Saturday, June 18, 2011

The hair-raising truth about my £21,000 cure for baldness, by Dancing On Ice judge Jason Gardiner

By Jason Gardiner

Before and after: Left, how I looked prior to having the hair transplant operation and right, with a full head of hair following successful surgery

Lying in bed at my parents' home over Christmas, I felt my scalp tingling, as though tiny spiders were crawling all over it.

It was a sensation that would alarm most people, but I couldn't stop smiling.

Quite simply, it meant that my scalp — once a barren wasteland — was alive with activity and growth.

In short, the nine-hour hair transplant I had paid a small fortune for six months earlier was, finally, paying off.

It's no exaggeration to say that I couldn't have been happier if someone had handed me a winning lottery ticket.

As a young man I was blessed with naturally thick, dark brown locks and never imagined it would be any other way, especially as I kept my hair while friends were starting to lose theirs.

So when, aged 32, I woke up one morning to find tufts on the pillow, it was a huge shock.

Over the next few months I lost my hair at an alarming rate. Initially, I thought it was a sign that I was ill.

I went to my doctor, who ran a lot of tests before telling me, bluntly, that while I was healthy, I was no longer producing enough of the hormone that feeds the hair on top of the head.

In short, what I had was humdrum male pattern baldness. It was probably genetic, but as I am adopted there is no way of knowing for sure.

I refused to accept it. So I scoured the internet for information and bought just about every lotion, potion, elixir and supplement on the market.

None of them worked — the bottom line is that if you're going bald, there's very little a tablet can do to stop it.

As a result, leaving the house became a bit of a three-act play.

Where once I had been Mr Wash & Go, now I spent hours going through elaborate rituals to style my thinning thatch to make it look as thick as possible. Some days I would just refuse to go out.

It sounds vain, but I just felt incredibly unattractive. I became so obsessed with the fact I was losing my hair that I was defined by it. All I could see when I looked in the mirror was this guy who was going bald.

Of course, baldness works for some men — like Bruce Willis, they look manly and virile. But it didn't look good on me and it got to the point where I would only go out with a flat cap on.

By 2006, I felt I needed to take drastic action. So after doing some more research, I visited a studio in London which specialised in laser treatment and hair replacement.

After a lengthy consultation I opted for the latter, as I wanted immediate results.

Bald icon: For some men, such as action hero Bruce Willis, a shaved head looks tough and rugged - but not on me

It all sounded very technical — a sample of your hair is sent to a lab in Switzerland, where its colour and texture is matched to real hair they have in stock.

Effectively, they created a very thin swimming cap of hair which I had glued to the top of my head.

Looking back, I can see that it was pretty ludicrous, but I was desperate.

When I first had the cap attached in the summer of 2006 I was thrilled, but that feeling was short-lived.

It quickly became clear that my head didn't want this strange thing glued onto it: within two days my scalp was infected and I woke every day to the sensation that the top of my head had hundreds of tiny knives stabbing into it.

Within a fortnight, I had to visit the hair studio every other day to have the cap washed and re-glued and all the while my scalp was getting more and more painful.

It got to the point where I was in agony, yet still I refused to take it off.

By then, I had become a familiar face on television, both as a judge on Dancing On Ice and a fashion commentator on This Morning, and the thought of revealing what I had done seemed humiliating — even if it meant the whole time I was on screen I felt as though my head was on fire.

I endured it for a year before finally throwing away the cap and shaving my head.

At first I felt a huge sense of relief, but within weeks I was back to hiding under a peaked cap whenever I went out.

It was Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield on This Morning who persuaded me to come out as a bald man. After talking about it, we decided I should do it live on air.

At the end of May 2007, I whipped my cap off on the show to a round of applause in the studio. The switchboard was jammed with supportive messages.

Egged on: I was encouraged by This Morning presenters Phillip Schofield and Fern Britton to whip off my hat on several occasions

Initially, it was quite liberating and I told myself that I was finally going to accept that I'd lost my hair, and get over it.

