Simon Dolin: hair salon owner

17 Apr

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Normally at the hairdressers it’s the client who chats, but this time Simon– who runs Barnaby’s in Highbury Barn – lets me interview him while he cuts my hair. Half an hour later he makes the last snip, then picking up a mirror to let me see the back (very nice) Simon says… Interview by Nicola Baird.

Simon Dolin: runs Barnaby's. "I'm 99 per cent certain it's always been a hairdressers."

Simon Dolin: runs Barnaby’s. “I’m 99 per cent certain it’s always been a hairdressers.”

“I’ve saved the best for last haven’t I? I didn’t tell you we had a car through the window? It was a normal day cutting hair and then about 5.30 pm this old Mercedes drove right up to where you’re sitting. There was glass everywhere. The driver had put her foot on the accelerator instead of pressing the brake. One woman in the salon was 2 seconds from death. She’d been sitting by the window but I’d just got her to go through to the basins.

Barnaby's may be peaceful now, but this is where a Mercedes stopped after driving through the window a few years ago.

Barnaby’s may be peaceful now, but this is where a Mercedes stopped after driving through the window a few years ago.

“It was surreal. The driver had our sign on the front of her car! She tried to drive off, but we had her number plate. It had fallen off when she ran into the salon.

“No one was hurt but then another client, a woman who was perhaps a little bit eccentric, came in through the door, ignored the car, and said ‘Are you open?’!

“It’s a good thing that it’s now a 20-mph road.”

Simon, 46, never expected to run a hairdressing salon. After school he started doing engineering. “I was good at fixing electrical things so I was pushed into engineering a bit, but I wasn’t happy. My best friend was doing hairdressing so I went into it.

“I did one day a week at the London College of Fashion and worked as an apprentice in a salon. It was the 1980s – Toni and Guy were huge. I was interested in punk but I was a bit young, only 10 when it started. The ‘80s was New Romantic for me and my friends. Girls looked like girls and boys looked like girls. Guyliner wasn’t it?” says Simon flashing his scissors close to his face.

The former bomb shelter is now used as a coatroom and toilet.

The former bomb shelter is now used as a coatroom and toilet.

He took over Barnaby’s in 1993 with a business partner. “I’d been working in Hampstead for 10 years and this shop was run by his father, Louis Stone who’d had it for 50 years. Before that a woman had it and cut clients’ hair in cubicles. The salon has been here a long time. There’s a WW2 bomb shelter in the back we use as a toilet.

“I’m 99 per cent certain it’s always been an hairdressers.”

“When we moved in the top of the front window was boarded but when we removed it the stained glass mosaic, in a creamy design which I think had a number 1 on it for 1 Highbury Park, shattered. It’s still #1, but the new shops to the right are known as 1A and 1B.

It might be haunted
“When we did the shop up we just put new walls up. I don’t know what’s behind them. Actually it can be spooky. If I’m here late at night it does get a bit chilly and I think I’m going to go now! It might just be because it’s an old building.”

In 2007 Simon bought out his business partner and is now the sole trader. But the links with Louis Stone remain – his manager Neil has an uncle who used to work Mr Stone.

simondolin_shopWant do hair?
So what do you need to be a good hairdresser? Simon thinks for a bit and then says, “Diplomatic, able to listen to people, keep quiet about politics and be non judgmental about people. For instance even Ken Livingstone (who was famously abolished by Mrs Thatcher) was able to find something positive about Mrs Thatcher when she died. The clients are paying your wages so should be treated with respect.”

Of course Simon learnt this the hard way … “When I was working in Belsize Park this scruffy lady with all these bags came into the salon. I didn’t want to do her hair, I thought she was a bag lady. But then she sat down and looked through the magazines until she found a picture of Anita Roddick who ran Body Shop. ‘It was only when she said ‘That’s quite a good haircut,’ that I realised she was Anita Roddick!  I used to cut Heather Mills’ hair at that salon too. It was before her accident.”

Simon has seven staff, including apprentices who are also studying at college. “There are no interns, everyone gets paid,” he says, “but we do offer work experience for 15 year olds sometimes, which isn’t paid.”

“Hairdressing seems pretty recession proof – I’ve worked through two now, first in the ’80s, and now. But there is a little bit of internet interference with the Groupon offers that big companies can do. Cutting hair for £20 is not for me, and it offers a false sense of security to clients as often the cuts are done by junior stylists.

You learn a lot about people cutting hair. We all might have various experiences – illness, problems getting on with people, but as you speak to clients you hear that everyone has the same challenges – it’s almost comforting.”

Simon lives in Muswell Hill, but his wife and their children, Sophie, 16 and Cameron, 12, all come to the salon when they need their hair cut. And as the salon is open seven days a week there’s a good chance you’ll spot them all in Islington.

.

Barnaby’s, 1 Highbury Park, N5. Tel 020 7226 2177

Wash, cut and blow dry for women is £38; cuts for men are £23.

Follow on Facebook at Barnabyshair

Over to you

What made you get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to make friends or something to be proud about doing?  By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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One Response to “Simon Dolin: hair salon owner”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. FILM: Islington Faces Live 2014 at the King’s Head Theatre | Islington Faces Blog - November 12, 2014

    […] Simon Dolin – a past interviewee, see here – from Barnaby’s Hair Salon in Highbury Barn agreed to sponsor the event I felt […]

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