February 25th 2018
14 lessons from my father - my mentor and champion
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Anabel Kingsley’s father, trichologist Philip Kingsley, taught her everything she knows not just about hair, but how to be a good person. This Father’s Day, she celebrates the man who taught her to mix the perfect Manhattan - and a lot more besides
I miss my father more than words can describe. He was my mentor and my champion and the most wonderful dad and friend. I find comfort in working within the business he built. It reminds me of our time together and the exceptional, kind and gentle man that he was. He died in 2016 aged 86, but I still feel my dad’s presence everywhere – which, while it can bring moments of sadness, also makes me feel like I am never far away from him.
I often remember all the lessons he taught me, which I carry with me in work and life:
1. If you can’t put it simply, you don’t know what you’re talking about
One of my dad’s favourite sayings was, "that’s complete balderdash”. My dad never tried to blind or dazzle his clients with scientific jargon. “It might make me sound impressive, but that’s not the point. It simply makes things seem rather scary,” he said. “Besides, if you can’t put it simply, you don’t know what you’re talking about”.
Very true. If I can’t explain something in an easy-to-understand way, I do more research until I can. Like my father, I don’t want to frighten people into following my advice, I want to assure them they are in good hands so that they are comfortable in what I am recommending.
2. There’s no harm in being early
My dad was old-school in the best possible way. He came from an era before mobile phones and computers existed. If you showed up late to a meeting or dinner, people simply assumed you were being rude and didn’t value their time. Which, in fact, is still true.
It’s simply much easier to be time-sloppy nowadays and to make excuses. The only time my dad was truly mad at me was when I was working at his New York Clinic in my early 20s. I missed my bus and arrived at the office a good 30 minutes after I was meant to. He almost fired me. I now always leave 30 minutes’ lee-way to get somewhere, whether I am going to work or meeting friends. There is no harm in being early!
Dad used to send me flowers on Valentine’s day and insist they were ‘absolutely not from him’ but from a secret admirer
3. Set trends, but do it with integrity
My dad was never one for following fads. From his ‘classic cool’ clothing style of tailored suits with hand-crafted ties and colourful socks to his bespoke hand-made hair products, he was a trendsetter. “We make trends, we don’t follow them,” he would say.
My dad told me a story about a large hair care company who would sprinkle ‘frou-frou dust’ (their name, not his) into their shampoos in order make absurd claims. ‘Frou-frou’ is basically that magical sounding ingredient that seems very cool and ‘sciency’, but does nothing. “I simply won’t put something into my products if it doesn’t do something”, he said.
I am following suit and oversee all new product development to make sure every product does exactly what it says on the box. When in doubt about a new formula, or a piece of product copy, I always ask myself “what would my father do and would he approve?”. He is my guiding light.
4. How to be a great mixologist
My dad was a talented mixologist. When I was little, he let me watch him hand-make his clinic products - everything from shampoos and conditioners to scalp masks and scalp drops. It was fascinating. One of my first jobs in our New York Clinic was actually to help him mix our scalp tonics together. As an adult, my father also taught me how to make a mean ‘Perfect Manhattan’. Two ounces of bourbon whiskey, equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth, two splashes of Angostura, and a maraschino cherry on top. Shaken, not stirred.
5. Follow your passions
That’s what my dad did and he loved every minute of every day. My father never wanted to retire and worked right up until he passed away at the age of 86. He cared deeply for his clients.
I was privileged enough to be able to sit in on a few of his consultations when I was training to be a trichologist. The understanding and empathy he had for the women and men he saw were inspiring. During a consultation, he was calming and gentle, yet also stern, kind of like a father figure! On the weekends, he would sit browsing through piles of glossy magazines, Women’s Wear Daily and InStyle being two of his favourites. He loved keeping up with the latest in all things beauty. Even on holiday, he would check in with the office every day.
But my father had an excellent work/home balance. He was also passionate about his family and friends. He was the best friend anyone could ever have. I talked to him every day. Dad used to send me flowers on Valentine’s day and insist they were ‘absolutely not from him’ but from a secret admirer.
6. Think like a psychologist
My dad truly understood the profound impact our hair has on the way we feel about ourselves. There are many stories he recounted to me; all of them resonate, but a good example is about a man who cared so deeply about his hair that he felt physical pain when he had it cut.
My dad was a rare mix of psychologist and scientific genius. Many women that I see during my own consultations suffer from insomnia and anxiety due to their hair loss. When I lost my own hair after my father passed away, I would wake up to find myself tugging at my strands.
Our hair is inextricably linked to our psyche. To be able to have such a positive impact on someone’s life is a wonderful thing. It is what my father loved most about his job, and is the main reason why I became a trichologist. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a suburban housewife, a businesswoman, Jaqueline Onassis or Jane Fonda. Hair is equally important to everyone” he said.
