’t seen it, this is all you need to know: she is a guru; she has a funny accent; she sleeps in a chair with her eyes open; and she advises women who have been having carnal relations with their violent pet monkeys on how best to move on. If that is the kind of career path you’d like to follow, by all means get on the phone to your colourist.

You won’t be alone. Youngsters such as Pixie Geldof and Kelly Osbourne — who probably have decades before they actually need to worry about these kind of hair affairs — tried out grey ages ago. But there’s a new wave of experimenters. You’ll be joining Rihanna, who only a couple of weeks ago supplemented her hair with grey extensions and then tweeted: ‘Grey is the new black! Blondies, it’s quiet for y’all!’ Not that she was exactly breaking new ground: Nicole Richie already sported a fetching ice-grey up-do for this year’s punk-themed Met Ball back in May. That’s right — if you’ve spent acres of time and buckets of money on having your hair discreetly highlighted, all we can say is: sucks to be you.

Our increasing appreciation of grey might not extend to the disappearance of ageism altogether; women will continue to feel anxious about wrinkles and body clocks, and men about paunches and stamina. But it’s a start. Grey hair is a reminder that our physical presence will change, not that it’s time to throw in the towel. That’s clearly the view of director Mark Rylance, who has chosen Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones to play sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick in his new production of Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a heartening move. After all, Doctor Who may be able to bend the laws of space and time; the rest of us must learn to turn the unforgiving clock to our advantage with style and grace.

Steely locks: Rihanna in London, July 2013So whether you choose a calming mantra about inner beauty or up your spend at the hairdresser’s, simply take it all in your stride. Speaking of which, I recently had an exchange at the salon about the wonders of dry shampoo as an emergency freshener. As my hairdresser said, the one thing you have to watch out for is a powdery residue at the roots, which, unless blended in with the fingertips, might give the impression you were going, well, you know. ‘Grey!’ I shouted out. ‘We never say grey,’ she replied tactfully. ‘It’s silver.’

Bravo BBC for regenerating Doctor Who as a retired spin doctor with a shady past and a salt and pepper barnet, says Alex Clark


Sapphire Lewis of Bleach London, E8, on how to go grey gracefully

1. A hairdresser will assess how dark the hair is — if it’s light enough (light to mid-brown upwards) and virgin (undyed), the hair is bleached to as white as possible.

2. The bleach is washed off and a silver, violet, blue or grey ash toner applied. If there are hints of yellow in the hair, violet toner will pull them out. If it’s white enough, use a blue or grey ash toner.

3. If you want a really deep grey hue, you’ll have a semi-permanent wash-in colour. A vegetable dye is best to achieve a true grey, maybe with a navy blue hint to it.

4. To maintain, we’d recommend a silver shampoo and conditioner. Bleach London sells Philip Kingsley Pure Silver shampoo and conditioner, which counteract brassy or yellow tones as the hair starts to fade.

5. You can also have an Elasticizer treatment to strengthen and repair hair.

6. If it goes wrong at home (ie, over-bleached so it’s starting to break), do a deep hair treatment or sleep in your conditioner

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