Trevor Sorbie's charity providing a wig styling service for cancer and medical hair loss sufferers
PUBLISHED: 11:40 11 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:40 11 March 2019
For so many cancer sufferers, losing their hair is one of the most traumatic side affects of the disease. Stylist to the stars and international hairdresser Trevor Sorbie has been on a mission to make wigs wonderful again in Gosport
As a professional stylist, the illustrious career of Trevor Sorbie MBE has seen him cutting the locks of many a celebrity client from Dame Helen Mirren and Grace Jones to being asked to style none other than Her Majesty The Queen. Known for legendary trends such as the ‘wedge’ and ‘scrunch’ drying technique, Trevor’s rise to fame began at the tender age of 15 when he left school to take up an apprenticeship with his father, shortly followed by opening his own barbers in North London just a few years later.
With numerous salons from Covent Garden to Bristol, Manchester to Dubai, his empire has grown somewhat over the years as he became the go-to hairdresser; appearing on primetime television programmes such as Lorraine and This Morning. However, it’s his charitable work over the last decade for which he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of West of Scotland in his hometown of Paisley, which saw his innovation and creativity take a new direction.
It was a personal experience which led Trevor to setting up his charity mynewhair in 2006, when his sister in law, Jackie, was first diagnosed with bone cancer. He wanted the aim of the charity to be about teaching hairdressers how to cut wigs in a way that made them look more like real hair, helping patients undergoing chemotherapy to feel as much like themselves as they could. Customising Jackie’s wig was just the start.
“I’d seen women cry before but it was usually when I’d messed their hair up,” laughs Trevor. “This was a different kind of cry, it was tears of joy. I just felt such a strong feeling that I’d really helped her. Not medically but psychologically. I wanted to do more,” he explains from his home in Gosport. “Had it not been for Jackie, I might never have gone on to do this.”
Seeking out the support of L’Oreal, Trevor was able to expand the charity’s horizons, creating a training programme for hairdressers nationally. His television and radio connections helped him to spread the word and many celebrity clients stepped in to aid him too. Since its inception, mynewhair’s programme has offered nurse-led, specialist expertise across all areas of wig cutting and aftercare, providing much-needed advice and support. Trevor’s seminars have been able to train a network of over 800 independent salons and more than 1000 hair professionals across the UK and Ireland to provide a bespoke wig-consultation service to their clients.
Working in partnership with the Department of Health, a visit to 10 Downing Street also saw his involvement in helping to draw up a standard national policy for NHS wigs. This success led Trevor to branch out, helping to train hairdressers in L’Oreal salons in Canada as well as Dubai.
“There’s this one little bit that’s missing from all the wonderful work which surgeons and nurses do. I’ve met hundreds of ladies and when they talk about how they felt when they found out they had cancer, the first question was ‘will I die?’…right behind that was ‘will I lose my hair?’”, he shares.
As Trevor explains, the work he does isn’t just about hair and hair styles, it’s fundamentally more important than that. It’s about bringing back confidence to these clients, offering them psychological support and making them feel good at a very difficult time in their lives.
“Hair is always on show. Cancer can be in different parts of your body but when you wear clothes, people don’t know. The first thing you think when you see someone in the street with no hair, is cancer. It’s incredible the effect a good wig can have on someone’s confidence. It’s the missing link in their treatment. They just want to look like they’ve always looked.”
Having channelled his energies into making mynewhair such a success, last year brought another brush with cancer which made Trevor even more determined to do what he could - his own daughter, Jade was diagnosed, aged 40.
“I’ve experienced so many different emotions in all of that. The one thing that I’ve never felt from my own point of view when I’ve been doing this work is how it affects the family. Now I know. I hit the ground.”
Experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions after Jade’s diagnosis, Trevor felt compelled to go one step further. With retirement in mind, he decided to convert a room within his own home to be able to offer a free wig customisation service for patients undergoing chemotherapy in Portsmouth/Gosport and surrounding areas. Providing this vital access to others has enabled Trevor to be able to give back to his local community and make a much-needed service more available to patients closer to home. mynewhair has linked up with Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, which has a large oncology department, in order to be able to advertise this opportunity to their patients and Carole, Trevor’s wife, acts as the first port of call for those wishing to book Trevor’s services. It was her vision which has transformed the room, and Carole chats to each individual, helping them to arrange an appointment and offering advice. She is also the person who greets them when they enter the couple’s home, sitting down with them and making the experience a bespoke one from start to finish.
“We’ve tried to make the room homely – not like a salon but somewhere comfortable, reassuring. I want each client to feel in safe hands. There are photos and letters in here so that they can see what I’ve done,” Trevor explains. “I like to get to know the client before we start with hair - the best way to do that is to sit down and have a cup of tea together.”
Reading letters strewn over the walls of Trevor’s newly appointed consultation room, one can’t help feeling that he has brought so much more than his experience and skills to these clients’ lives. He’s created a legacy which will endure, one that gives others a feeling of wellbeing at a time when hope, support and self-confidence are crucial.
“I can’t wait for the first person to walk into my salon here. At the end of the day, I’m just a hairdresser. I’ve never made a penny doing this but the reward is enormous and I’ll do it until I can’t stand up anymore,” he adds.
With all that he has achieved with mynewhair and this new venture at home, Trevor is offering something far more important than scissors and styling alone could ever offer. He helps to make everyone who comes for a consultation feel more like their old self again, giving them the chance to take back their confidence and shine a light in their darkest hour. He’s not just a hairdresser as he likes to think of himself but to so many of his clients, he’s a hero.
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