Barbara battles back

Barbara battles back

Barbara Daley always had a passion for hairdressing and her dedication and overcoming illness drove her to build a £1m business, as she explains to Janet Tansley.

It’s a phrase she’s never had to use in her professional career, but when Barbara Daley was cutting and styling the hair of friends and family as a young teenager in Cantril Farm, Liverpool, it was one she reverted to quite often. “It will be alright when you’ve slept on it,” she laughs. “I would cut their hair – without training, I was only about 15 – and then blow it, really big. And that was the boys! “The girls loved it...”

And so began the career of one of the city’s top stylists: one which has involved numerous awards, creating the locks and looks of top models and, now, standing at the helm of a million-pound-plus salon in city centre Lime Street.

Of course, like all good success stories it’s had its fair share of drama – not least when a brain haemorrhage left Barbara in a coma, threatening to end her life as well as her career.
But the resilience and determination which saw a Kirkby-born kid rise to a respected salon owner got her through that too: “I wanted to get back to the salon, get back to what I loved and I read a lot of self-help books by people like Tony Robbins. One phrase stuck in my mind – ‘this time will pass’. And it did…”

Barbara Daley had always wanted to be a hairdresser: “From the age of 13 I would go with friends when they were having their hair cut and sit in the waiting area and pick up tips.

“I passed the 11-plus to go to Notre Dame High School but my mum and dad couldn’t afford the uniform and they were worried about me getting the bus to Walton. I dare say if I’d really wanted to go they’d have found the money, but I wanted to be a hairdresser. Trust me, if you’d needed a Masters to be one, I’d have got one.”

You didn’t and so, after O’levels, Barbara, who’d already secured a Saturday job in Ahead of Hair in Bold Street, began sending letter after letter, traipsing mile after mile, hair and make-up just so, asking for work in salons. “It was always a no.”

Her luck was to change when she walked into Binns department store in Church Street: “A girl had just walked out of their salon - and I got the job. You have to put yourself out there but I was in the right place at the right time. And that was it. I trained with them and went on day release to Colquitt Street College.”

Barbara’s passion was realised, and a love affair began - one requited by the American company for which she worked and who promoted her from junior to senior stylist, manager, then regional trainer. Only when the salon was taken over and Barbara was tipped the wink that the new owners had their own trainers did she decide to leave and open her own business.

“I never had ambitions to own my own salon, I just loved the job, talking to different people, being creative. I loved hair and styling it, to me, is art - just a different medium.

Anyone can cut hair, but I can see the difference between a fab cut and an okay cut. It’s the difference between a Gucci dress and one from H&M. And that’s how we train people. Some big companies or colleges teach a set number of cuts but we teach people bespoke hairdressing because one size doesn’t fit all. That’s too structured. If your hairline isn’t normal or average, it doesn’t work.”

Barbara was almost 30 – “I celebrated my milestone birthday with a pizza” – when she began her own salon in Allerton, restricted from opening in the city centre for 12 months after working in a salon there.

Barbara Daley 02She had already been married to Paul, who then worked for BT, for 11 years and they had two young children, Andrea, seven, and Sarah who was about four or five: “We put everything into the business, even selling our car, and it did well from the outset because we set out to make everything the best it could be.

“We opened the city centre salon, Barbara Daley Hair and Beauty, close to where we currently are, exactly a year later. There had never been another woman who had owned a city centre salon and I was told it took guts to put your name to it, but I did and I took it seriously.

“Paul was offered redundancy and took it to look after the business side while I concentrated on the creative, building a reputation by saying ‘no’. Nothing is more important to me than good, well-conditioned hair and if someone came, or comes in, wanting something that isn’t good for their hair I won’t do it. Integrity is more important to me.

“If someone doesn’t come back, I ask why. Because of that, most do - I have one client still whose hair I used to wash at Binns!”

Taking part in style and colour competitions to encourage staff and show what the salon can do led to a host of awards - last year alone including Best Salon in the North, Hair Awards; Most Wanted Local Salon Finalist and L’Oreal Colour Trophy Regional Finalist - and an increasing reputation.

There were problems in 2008 when a compulsory purchase order forced Barbara to relocate and she took over 300 sq ft of the Great Western Hotel, empty since the ‘70s. It cost £1m – and many sleepless nights – to take on a 30-year lease and refurbish the shell.

But the drama of that was nothing compared with the nightmare in February 2001 when a 40-year-old Barbara had a stroke, brought on by a brain haemorrhage. “I was fit and healthy, I’d been in London the previous day doing hair for London Fashion Week models,” says Barbara. “Everything was fine, but then I went to bed feeling unwell. I went to tell Paul I felt really strange, but it was nonsense coming out of my mouth.

“I woke up in intensive care a week later wondering where I was and why I couldn’t move my arms or speak. I’d never known anyone who’d had a stroke so I accepted it thinking that if they said 12 months, I’d be back at work in three. I had no concept of what lay ahead.

“I spent nine months in rehabilitation having speech and physiotherapy every day. It was so hard learning to walk again but I never thought of giving up. Too many things and people depend on you. Friends, family, 25 staff who rely on you to live!

“My memory was unaffected but my speech was and it was three years before I could contribute to a conversation which was hard for me. I used to pray to God that if he couldn’t give me everything back, could he please give me my speech. Now I can talk albeit slowly and with concentration – some people who come into the salon think I’m a Scandanavian for whom English isn’t my first language, but Italian and French people can sometimes understand me better than they can a Scouse accent.

“My right arm is affected and I walk with a limp but … yes, the killer is that I can no longer cut hair. That’s still hard, although I CAN cut, I just can’t hold scissors, I use my mind and someone else’s hands. I can direct a senior stylist and they love doing that. People still ask for me to cut their hair.

Barbara Daley 03

“I’m still a confident woman. If you’d asked me before if I would be with a disability I’d have said no. Plus I understand people more because I listen – that’s all I could do for three years.”

Barbara closed the Allerton salon three years ago to focus on her North Western Halls hair HQ. Daughter Andrea has become increasingly involved after training with Vidal Sassoon and is taking on the creative mantle of her mum, recently creating hair for a shoot with Alexander McQueen under the direction of the late fashion icon’s nephew who now runs the brand.

Even daughter Sarah helps the business when she isn’t in New York pursuing production dreams. Business appears better than ever – just don’t ask Barbara about turnover because she deliberately hasn’t a clue: “If you ask me if we are doing well, I don’t need to look in the till. I will know if the salon is busy and the work is going out.

“Profit is only ever a part. Seeing staff we train go off and open up their own salons, blossoming in their careers because of what they have learned here, that makes me proud. That’s how I measure success. It’s about overcoming obstacles, whether it’s opening your own salon or getting your life back after a stroke.

“It’s about having the resilience to carry on through, whatever …”