By Georgina Downes

When hairdresser Michael McCarthy tells me he’s the best cutter around I believe him because no one spends three years at the famous Vidal Sassoon Training Academy without becoming a dab hand with a pair of scissors.

Sassoon was the man who revolutionised hairdressing. He invented ‘the bob’, as worn by Mary Quant. His precision cuts graced the heads of Mia Farrow, Goldie Hawn, Helen Mirren and Cameron Diaz. To attend Sassoon’s 30 week-diploma course today will set you back an eye-watering 16,500 sterling; it’s a seriously prestigious training academy. Michael clarifies his ‘best cutter around’ comment with the word ‘probably’ but  still, he has been In business for 42 years, so he has to be good.

It began for Michael back in the 1980s, one month away from his eighteenth birthday, as he headed off to London to begin training as a hairdresser. What was that like, I ask.

“Grand,” he replies, with customary insouciance. “My brother had been there too (Patrick McCarthy), and my sisters, Rosaleen and Jacqueline were doing the training as well.”

All of Michael’s siblings, in fact, went into hairdressing. Their father Jack opened a barber shop in The Square, Tralee, in 1962, so hairdressing was always on the radar in the McCarthy household.

How did you finance your training, I ask. Times were hard in Ireland  in the 80s.

“After school, I went working for Kingdom Tubes, handling machinery. A lot of people from Tralee worked there. I stayed from summer until March and saved  my college fees. But when I got to London, I did bar work at night and then I worked for William Hill taking bets over the phone.”

Did you ever met Vidal Sassoon? Michael laughs as he recalls the one and only time he did actually meet the man himself.

“My uncle died and my brother was getting married so I needed a week off to go home. I couldn’t tell them it was for a wedding and a funeral, it seemed too implausible but I didn’t want to lose out on a week’s worth of training either because it had cost me a lot of money. So, I was cutting a model’s hair and Vidal came in and I thought ‘now is my chance’. I mentioned the week off and he grabbed a paper bag and scribbled something on it and told me to give it to my supervisor. It was basically a note giving me an additional week of training for free to make up for the week I’d be away. It was nice of him.”

The Sassoon training meant Michael got job offers for salons all over the world but after some time in London, he decided to come home.

“It was always the plan that me and my brother would go into business together.” They  opened their first salon  in Barrack Lane: Patrick Michael Hair Studio, before branching out into separate businesses.

“I was ambitious and I wanted to go to Dublin. I’d be going along to businesses asking if I could rent their top floor, but it wasn’t to be, I couldn’t find a suitable premises. Eventually, my father wanted to let this place so I took it on and I’ve been here since 1992.”

What is the secret to beautiful hair?

“Good quality products.” He says. “And a trim every 6 to 8 weeks. We use Wella and Revlon. Home colours might be convenient but you get what you pay for.”

What is the secret to a good cut?

“Good scissor skills. If you’re good, the cutting should come from inside. I hold a consultation with my clients, examine their hair, how it grows, the texture, direction, all that.”

Is it true that hairdressers can be like therapists to their clients?

“My job is to make people happy and sometimes that might mean something as simple as listening while I style,” he smiles.

What do you love about hairdressing?

“Being creative is interesting. But making people happy is very rewarding. When  someone walks out of my salon with a big, confident grin, that feels great for me.”

And who cuts your hair, I ask.

“My brother, Patrick.”

Do you cut his hair?

Michael thinks. “No,” he laughs.

What would you have done if you hadn’t been a hairdresser?

“A stock broker,” he replies.

Well. Finance’s loss is our gain, I say and I’ll certainly be putting Michael’s scissor-skills to the test when my next cut is due. Thank you Michael McCarthy!

For more information on the Natural Cutting Co. Hairdressing Salon go to: www.thenaturalcuttingco.com