This week’s Big Personality is bucking the trend of career changes and flying in the face of ‘against all odds’. I thought it was about time we tracked down a big old story that starts as it intends to go on. Sometimes it’s great to know that you don’t need to pull up a seat on a roller coaster to enjoy a few thrills, spills and bellyaches. You can simply find your dream, stick at it and stay true to yourself. The highs will still come if that’s what you’re looking for.
And Rae Peacock is exactly the man I need to prove my theory on this one! Slight of frame, always smiling and just a little bit cool, his open, warm manner hides nothing. What you see is exactly what you get. At 35 years old he has that gorgeous, relaxed air of someone who is completely content in his own skin and who wants anyone around him to feel exactly the same in his company. For me, quiet confidence is a glorious trait to find in a man and it’s easy to see why he has been causing such a stir since he returned to our Small City back in April this year.
His 'Before and After' shots of daring hair transformations bounce around Facebook on a constant basis, leading me to think that his door would be better revolving than swinging, in order to cope with the stream of new people venturing up to New Row and into his on-trend, eco-aware, self-monikered salon.
A Perth boy born and bred, Rae started sweeping up hair in John Gillespie’s salon on St John Street when he was only fourteen. He progressed quickly to shampooing and before long he was a school holiday assistant, offering scalp massages and coffees to the clientele of John’s award winning salon. Quite the start for a young boy!
“I know – I always fancied it but I wasn’t sure if it was right for me. The Saturday job let me dip my toe in the water and, of course, I loved it right away. It was tough to start with, John senior was old-school and we all learned with the kind of discipline he trained under. I started my training at fifteen, a year before I left school, and I suppose, looking back they must have known I was serious and worth the investment.”
From the age of sixteen Rae was full time, learning his craft and jumping at every opportunity that came his way. He is in no doubt that John’s reputation within the industry presented all of them with a chance to experience bigger things than he may otherwise have been afforded. Of course, opportunities are only worth something if you’re prepared to grab hold and run with them, and young Rae was full of a bold hunger for the chances he was being given.
“I had some great experiences in those first few years. I stayed in Perth until I was 22 and I’d already chalked up a week at Sassoon in London and some fairly sizeable L’Oreal Shows before I left. I loved what I was doing, but Perth was too small for me at the time. I came out when I was 17 and although I didn’t experience any hostile homophobia, there was just nothing here for me. No social aspect, no pubs or clubs - it was about 1995 and Perth was suffocating for a young, gay man. I was in Glasgow every weekend, shopping, clubbing, and just enjoying being around the scene. It suddenly made sense to me to move.”
Rae saved his wages, saved his tips and at the age of 22 he headed for the bright lights of Glasgow and its glorious gay scene. Relaxed and happy, he ‘partied for a month’ before knuckling down to find a job. He had his sights set on something big, something that would let him flex his creative muscle and move up the career ladder he’d chosen. He was, he tells me, unashamedly ambitious and looking for his big break.
“Before I left, John Gillespies was the place I wanted to be. I was determined to stay on that path and I would pour over the back pages of the Hairdressing Journal looking for the perfect job. And then, one day, there it was. In Edinburgh! Urban Retreat in Harvey Nicks was recruiting and I was having that job. They had the salon in Edinburgh but their flagship was in Harrods, London and for me, I could see the potential for moving around and doing something different. It was exactly what I wanted.”
Rae got the job, of course, but having settled into Glasgow life he decided to make the daily commute between the two cities, and soak up every glorious minute of both his social and professional lives.
“I loved it. I know some people might think the commuting was a drag but I was 23, living in Glasgow, enjoying this amazing scene and working in Urban Retreat. It was one of the best Scottish Salons of the noughties and right up there as a niche, lifestyle brand. At the time, they were pulling in industry leaders from the likes of Sasoon and they had the best hairdressers in the country working for their London branch. It was so, so cool. Very innovative. The businessman behind it was the same guy that launched The Sanctuary products; he’s also married to Ruby Hammer of Ruby and Millie cosmetics fame. The Hair and Beauty pedigree in there is immense.
“I would go down to London for maybe a week at a time and I can still remember the first time I walked in. It was mindblowing. In fact, if I walked in today and saw it again for the first time it would still be mindblowing! It takes over the entire fifth floor of Harrods as an Urban Retreat Hair & Beauty Spa. It was one of the first Aveda Concept Salons. I just remember thinking ‘I can’t believe I’m here. I can’t believe I work here.’ It was like a 5-Star Hotel.”
Rae tells me about the wildly wealthy clientele, European Royalty and proper old Thespians from London’s theatreland. For this wee boy from Perth, it was a real insight into a whole world of people that would never, at any point, have become regulars in a Scottish salon.
