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Our Perfect Christmas: Gary Hooker & Michael Young

High Life North caught up with Newcastle’s award-winning hairdressers to find out how COVID’s affecting their Christmas plans…

Interview by Claire Muffett-Reece

Christmas is set to be very different this year… what are your plans?

G: We both love Christmas – in particular, the lead up to Christmas Day itself. The biggest difference for us is not having friends over for drinks and dinner throughout December – it’s a very social time for us so that’s definitely missed. It will just be the two of us on Christmas Day… with the dogs of course – all 16 of them! Before you ask, no we don’t buy Christmas presents for the dogs. I think when you have 16 dogs it becomes a lot of gifts to buy!

What are your most treasured Christmas memories?

M: Christmas was always a really special time for me and my siblings. We’d come downstairs incredibly early to see what was under the tree. One year my parents got me an inflatable Santa Claus, but I remember spotting him in the living room and panicking that he was still there! Once I realised it wasn’t the man himself I spent most of Christmas Day hugging and sitting with him. It was probably the least expensive present I got that year, but when you’re that age you’re easily pleased.

Do you have any Christmas traditions in the Hooker and Young house?

M: Lots of overindulgence is a must, and if I had my way we’d watch at least one Christmas movie a week in the month of December. Gary will never agree to that – it’s a challenge getting him to wear a Christmas jumper! Luckily we both like to start Christmas planning at the end of November. It’s ahead of our busy time at work and it also means we can start having Christmas gatherings quite early on in December.

Your team member Jonathan Turner recently scooped North Eastern Hairdresser of the Year at this year’s British Hairdressing Awards. What is it about Hooker & Young that sees you winning award after award and having a loyal client base?

M: We were both so thrilled to see Jonathan win at this year’s awards. It’s the fifth year he’s entered North Eastern Hairdresser of the Year, so to see him win was such a thrill. We very much work as a team when doing anything creative, whether it’s a photoshoot, an educational seminar or an international show. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s a secret for success – I believe that if you give 100% you’re giving yourself the strongest chance possible.

The awards were held virtually – what was that like compared to previous years?

M: There was certainly a lot of anticipation this year as to what the awards would look like being a virtual event. Of course, it’s never going to compare to being at London’s Grosvenor House, but we didn’t let that stop us dressing up in black tie and drinking Champagne to celebrate the night’s winners.

You’ve four salons in the North East. How has COVID impacted your business?

G: It’s definitely been a tough year -–the first lockdown took us all by surprise. We have a strong business and very loyal clientele who have been incredibly supportive – they were all waiting to come straight back into the salon for us to make them gorgeous again. The second lockdown felt a lot harder for some – I think that had a lot to do with the cold weather and the dark nights. Of course, the period of closure has a financial impact on any business, but we have a strong team who are all 100% behind us. Together we will bounce back to where we were at the beginning of 2020.

Which female celeb would you like to give a Christmas makeover to?

M: I don’t know about a makeover as such, but I would love to do the hair of Anya Taylor-Joy, the lead actress in The Queen’s Gambit. I’m slightly obsessed with her at the moment, and watching her character’s style evolve throughout the series was incredible! She’s so beautiful and I’d love the opportunity to do her hair.

You normally spend the holidays at your second home in Spain. What’s that like?

G: Sometimes we go to Spain on Christmas Eve and some years on Boxing Day – it all depends on plans at home in the UK. The Spanish are very family-orientated when it comes to Christmas and you can feel that when you’re out and about. We like to go to Malaga to see the Christmas lights – they are truly spectacular.

Let’s imagine COVID hasn’t happened. Where do you both go in the North East for Christmas dinner and drinks?

M: We both love cafe 21 in Newcastle – it’s a real treat to go there any time of the year. We always make sure we visit at Christmas, as I don’t think there’s anywhere better for food, service and atmosphere. It’s pretty amazing.

What about a festive day out?

G: We like nothing more than spending a day in town, most of which is spent in Fenwick, I might add! I just think Newcastle does Christmas so well. The markets around the monument always have a great atmosphere and it’s nice to get wrapped up and have a wander around, stopping off for a glass of Champagne.

Gary, you were a baker and confectioner before starting your hairdressing career. Does that mean you take charge of the Christmas cooking?

G: That was many moons ago, so the food is all left to Michael now. It’s definitely not my strong point!

M: I think he’s conveniently forgotten anything he learned years ago! Thankfully I love to cook and in lockdown turned my hand to baking, which I’ve also become pretty good at. I can’t wait to tuck into our turkey with all the trimmings. I’m not sure if you’re meant to have Yorkshire puddings with Christmas lunch, but we always do. I make a mean Yorkshire pudding!

Do you have any Christmas food or drink weaknesses you can’t say no to?

G: I suppose we just drink a little bit too much over Christmas, but then I guess everybody does.

M: I’m a bit of a chocoholic, so for me, Christmas means chocolate overload. We get given so much chocolate over Christmas and I always look at it and think there’s no way we’ll eat it all. But we do!

What gifts are you hoping for under the tree?

M: At the risk of sounding a bit bah humbug some years we don’t actually exchange presents with each other, instead spoiling ourselves with lots of nights out in beautiful restaurants. Gary wants a new computer which I was fully expecting him to buy himself, but he hasn’t yet – so maybe he will be getting a Christmas gift after all.

G: We both struggle these days with what to get each other, which is why some years we don’t exchange gifts. I do love it when I have a lightbulb moment and think of something fantastic that I know he’ll love – but that doesn’t happen very often! A gorgeous holiday somewhere hot is something we both love, and I’d much rather have that than socks and slippers.

Let’s fast-forward to December 2021. How are you hoping to spend Christmas next year?

M: Gary has a big birthday coming up at the end of March which we were planning to celebrate abroad, but as March draws closer it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to have the holiday we wanted. We are currently talking about postponing it and planning to do it over Christmas next year instead.

G: It was going to be a double celebration as it’s also our 30th anniversary, so we’ve lots to celebrate. Who knows where we will be? We’re hoping Christmas 2021 will be spent far away, hopefully on a beach somewhere amazing.

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