BAR­BER TO THE BEA­TLES

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - ALAS­TAIR THOMAS

WOULD YOU be free this af­ter­noon? My boyfriend needs a hair­cut.” For Les­lie Cavendish, a 19-year-old Jewish hair­dresser, this was the most im­por­tant ques­tion he’d ever been asked. The boyfriend was Paul McCart­ney.

From 1966 un­til they dis­banded, Cavendish was the Bea­tles’ hair­dresser, trusted to tame the most fa­mous mops in pop mu­sic. When I speak to him now, he is 70-years-old and pro­mot­ing his mem­oir, The Cut­ting Edge. Cavendish is full of sto­ries.

Born on Ca­ble Street in East Lon­don, his fam­ily were orig­i­nally refugees from Poland. An un­re­mark­able child­hood — Jewish but light on the Ju­daism, heav­ier on the foot­ball — Cavendish was bar mitz­va­hed and then a re­luc­tant mem­ber of the Or­tho­dox Yeshu­run Syn­a­gogue in Edg­ware. Was the Cavendish fam­ily ob­ser­vant, I ask. “No no,” he laughs. “We used to call our­selves ‘twicea-year Jews’ be­cause we only went to shul on Yom Kip­pur and Rosh Hashanah.”

Cavendish was one of three Jewish pupils at Chan­dos School in Stan­more and was made aware of it daily: “We had a bit of a hard time there,” he rec­ol­lects with sto­icism. “I re­mem­ber very clearly that a kid once grabbed me tightly in a head­lock, call­ing me ‘Jew boy’. The biro he had in his top pocket went right through my lip.”

Other prej­u­dice was less phys­i­cal. He re­mem­bers how be­ing called a “shon­ker”, a slur mock­ing his Jewish nose, gave him a sense of oth­er­ness more pro­found than the scar on his lip. A uni­ver­sal love of foot­ball healed the wounds be­tween Cavendish and his class­mates but as he grew up, the dream of mak­ing it as a pro­fes­sional player faded.

It was the lure of girls that drew a teenage Cavendish to­wards hair­dress­ing in 1962. “My best friend Lawrence Falk worked in a hair­dress­ing salon called Eric’s on Baker Street,” he says. “Lawrence was a very good look­ing boy and the girls used to love him. I went to his salon and saw the stylists sur­rounded by all these beau­ti­ful women.”

At 15, he ap­plied to be an ap­pren­tice at the salon run by Vi­dal Sas­soon in stylish May­fair. It must have been in­tim­i­dat­ing. “Well, I’d never heard of him. I thought it was the name of a hair­style,” he ad­mits. “But I told my aunt Gla­dys that I was go­ing to an in­ter­view for Vi­dal Sas­soon and she replied, ‘That’s strange. We used to go to the same Jewish clubs to­gether in the East End.’”

It was meant to be. Sas­soon was an­other Jewish East En­der who was al­ready mak­ing a name for him­self with his trade­mark geo­met­ric hair­styles. Cavendish got the job as a ju­nior.

“At 15 years old I was sud­denly thrown into it. Shirley Bassey, my mum’s favourite, would come in. And Mia Far­row.”

As did Jane Asher, an­other cul­tural icon of the decade, who also hap­pened to be Paul McCart­ney’s girl­friend. It was af­ter her hair­cut in 1966 that she asked Cavendish if he would be free to cut her boyfriend’s hair that af­ter­noon.

But the an­swer was no. Queens Park Rangers were play­ing Swin­don that day; Paul McCart­ney would have to wait. “I made the ap­point­ment for 6pm so I could watch the match,” he ad­mits, laugh­ing to him­self. The chutz­pah of it all still tick­les him.

“Paul was liv­ing in a nice Ge­or­gian town­house in St John’s Wood. I walked in past the groupies wait­ing out­side the gate and the first thing I saw on the left was an As­ton Martin.”

Was he in­tim­i­dated? “Yes, I used to love The Bea­tles. I thought they were fan­tas­tic. But Paul made me feel very re­laxed. The band had fin­ished tour­ing for the first time in five years so his hair was longer and he was un­shaven. He didn’t have to be Paul McCart­ney. He just wanted it trimmed and left it to me. I ti­died it up a lit­tle bit.”