“That’s not a London V Scotland thing. It’s just how it is. There was this old hairdresser there, he was about 60 at the time and so, so camp. He would tell me about the Royal Weddings he’d done hair for and used to joke that he was a Queen who’d done the Queen’s hair. Everyone was so precious, so interesting, so entirely different to anyone I’d ever met before. It was impressive in an eye-popping way; you wanted to be a fly-on-the-wall. It would’ve made great reality telly!”
The level of hairdressing Rae was exposed to dazzled him. They worked on editorial shoots and he was following in the footsteps of some of the great hairdressers of the time. The guidance on offer was second to none and for a responsibility-free Rae, the week-long stints to London were worth the commute.
“And then they weren’t. Because as amazing as it is and as impressive as I found it all, it’s still travelling to work to do a job that I knew I could do in Glasgow. By that time I understood what turned a haircut into a great experience and I was sure I could deliver it. I started to chat to one of my colleagues, because he was doing exactly the same thing as me, and we decided we could pull together and do something for ourselves in Glasgow.”
Cue Rae and his colleague leaving Urban Retreat and picking up a chair rental in Glasgow until the right salon came along. They decided that going self-employed was the right stepping stone to business ownership and both ended up renting a chair from John Comerford, the hairdresser / actor who starred in River City!
“Oh my God, it was a proper hoot. Everyone who came into John loved it. It was fierce Glasgow banter and the polar opposite of Urban Retreat. I don’t even know how much I can say – it was wild! I did enjoy it but the whole time we were there we were planning our own salon and by this time our a third partner had decided to join us.
We wanted to be in Merchant City, beside all the indies and the vintage boutiques. The concept we had was quite edgy. We weren’t flashy or super cool, we were just different enough to be noticed. We all agreed that the service would need to marry up with the skill set we had and you know, it was exciting. In some ways I think Merchant City is like a cool, wee village inside this big city. We opened in 2005 and I was so bloody proud of myself. It was all perfect.”
Nosey as I am, I ask him about his private life at this time; work was clearly amazing, how was Rae and romance?
“I wasn’t really looking. I was out enjoying myself, clubbing and loving being in a big city. It was never about picking up men for me, it was just about being free to be myself. I’ve never really felt that I was hindered by my sexuality or that I was a victim of any gay bashing. Literal or otherwise. But being in Glagsow was liberating because I didn’t have to tone down who I was. I’d been out since I was seventeen, I’ve always been ok with who I am and I’ve had nothing but love and support from my family. So my private life was always fantastic.”
The salon was a hit. They were a dynamic team with clear ideas on service, music, refreshments and décor. They had local artists selling work from the walls and a booming clientele. Their name built quickly and soon they were being approached to head up artistic shoots in and around the area.
“I did the Glasgow Herald Fashion photoshoots with world-renowned Scottish photographer David Eustace and that was great publicity for us. And then I was the guest stylist on a BBC Alba makeover show called Grinn and Rae. I did that a few times.
The best one though was Wooly and Tig. Mums and dads of small children will know this one – it’s a CBeebies programme about a little girl and her pet spider and for one of the episodes they were going on a trip to the hairdressers. I was seeing Craig by this time and he had worked previously with the woman who was the executive producer. He said, ‘Go to Rae’. And the wee actress’s Dad is a Perth man, who had also said ‘Go to Rae’. So that was me, on CBeebies as a hairdresser!”
(Please note, Craig and I have searched and searched for this programme. The best we could do was this screenshot. PLEASE if you have a link, send it to us!)
And now we must talk about Craig. Rae was enjoying his single life but how does anyone, gay, straight or otherwise, over the age of 30, get a decent date? You go online, people! He was registered on PlentyofFish.com and shared a couple of messages with the lovely Craig before arranging to meet in Crabshakk in Glasgow’s west end.
“I really fancied him but I had that nagging doubt, ‘are we too different?’. I still liked to go out and Craig was directing for BBC Scotland, and led a quieter life than I did. But by about date three we were both smitten. It was full steam ahead after that and within six months we had moved in together. I just think when you know, you know.
A week after we moved in, I booked us a trip to Ballathie House Hotel in Perthshire, best room in the house…. I had a magnum of Veuve Cliquot in my bag and he was carrying it upstairs moaning about how heavy it was. He had no idea! We were sitting in the bar downstairs drinking yet more champagne when I proposed. He said yes right away!”
The next day, waking up in Perthshire, Craig decided he better tell his mum and dad he was gay (!!) and six months later they married in Pollock shields Borough Hall. Crabshakk (first date, remember?) catered the wedding and they had Fish Club Sandwiches, Crab Cakes and a fish and chip van from Monachyle Mhor. That was May 26th 2012.
