Mary Portas hairdyer horror in Rochdale

There were some hair-curling moments when Rochdale's John Peers appeared on screen<br/>with TV's Mary Portas. Emma Mayoh reports

John Peers is used to dominant women. As a 15-year-old his mum, Evelyn, promised him a day out in Manchester. But she had hoodwinked him and after a short trip to the shops to buy a new outfit, she frog-marched him to the doors of renowned city hair salon, Pierre Alexandre.

‘I actually wanted to be a footballer but I wasn’t good enough,’ John explained. ‘My mum said she would take me out for the day and we ended up in Kendals. I knew there was something funny going on when we went to a posh shop and I walked out wearing a suit.

‘When I found out, I was in shock. I got asked six questions and it wasn’t so much like an interview, it was more like celebrity watching. Lulu, Dusty Springfield and Honor Blackman were there.’

His mum’s plan worked. He got the job, and spent the next two decades cutting the hair of many famous folk including Rudolf Nureyev, Lauren Bacall and The Weakest Link host Anne Robinson. He finished as the salon’s artistic director.

So, when it came to dealing with Mary Portas, it should have been awalk in the park! Few people brave enough to take on the acid-tongued retail advisor, credited with turning around the fortunes of shopping giant Harvey Nichols. Even fewer would throw a hairdryer at the Queen of mean and survive the ensuing ear-bashing. But John, who has run John Peers Hair Studio in Rochdale for the past 20 years, lived to tell the tale.

This month you will be able to see him take on retail royalty in the new series of Mary: Queen of Shops due to be aired on BBC 2.

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He said: ‘The first few days were horrific. She came in demanding we do her and one of her crew’s hair there and then even though we weren’t open.

'She set us up. She was picking holes in everything. I was doing her hair and she was still rabbiting on. I’d had enough. I lifted the hairdryer up and threw it straight at her. It hit the target'

‘She had done so many things that day. One morning she picked a load of petals off my flower display and throw them at me. I bet they won’t show that on the programme. We had quite a few slanging matches and there were times I wanted to throw her out of my shop. But she was a pussycat really, she kept calling me John Boy.’

The shopping guru spent six weeks with John’s 20-strong team at the Rochdale salon observing them, looking at the d�cor and products they sold. John, who also works as a motivational speaker, got a shock when she turned up unexpectedly at a session he was giving at Bradford College.

He and his chief stylist, Ruby McDermott, also spend time in London and John got the opportunity to work alongside one of his idols, Trevor Sorbie. He also looked at the latest fashions at the offices of Harper’s Bazaar as well as learning to dress models.

But the climax was doing a photo shoot with top hair photographer Trevor Leighton. John, who now runs the salon with wife Nikki, 38, created the new John Peers Fashion Hair Collection 2010 which he will unveil at the salon once the show has been aired.

Although John admits it may be a while before he repeats an experience like this, he is pleased he did it.

He said: ‘At the end of the day Mary is a very driven woman and I respect what she does. There were times I wanted her out of my life. She was very tough on us at times and it was very emotional for Nikki and me.

‘I’m curious to see the show. Business has already improved even though it’s not been on yet. I’m hoping things will get even better for all of the retailers in Rochdale too.’

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