I had a lot to be thankful for, after all — a great job, and wonderful family and friends.

Ironically, it was This Morning, the show that had encouraged me to accept my baldness, that also brought the old demons back.

Two years ago I got a phone call from the producers asking me to become a full-time fashion expert for the programme.

Part of the job was working with the makeover team, transforming women who had come onto the show hoping for a new look.

I absolutely loved it — seeing these women's faces light up as they saw the transformation we'd made was wonderful — but at the same time, it also made me think more about my own looks.

I realised that I hadn't come to terms with losing my hair at all. This time, however, I decided I was going to tackle it properly.

Once again, I turned to the internet — and this time I found something that seemed the answer.

It was called Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and it seemed like the real deal: instead of creating what was effectively an elaborate wig, this was an operation during which your own hair was harvested to create new follicles.

I made an appointment with the leading provider in this country at the start of last summer, and from the moment I met them I was impressed.

The 'before and after' photos they showed me were amazing —– you wouldn't know these people had had anything done.

Over the course of two meetings they talked me through the procedure and explained that it would take up to ten hours to transplant the individual follicles, and that it then takes months for them to bed into the blood supply on the scalp.

This means that it's around six months before the hair starts to grow, so it's a waiting game — I'd had the quick fix and it had got me nowhere.

At £21,000 it wasn't cheap but, for peace of mind, it was a price worth paying.

Double: This Wayne Rooney lookalike went through the same Hair Transplant operation as the footballer - it's painful and expensive, but worth it

At the end of last July I found myself in what looked like a dentist's chair, guiding Dr Craig Zierling, my surgeon, as he drew on my scalp to indicate where my new hairline would be.

That's the patient's decision, and it was an easy one — I wanted my old one back.

I was given 20mg of Valium before the anaesthetist started work, giving me 100 tiny injections around the top of my head.

That took an hour and was probably the most painful part of the entire procedure. But once that was over the inertia was the worst.

Like it or not, I was going to be stuck there for the best part of a working day while the doctor performed his magic, taking the donor strip from the back of my head and microscopically dissecting the tissue into naturally occuring follicular units, of one to four hairs, to be transplanted.

It was pretty surreal. All I could hear was a crunching noise, as though someone was skewing a polystyrene ball — except it was my head.

Overall, the process took nine hours, during which the doctor made around 3,500 individual incisions.

After that, it was simply a waiting game — and an anxious one at times. I knew this was how it worked, but there's a part of you thinking: 'What if I'm the one where it all goes wrong?'

Then, six months after the operation came that wonderful period over Christmas when I could actually feel my hair starting to grow.

I always intended to go public — after everything I'd been through, I wanted to show other men that they didn't necessarily have to live with the misery of baldness — but I was going to do it in my own time.

Until, that is, Phillip Schofield let the cat out of the bag on This Morning in March by dropping the most almighty hint about my surgery.

He forced my hand, and I'll admit I was a bit cross with him, but I'd unveiled my bald head on live television, so why not my new hair?

Just as I had on This Morning three years earlier, I whipped off my cap in front of a live audience — except this time there was a full head of hair underneath.

It felt great — but the best part was the next day, when men came up to me in the street to thank me for going public with my hair-loss issues.

People may think it's trivial, but for a lot of men losing their hair goes to the heart of their identity.

That's why, when I read that Wayne Rooney had had the same operation I thought: 'Good for him.' He lost his hair a lot younger than I did and I know how much he will have struggled with that.

Even though he's a star footballer, I'd bet a lot of money that when he stared at his bald head in the mirror he felt miserable.

Of course, some people will always be unkind about the fact that we've both done this and that's fine — they can say what they want.

I can't speak for Wayne, but I certainly haven't done it to please other people — I've done it to make myself feel better.

And it's worked. Maybe it is ludicrous vanity, but I feel like a new person, or rather the person I was before I lost my hair.



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