7. Hair is as much about lifestyle
My dad was incredibly thorough and approached his consultations with a Sherlock Holmes-like fervency. It was never just about topical treatments. He asked, “what are you eating? Tell me exactly; breakfast, lunch, dinner. And what about snacks? Your stress levels? General health? How is your mood? Your periods? Hair dryer heat setting? Do you backcomb?” If you can think of it, he asked it.
It’s surprising how much lifestyle can impact our hair – and what a huge difference a change to eating habits and a tweak to your styling ritual can make. My father would send everyone, as all our consultants do now, for blood tests to make sure their general health was not impacting their hair.
Hair is often the first place where signs that something is amiss appear. Everything from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to thyroid problems can be at play. I enter my consulting room with a similar inquisitiveness, aiming, as my father taught me, to delve into every possible element that might be affecting my client’s hair and scalp. “Expect the unexpected,” he would say.
8. Don’t worry - just be your own person
I am naturally quite sensitive and a bit obsessive, so things tend to get to me. Knowing this, my father really encouraged me to not worry about being a people pleaser. “Whatever!” he used to say with a cheeky smile as I would relay my anxieties and doubts to him. On a particularly stressful day, I imagine my dad sitting in his cosy armchair in our sitting room saying just that.
9. Everything in moderation
My dad was very healthy. He was the first person to recognise the importance of diet to hair health. He ate well and exercised every day. On my way to school, I used to encounter him doing RAF drills in the morning, doing push-ups and clapping his hands in-between. He was remarkable.
He also loved to indulge in nightly helpings of chocolate – and encouraged others to do the same. We always used to share a couple of desserts when we went out for dinner, as we could never choose which one we wanted most. When clients would tell him, like naughty children, that they occasionally indulged in sweets and wine, he would say “Well, if it relaxes you, it’s good for stress. Stress is very bad for your hair. As long as it’s in moderation. I would say a Martini or two a night, or a piece of cake, but no more”.
10. Have a good sense of humour (and buy an expandable fork)
My father had a twinkle in his eye and was a bit of a joker. When I was growing up, and we would be eating one of his favourite dishes for dinner, he would exclaim and point “what’s that!?”. By the time I turned my head back around, my plate was gone and had been replaced by his empty one.
At our New York Clinic Christmas party, he bought an expandable fork so he could reach over to steal a taste of everyone’s food. It wasn’t a one-way street, mind you. A certain colleague used to leave whoopee cushions on his chair. Another downloaded a rather loud fart app onto her phone to use when she went into his office. Forever being a gentleman, he continued the conversation as usual.
If you don’t know something, just ask. Don’t guess
11. Be polite to everyone
Dad was charming and polite and treated everyone with great respect. He was a great listener. People opened up to my dad because he knew the value of listening and never judged.
12. You’re never too old or too experienced to learn something new
My dad’s best friend nicknamed him “What’s that Phil”. He was curious and forever asking questions. This was of great help to me during my trichology studies and also now as a practising trichologist. He would say, “If you don’t know something, just ask. Don’t guess. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and I still don’t know everything”.
This was also a lesson in humility. Even being the best trichologist in the world, my dad was humble. It was one of the things that made him great. All of our trichologists sit together between appointments, bouncing opinions back-and-forth, discussing notes, commenting on the latest research.
13. Always over-cater
My dad loved entertaining. Nothing made him happier than throwing Thanksgiving dinner. At Christmas, the more the merrier. The house would be filled from top to toe in sparkly ornaments and bowls of sweets. Throughout the year, he would squirrel away hotel jams, toothbrushes and soaps he would collect on his travels and individually wrap them for our stockings.
Our office Christmas dinner party had a similar flare; he would personally decorate all of the tables with festive shaped chocolates and lollypops he had bought in New York (the ones in London just aren’t as good!). He treated his colleagues like family and my mom and I continue to carry on this tradition. From him, I’ve learned to over-cater - never let someone’s glass go empty and that a bit of kitsch is rather nice.
14. How women should be treated
My dad grew up in the 1930s, an era when women were treated appallingly. However, despite his mad-men era upbringing, my dad had great respect for women. He fully encouraged my sister and me to be successful career women and to follow our dreams. He supported my mother when she decided to go back to university at the age of 45.
Two of our MDs have been female – and most of my colleagues are as well. I know that not every work environment is like ours, and that I have been very fortunate. However, my dad showed me how women, and men, should be treated in and outside of the work-place. He has also taught me how I should demand to be treated by the man in my life.
About Philip Kingsley:
Born to a poor family in the East End, Philip came to be regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on hair and scalp care. He coined the phrase ‘bad hair day’, was the first to introduce the idea of ‘hair textures’ into the hair industry, developed the world’s first ‘pre-shampoo conditioner’ Elasticizer for Audrey Hepburn, introduced the concept of scalp masks, scalp toners and hair treatments into the market and was the first to link hair health with nutrition and wellbeing. He funded research on female hair loss at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, and developed products for those undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy and donated to the Breast Cancer Charity, Look Good Feel Better, as well as the Royal Marsden Hospital for Cancer Research.