Career Interview with Adee Phelan for Stylebible

Readers may have first come across
this talented hairdresser and businessman on Channel 4’s addictive
reality show The Salon. Not long after airing, Senior Styilst Adee
Phelan became a firm viewers favourite. His army of fans were not just
won over by his hair creations and stylings, but because of his down –
to – earth, and genuine nature. At times Adee has been referred to as
the rebel of the hair industry. This is not necessarily inaccurate –
after-all, he does have some pretty wild antics and events under his
belt. – but what is most notable from researching for this interview is
his incredible work ethic, determination and resilience. Recently, via
Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire we got further insight into Adee’s
life and career, and saw him exposed more than ever before. Our
Interviewer Sophie Eggleton wanted to delve deeper – finding out  about
the pivotal career landmarks, taking advice from Piers Morgan, cutting
Liza Minneli’s hair and his exciting plans for New York and London. 

Those of you who dye your hair would be foolish not to check out his amazing new product too….

When did you first find you had an interest in hairdressing?
1997 – when I was designing a hair salon for Lee Stafford – I was doing the interior design.  I had no training, was just an unemployed person who had an eye for style, just me, a load of paint brushes ans made ideas!  I went to the British Hairdressing Awards with him in 1997 and he won.  I then picked up the same award, British Hairdressing Men’s Hair Dresser of the Year in 2000!

Have you always been creative? Did you prefer the artistic subjects at school?
I only went to school until I was about 12 and until I was 18 I completely lost my way, I had no focus, passion or drive.  Then at 26 I started to get into creating through artwork, and then three years later working for Lee Stafford was my turning point.  I went there and was surrounded by creative people – they looked great and were so cool.  I just thought ‘yes, this is for me’.  And I haven’t stopped creating. New styles, looks, and products.

A lot of people from locations lacking in opportunity are extremely ambitious as they want to find a way to escape. Have you always been ambitious or is the previous statement true for you?
Even in the negative part of my life, I used to fantasize about doing something, but putting it into action is the key to making it successful.

In 2002 you opened your Strangeways salon in Leigh on Sea.What surprised you about starting and owning your own business? 
Starting up was surprisingly easy– as if I had an instinct for it. The salon was just 300 yards away from Lee Stafford’s, so some staff and clients came with me when I left. 
Lee and I didn’t speak for a while, but are cool now. People make too much of setting up a business, it isn’t that hard.
Being in London is the most difficult business to run, the competition and the rates…every celebrity hair dresser in Europe has a salon within a square half mile of my Covent Garden salon. But five years later we are still here.  I’ve been in London for 11 years. At Blow on Regent Street previously and before that Berkley Square for two years.

The same year you created the the now iconic Beckham GQ hairstyle. You must be extremely proud of that, but do you ever get sick of being asked about it?

Never. I was cutting his hair for a long period of time, then David LaChapelle shot it in the lead up to the world cup. It wasn’t a new style though, I was doing that hair cut on women when I was an assistant.  You can’t get fed up being asked about something like that, that started your career.

You’ve worked with so many celebrities which style or in-chair experience has been your favourite?
Liza Minnelli – she is an institution. The word celeb is such a loose word. You know very little about them – that is what a celebrity used to be. Now everyone knows everything about everyone, it is ridiculous, disgusting and wrong.  It comes from the internet and the way we live, the Elizabeth Taylors and Burt Lancasters we just don’t have anymore.  Yes, Liza Minnelli, lovely lady and an institution!

You seem pretty cool, but is there a celebrity that would get you a bit starstruck or flustered?
I’m the un-coolest person you’ll ever meet. Ricky Gervais is my hero. I’ve met him twice and didn’t say anything, I walked the opposite side of the room. I’d love to get a ten year stretch with him in a prison cell. I’ve probably watched the office 1000 times. He is saying what everyone else is thinking, but is too scared to say.

You have to like people to do your job. Is the social aspect of your work one of the best things? Do you find yourself in the role of a therapist at times?
You’ve got to be a good listener but at the same time, people say hair dressers are the doctors of hair, but I don’t spend 55 minutes trying to sort someone’s head out. If a women comes in and tells me about her divorce…with the problems I’ve had in my life I’m no doctor – I am more likely to talk about me and make them forget for an hour, so she can go out thinking, ‘that was fun’. I have a no kids policy while I’m cutting hair. It is time to relax.

