David Walsh: I wish I could be glad to be grey

Phillip Schofield finally gave in to the reality of grey hair at the age of 44
Phillip Schofield finally gave in to the reality of grey hair at the age of 44
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At the age of 28, David Walsh is reluctantly coming to terms with a development he did not expect but can no longer deny

I expected living out the rest of my roaring twenties to be more of a 50 Shades of Grey affair than just … well, grey. At this stage, 50 shades of grey hair would be more accurate.

If E.L James’ protagonist Christian Grey did actually have grey hair, mind, you could make a pretty safe bet that he’d be played in the film adaptation by a renowned silver fox like George Clooney or an actor of his silver-maned ilk.

Women apparently swoon over the salt and pepper mix, hankering after celebrities who have railed against the peer pressure of the Hollywood bubble and avoided looking like they’ve jumped headlong into the fountain of youth.

Brad Pitt. Mark Ruffalo. Matt Le Blanc. Jon Stewart. Even Barack Obama has joined the ranks of lusted-after ‘distinguished’ gents. The one glaring common denominator that unites them all, however, is middle age. They’re not, unlike me, 28.

It’s taken me quite some time to come to terms with and embrace my grey hairs. I’d always associated premature greying with dishevelled, stressed out stockbrokers or hacks with ties undone and a tab behind their ear. Or that somehow it was a visible defect of a man’s virility - that he was passed his prime before it had really begun.

My last trip to the barber was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “I have a friend back in Poland that has hair just like yours,” said the new girl, hacking away. ‘Oh, right. Quite thick? Poker straight?’ I thought. “Next time, I’ll give you some natural highlights to cover these greys like I do for him.” My heart sank.

We’re all vain to some extent, self-conscious to a fault about parts of our body we just haven’t yet learned to love. The gradual emergence of greying temples just happens to be my particular obsession.

Some folk haven’t really notice them, or if they do they obviously don’t care enough to pass comment about them. Others are more vocal, or perform a double take. “When did you start going grey?!” asked one dumbfounded aunt I hadn’t seen in a few months. “You’re better to dye it now before it gets too noticeable,” added an acquaintance.

So far, I’ve resisted reaching for the Just For Men. The one crumb of consolation is my wife encouraging me to keep my silver threads as she likes them (which is just as well).

It has helped that some public figures now feel emboldened enough to be open and share their own personal experiences. Television presenter Phillip Schofield, for instance, told his visibly shocked This Morning co-presenter Holly Willoughby live on air a few weeks ago that he started to go grey at just 16. He began dying his hair in his early twenties - something he now regrets - and only decided to stop when he was 44.

Just to confuse matters, it is now becoming a trend to purposefully dye hair grey. US swimmer Ryan Lochte graced the pool and podiums of Rio in July sporting silvery blue/grey hair, although his judgment in general should be seriously called into question after his run-in with Brazilian police at the Olympics.

While we young men grapple with mixed messages, for the fairer sex facing the same agonising choice between graceful ageing or reaching for the peroxide the message couldn’t be clearer.

A simple Google search is enough to dredge up pages and pages of loathsome online articles; listicles of the number of male and female celebrities who are grey or going grey, for instance.

There is an obvious discrepancy that re-appears innumerable times in the search rankings. On the one hand, you have articles like: “10 female celebrities who secretly have grey hair.” The other: “10 male celebrities who look better with grey hair.” I’m not going to connect the dots for you as the difference is patently obvious.

One odious lifestyle website held up Kate Middleton as one poor unfortunate sadly afflicted with - and I quote - ‘sneaky whites’.

“They might not always show it but there are lots of female celebrities out there who are - whisper it – secretly grey.”

That’s right. “Whisper it.” Ageing is a dirty secret, didn’t you know?

And God help you if you’re seen out in broad daylight with your locks unkempt and the odd grey on display for all to see, like the Duchess of Cambridge. It’s just as well I’m not a woman or I would never leave the house. The duchess unfortunately ‘slipped up’ going out in public with a poorly constructed barnet which failed to disguise those infamous strands.

Slipped up? We’re hardly talking about an adulterous spouse getting caught in bed with the gas fitter or a shoddy criminal not covering their tracks. We’re talking about a natural process we all go through, some just earlier than others. Believe me, it has taken years of anguish to come round to that way of thinking.

The knockout blow came further down the article: “... female celebrities might prefer to cover their greying tresses but not all of them are ashamed of it.”

Is it any wonder we are all whipped into a frenzy about something our genes ultimately control? Perhaps we need to take a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror, and be more relaxed about a clutch of hairs that just happen to be a different colour to the rest. If anything, it adds to our character. If we were all the same, life would be very grey indeed.