It isn't often that women take grooming tips from Wayne Rooney, but when his hair transplant made tabloid headlines, God help me, I wanted one. So was this new treatment a men-only thing?
Female hair transplants are rare. They sound surgical and gruesome. Why opt for something so extreme? So desperate? If you're one of the six million Brits suffering from female pattern baldness, you'll understand the daily torment of hair loss. And if you're thinning on top now, what sort of fraying corn dolly will you resemble in three years' time? Your friends, of course, tell you not to worry. Hairlarious. My hairline was receding, I knew it, and like Lightnin' Hopkins' Bald-headed woman, I definitely wasn't living the dream. I experimented with staggered partings and entered the land of the comb-over. I root-boosted myself into a balding My Little Pony. I lay backwards on the bed, wielding the hairdryer like a leaf-blower. Vanity Hair, indeed.
But a transplant? Surely a murky business, involving pain, huge expense and disastrous results. And how to find reliable UK practitioners? Unsure, I opted for a consultation with A-list hair loss experts. They were refreshingly honest: "Don't worry, I've seen bigger foreheads" and "Ooh, it grows so thickly at the back, doesn't it?" Adding a weave so close to my brow was tricky, but they rose to the challenge and I was fitted with a perfectly matching swatch, giving me a thick layer to cover my barren temples. The transformation was incredible.
Inevitably, the hairpiece flattened down overnight and on the way to work in the morning, the wind rose and I could feel my new 'hair' lifting - exposing the stiff gauze underpinning the extensions. The dread was sickening. For 24 hours I pondered my purchase of the ultimate confidence-killer - a toupée - and decided that my own thinning locks were preferable. So it was back to the salon where the staff, with clenched smiles, removed the rug and handed it to me. At home, I took a photo of it arranged jauntily across my dog's forehead and threw it in the bin.
Post-Wig-gate, on holiday in Florida, I had a $20 impulse cut which feathered my precious fringe tufts and gave me layering redolent of 1920s lampshades. Back home in the UK, it was time to stop procrastinating. I went online to check out follicular transplants. Chat rooms seethed with conspiracy theories and horror stories, but I found a Maastricht-based company offering a regular London clinic.
I booked a free consultation, expecting it to be a scam, but I was curious. The doctor was reassuring, mentioning her work with burns victims, and she explained the transplant process. My head would be part-shaved and follicles removed for re-embedding in my temples. I'd be bald for weeks? No. They'd lift my hair up at the back of my head, shave the nape and remove the hair cells, then drop my hair back to cover the donor patch. Does it work? Always - and it's virtually painless. Newly transplanted hair appears six months later and keeps growing.
I signed up, paid half the £4,000 fee (for 800 follicles) and two months later, a friend dropped me off outside the clinic at 7 am. The Dutch team lifted my hair, buzz-cut underneath, and photos confirmed that no pink skin was visible. Then the donor area was anaesthetised and two hours of follicle extraction began. Next my fringe was taped up and my temples shaved (strange to feel protective of their wispy down, previously known as Satan's bum fluff). After more anaesthetic, recipient needle holes were made above my forehead and the donor follicles dropped in. It might sound Buñuel-esque, but it felt surprisingly un-invasive - although the team was surprised by my equanimity: "Men often cry", they said.
I couldn't shampoo for four days (while the transplant settled) so when the op was over, the doctor teased out the wild mass - coated with blood and goo - until I resembled a terrifying morphing of Donald Trump and Krusty the Clown. I left the clinic and as expected, my waiting friend took one look at my matted fright wig and said I looked completely normal. On the fourth morning, at five am, I washed my hair in a ceremony akin to Jesus cleansing the feet of his disciples.
Over the next few weeks, the donor area grew back, while at the front, it took 10 months for the transplant to fill the gaps. In retrospect, the experience was smooth, worth every penny, and I'd recommend it to anyone. For something so microscopic, those 800 follicles are giving me one hell of a confidence boost. In fact the most unnerving thing is remembering how it all began - on the pages of SunSport. Final score? Evolution 0 - Rooney 1.