I first came across you in The Salon, how did you adapt to being filmed while you worked and how did you cope with the increased awareness of you?
Piece of cake. The only thing I give myself a compliment for, I am natural in front of a camera. There must be an element of acting, but I am just relaxed. It comes naturally. I know a lot of amazing hairdressers, who are more talented than me, and in front of an audience they fall apart.
For instance, when you educate on stage, yes it’s education, but you also have to keep the audience entertained. If you are going to sit there for three hours and watch me cut hair you need to be kept engaged. Get people laughing, joking , get them up on stage. You want them to leave thinking that was fun and I learned something great.

Although you were fiery at times, you came across as extremely genuine and passionate about what you do. Were you worried about how you’d be perceived?
Most definitely not. I’d already been working with lots of celebs. When I met the producers of The Salon they said ‘if you are coming on here to be famous it won’t happen’. I didn’t do a single interview while I was on the show. I was keeping away from Heat and OK! because I knew when that show ended it would go. You have to make a decision – I’ve been asked to go in the jungle twice. I was asked to ‘Strictly’ last year.  I believe if you are good at what you do (recognition) it will come.

Looking back on the experience was it generally a positive one?

Yes. It was for me. I came across as the hairdresser. The others, where are they now? Whatever I do on TV it is to do with my industry. You stick to what you are good at. It (The Salon) took me from being a hairdresser who was working with a footballer, to 10,000 phone calls a day for me at the salon, flying around the world on private jets and being paid 3,000 a haircut.
I also got to meet some of my heroes, like Liam Gallagher. I’ve now been to see every one of his shows.  You can do it (be on reality TV) and be credible. I still go into Nobu where they don’t let reality stars in. I didn’t sell out. I’d do it again if the right one comes along.

A few visitors to The Salon brought out the emotional side of you, something which we saw again in your recent Episode of The Secret Millionaire. How has making that show affected you.
They were quite clever, in an environment I didn’t feel comfortable, they knew about my dad and brother, about my breakdown, my divorce, my previous problems with addiction. They didn’t set me up. I didn’t go on that show and cry, my eyes went red, but I didn’t cry. At first I just thought it would be fun and I was the first hairdresser to go on it, but then once we were making it I realised, this is not a game, I’ve got to take this seriously. Afterwards I was really drained. My father and brother were ill, and there I am on TV connecting with strangers. It made me think ‘I have a lot of making up to do with my family’. I had 18,000 emails from people telling me they loved it. I constructed all of that – I said, I want to do hairdressing, and play some football – I wanted it to be fun.


Are you still in regular contact with the people you met?
I am still in contact with Byron, and in fact, all of them.

You have appeared on quite a lot of shows, including Shear Genius on NBC in the US.Word on the grapevine is you have more in the pipeline. Can you give us any clues?
Sheer Genius was  a mistake – it was American reality hairdressing, and put me in situations where I did things wrong, I felt under pressure and  I made mistakes that I would never normally make.   I came across so wrong on it. The channel and director loved me, but the crew hated me.  I was convinced on day one that I was going home, but they kept me in. My picture was everywhere, even on a huge banner in Times Square, but I didn’t get to enjoy it, the show was pre-recorded and I was already back in the UK by the time it was on air. They thought I was this horrible arrogant Englishman. Number one, I’m Irish. And number two, I like to think I’m harsh but fair. The whole show was very scripted and overly emotional.
Next year I’ve got something in the pipeline. It is an idea that Piers Morgan and I came up with a couple of years ago. RDF, who made The Secret Millionaire, sort of spotted me, they are always looking for the ‘next’ person. Like they did with Hilary Devey who is now on Dragons Den, she only came through because of Secret Millionaire. We are making a hair related show, but it is going to be gritty.

You are embarking on opening a new salon in the trendy Meatpacking district in NY. Why did you choose that location and will you be moving to the US?

It is the fashion capital of the planet, next door to Soho House. I fit in out there. Hairdressing in NY is very raw.  It is very cool and very undone. It is just cool.

You opened an impressive space in the Cube in Birmingham. It must have felt quite special to bring your empire to your hometown….

The guy who designed The Cube designed The Gherkin – it is an amazing building, a unique space and Marco Pierre White introduced me to it.

Ryan McElhinney designed the interior, can you describe the aesthetic….

Eclectic, Tate Modern, sexy and a million miles away from what you would expect from a hair salon. Birmingham makes this (The London Salon) look like a soup kitchen! It is incredible.