“It was a big deal for me to marry Craig. Well, it’s officially a civil partnership but the point is we stood up in front of everyone who loved us and made a promise to one another. Craig’s Mum summed it up when she said ‘There’s so much love in this room.’ It was the last piece of my puzzle. Well, so I thought!”
In a complete co-incidence, Craig’s brother lives in Perth and the pair were travelling through every weekend to spend time with their families. They have nieces and nephews and would enjoy long walks in the countryside, out in the fresh air, loving that this lifestyle was right on the doorstep. Or rather, Rae was home in Perth every weekend and Craig joined him periodically, when he returned from filming in America and Australia.
“Our third partner had left the salon to start a family and we had rebranded as Bowers and Peacock. It was still as much fun but it was long hours and blooming hard work. Craig was away a lot at the time and I could see it was starting to have its toll on him. He came home one night and said ‘what are we doing?’ and that was us. We started chatting about what was getting us down and what made us happy. Suddenly, all the reasons I had for leaving Perth a decade earlier were exactly the same reasons I had for wanting to move back!
I wanted to be in a city that was small enough for us to visit family. I wanted to drive five minutes into the countryside with the dogs. Farmshops on your doorstep, great food, all the wee shops. For me Perth is like the yellow brick road, it’s always happy. We saw it as a way to relax, to spend more time together and enjoy life. I missed my mum and my family. Craig missed his brother. It was the right time for us to move home.”
I am reminded of a story I heard about Rae from a mutual friend. She told me that no matter how hungover he was on a Sunday morning, he’d get up and get on a train to Perth to do his Nana’s hair. Nana liked a French roll and she liked it done weekly. I say that its little things like this that speak volumes about a person and who they are. Rae is bashful, dismissing it as nothing.
“It’s your Nana. Of course you come and do her hair. I was in some states of hangover on that train though! She died a few years ago - it’s her suitcases, you know, that are sawed in half and stuck onto the salon walls.”
The salon! Craig decided to pack in his job at the BBC and run the business end of Rae Peacock Hair. Meanwhile, Rae spoke to his business partner and they decided that he would phase out gradually, splitting his time between the two salons until Perth took off. So there he was, starting afresh with Craig in Perth.
“But it was mental! It was almost immediate. I had to train Craig in keeping an appointment diary and I thought ‘It’ll be fine. He’ll learn gradually’. Bloody hell – he was right in at the deep end! Reception, product sales, cups of coffee, social media, finances, accounts, the lot. I was in back to back appointments and we’d finish work, go home and he’d start making brownies for the next day. When my old business partner in Glasgow decided to wind up and go mobile it was a sigh of relief. It’s all worked out perfectly really - here we are, six months later and we’ve already brought on two members of staff.”
He tells me they intend to keep things small, building their wee salon in New Row and creating a hub of great hairdressing with a whole new outlook on products and service. They have a cocktail list, Craig still makes the brownies and the art hanging on the wall has come from their own flat!
“I think it’s an age thing. It’s not really about money anymore. If it was, Craig would still be a BBC director and I would still own a salon in Merchant City. I’m not impressed by the same things as I was 20 years ago, I don’t need to be working with flashy brands and styling supermodels. When I was younger I styled some famous heads, like Yasmin Le Bon and Jodie Kidd. I still do Glasgow celebrities; but I do it because I like them and not because I think it’s impressive!”
We chat a bit about the salon and the decisions they’ve made regarding the brand – Rae didn’t want his name above the door, Craig convinced him otherwise! I’m surprised at some of principles that have steered their decisions and far more impressed than I would have been had he told me he was styling supermodels from New Row!
“We really wanted to look at eco-friendly products. We don't even use teabags; we use loose leaf tea to save paper. And so it was important to us to find something that was both eco and luxury. When we found Davines we knew we had nailed it. They fit what we’re doing exactly. They’re family owned and the hair care range is guided by the principle of sustainable beauty. All the products are as naturally derived as possible so they contain lots of natural phytoceutical extracts like tomato, rocket, melon and celery. We both loved the entire range because, like Davines, we never want to be the biggest but want to produce the best work with boutique products, hair styling and surroundings.
“It was a bit of whim, to come home. But already we’re spending more time with each other and our families. We can see the kids we love grow up and we can be part of it all. When I wake up, I look forward to going to work and on a Monday night I can’t wait for Tuesday to get started again. It’s not rocket science, for me this is a happy formula.”
We’re sitting drinking cocktails, Craig is with us and the pair are chatting about Christmas and their upcoming trip to LA.
“We’re just closing the salon and going. This is what I’m talking about! Its brilliant”
Rae Peacock may have left us looking for bright lights in a big city. But now, a decade on, he’s found his way back down his Yellow Brick Road. This time its with a new found maturity, a gorgeous husband and fresh eyes, wide open and enjoying every minute of his small-time, much-loved, home city of Perth.