Af­ter that first en­counter, Cavendish be­came McCart­ney’s per­sonal hair­dresser and soon was tend­ing to all of the band mem­bers.

“I never asked them for an au­to­graph for my­self or any­one else, as I never wanted to bother them, so grad­u­ally I gained their trust. For a Lon­don Jewish boy to get in­volved in all this was a nice sit­u­a­tion. I was lis­ten­ing to Bea­tles mu­sic that wasn’t even out yet.”

Even Cavendish’s fam­ily could not es­cape his fa­mous clients. “When I got home one day my grand­mother said to me in her thick Rus­sian ac­cent that, ‘a Paul McCart­ney called for you’ and she’d had a nice lit­tle chat with him. I told her he was a mem­ber of The Bea­tles and she replied, ‘oh, the one who needs a hair­cut’. So I told her, ‘you do know that I cut his hair, right?’”

In 1967, Cavendish’s hip­pie bub­ble burst. Work­ing at a salon in Park Lane, he saw on the front page of the Daily Ex­press a map of Israel with thick, black lines point­ing to­wards it from ev­ery di­rec­tion. The Jewish home­land was un­der at­tack,

Paul asked me if I was go­ing to Israel to »PQ]

and some­thing changed in him.“I felt like the ar­rows were point­ing straight at me,” he re­mem­bers.

Did it reawaken a sense of Jewish­ness in him? “All the shame and anger and feel­ings of in­jus­tice which had burned in­side me dur­ing my school days were sud­denly rekin­dled.

“I de­cided to go to Israel as a vol­un­teer. I asked Vi­dal Sas­soon if I could go out there and be­cause he had been to Israel as an IDF fighter in 1948, he said, ‘of course you can’. He shook my hand, wished me luck and looked upon me like a proud fa­ther.

“When I told Paul that I was go­ing to Israel, he asked if I was go­ing to fight. I told him I was go­ing to work on the kib­butz.”

Through­out the sum­mer of 1967, Cavendish worked on Kib­butz Ma­hanaim in Galilee, be­fore re­turn­ing to work as the Bea­tles’ hair­dresser.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with Disc

Mag­a­zine, Cavendish let slip that John Len­non’s hair was less thick than the oth­ers’.

“The next thing I knew, Derek Tay­lor, the band’s PR of­fi­cer, rang me late at night. ‘Did you tell the press that Len­non’s go­ing bald?’ I picked up the pa­per and there it was. I pan­icked.”

Only a fool, or a naive 20 year old, would in­cur the in­fa­mous wrath of John Len­non. “John phoned and I grov­elled, cry­ing, ‘I’m so sorry, she’s taken me out of con­text and I never said that...’”

Len­non stopped him mid-grovel: ‘You don’t need to ex­plain what the press is like. Look what hap­pened to me. I said we were big­ger than Je­sus and Amer­ica wanted my head on a plate. But I should ask you, am I go­ing fookin’ bald? Be­cause you’d bet­ter come over straight away and stick it to­gether be­fore it all falls out.’ Cavendish sur­vived, just.

He has been mar­ried and di­vorced twice. His cur­rent part­ner, Su­san, is also Jewish. “We both re­spect be­ing Jewish. We’re proud of it. We have Fri­day night din­ner ev­ery other week.” They share their time be­tween Mar­bella and Lon­don, where he man­ages All Aboard’s East Finch­ley shop.

He last saw Paul McCart­ney in 2012. “I saw him at the Bri­tish Film In­sti­tute. I took my son with me and he asked if Paul would recog­nise me. I thought about how many peo­ple he would have met in the forty years since we last saw each other. I wasn’t go­ing to go up to him and say, ‘Do you re­mem­ber me?’

“As I was walk­ing out he saw me and said, ‘Les­lie!’ He put his arm around me and we walked out of the the­atre arm in arm. I looked at him and said, ‘I told you you’d never lose your hair’.”

Stylist to the stars: Les­lie Cavendish

Ge­orge Har­ri­son has a trim

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

The Bea­tles comb their mops

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