As well as New York you are opening a salon in St Martin’s Lane, alongside a boutique hotel and restaurant. It sounds like you have an incredibly busy 2012 ahead. How are you going to ensure you don’t work yourself into the ground?

I am relocating this salon to bigger premises.  I never approach work thinking ‘next year I’ll have a month off’. Do what you do until you don’t want to do it anymore. At the moment I’m into the design and the building of a brand and a new range of products. It is a year of business – taking everything and turning it into a brand. Putting all that hard work and graft so that when I die, some little son, daughter or grandchild will be free to squander it all!

You have lots of new products coming out too. Can you tell me what is innovative about this range?

It takes just over an hour to go from black to red hair. It is going to be amazing, it is such an incredible product. We’ll be selling it worldwide, starting with the UK.  There will be a new shampoo and conditioning range in February. It is a salon treatment for the home without any ammonia, or bleach, in fact it has pearl extract to condition hair. If you go to a salon and ask to have a colour removed it could take three hours and couple hundred pounds, and leaves your hair like straw. This product does it for
£15 and your hair feels amazing afterwards!

Can you give us S/S hair trend tips….
I don’t do hair tips – a few years ago fashion was dictated by Vogue , and all the mags. Now it is by celebs, so you can’t predict it. If Victoria Beckham has a bob  – everyone does.
I think in the autumn and winter there is always a trend towards warmer hair colours: chestnuts and burgundies, as everyone is starting to feel pale and washed out. Blondes and lights are always better for summer. I always recommend everything in moderation. You’ve got to go with what suits you, not with trends – it’s about style and what suits you as an individual. So many people come in (to the salon) with a picture and say, ‘make me look like that’. But not everyone can look like Cameron Diaz! Maximize your potential to make you look your best.
From the last six months – dip dye has been one of the biggest trends – it looks fantastic. Caroline Flack’s hair looks cool. Elle MacPherson was also one of the first. It is very relaxed, and that looks good.
Apart from that there is nothing headlining hair. Preppy men for men, and for women a classic bob will always be good.

Plans for xmas, any time off?
I hate Christmas. If I had a child I’d love it, I’d go all out. But I’ll spend it on my own. Go to friends in the evening. I don’t buy or accept cards or presents.

Who are your personal style icons?
Johnny Depp. He doesn’t try too hard – always cool for cats.
Alexander McQueen, bless him. I bought a Kangaroo skin jacket – only one of two in the world. He said it would look great on me so I bought it. I bumped into him in Nobu and he recognized me and gave me his scarf, tied it round my neck. So cool. He dressed down, he looked like a bum. But could he dress a woman! I’ve bought a piece from every collection. I don’t wear them – they are like art. I was just in awe. I bumped into him four days before he died.
I also love Tom Ford.

What can’t you travel without?
Condoms. I am a single man and the way I feel at the minute, I think I always will be.

Where is next on your places to visit?
Brazil – why not!

Who are your favourite designers/shops?
Tom Ford – by a country mile. And McQueen, of course.

What is your favourite bar?
Intrepid Fox. A slimy dirty rock bar, just down the road.

What is your favourite restaurant?
Nobu, Berkeley Street. Great service, and I love the Bento Box and Black Cod.

What is your favourite hotel?
Chateaux Marmont, where I stayed for a few month, followed by the hotel in LA, Mondrian. Stayed there for three months. The Delano in Miami. All designed by Philippe Starck originally. I go to hotels for design, not music or food.

Your most extravagant purchase?
A Chrome Hearts Rolex, just because I could. It was limited edition Karl Lagerfeld.

Person most in need of an Adee restyle?
The golfer Rory McIlroy. She doesn’t need it but I’d love to do Megan Fox’s hair. She would look great with all her hair whacked off. A bob or a crop. She’d look great.

Best Secret in your little black book?
If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret. And never trust a girl who doesn’t drink alcohol.

Do you social network?
Just started twitter a month ago. @Adee_Phelan  I’d never done Facebook or anything like that before.

Most recently played in your iPod?
F***** in the bushes – Oasis. Brad Pitt in Snatch – it is all about the music. It is on my show reel and I play it every day.

Trend you wish would disappear?
Juicy Couture tracksuits. I used to have a perm, but it is part of growing up. I’d get rid of the Mohican, it’s been done. Let it settle for 30 years, then bring it back.

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