Nicholas Owen meets Toni & Guy's Toni Mascolo

One half of the world-famous hairdressing duo Toni & Guy, Toni Mascolo is regarded as one of the best in the business. Nicholas Owen went to meet him at his stunning home on a secluded estate between Dorking and Effingham

Only one thing is allowed to get in the way of Toni Mascolo's love of cutting hair - for even though his Toni & Guy empire has taken his name literally around the world, he still likes to do the basic job as regularly as possible.

He does, however, keep a careful eye on the Chelsea FC fixture list. A fanatical supporter of the team, getting to their games means he often has to swap appointments around for those lucky few customers who still have the boss attend to them at one of his London branches.

Having said that, at 67, he has no intention of stopping work, whether it's continuing to expand his highly successful web of companies and interests, or doing his stints in the salons.

"I'm quicker than anyone else," says Toni. "Everyone else takes 40 minutes to do a cut, but I can do it in 30 minutes. And I love to have a sandwich with the staff during their breaks; to hear from them what's going on. You can't do the big deals unless you know what's going on in the salons."

Nowadays, of course, you'll find Toni & Guy shops in most High Streets and shopping centres - not just in the UK, but right around the globe, including places like China and Russia.


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An Italian charmer

The hands and arms wave, the shoulders shrug, the eyebrows bounce up and down as this oh-so obviously Italian charmer describes the extraordinary story of how his family built the business from very small beginnings.

"The whole thing grew from just one or two branches in the south London area," says Toni. "Giving customers what they wanted at a price they could afford was one important path to success, but we also worked immensely hard. We could deal with 40 or 50 clients in one day."

Hours and hours in the salon meant the family had to live close by. Eventually, though, unhappy with the way life on the streets of their south London suburb was changing, they decided to move south, to seek countryside, and some peace and quiet.

Toni has been a happy resident of Surrey since 1979 and, for the last 12 years, he and quite a lot of the Mascolo clan have lived on a secluded estate between Dorking and Effingham. Under the high ceiling of the study of his huge house, looking out towards his 36 acres of garden and woodland, he reminisces about how it all came about.

Most of the time, he grins with pride at what has been achieved, though there is one extremely sad shadow. The other half of probably the best-known brand in hairdressing, his brother Guy, died suddenly in May. It happened on Toni's birthday. Aged 65, Guy had a heart attack in Dallas, from where he had run the American side of the empire after it was "demerged" from the rest a few years ago.

No one admired the skills of Guy Mascolo more than his slightly older brother. Toni has said of him: "Guy brought the creativity and artistry... while I brought the business sense. I really do believe Guy was the greatest hairdresser that ever lived."

Those skills are in the breeding. The family comes from near Pompeii in southern Italy. Toni's grandfather Giuseppe started doing hairdressing differently back in the 1930s, ignoring tradition by having male and female customers side by side. Unisex salons, to be the hallmark of his grandsons' worldwide business, had arrived.

Then, in 1958, Giuseppe's hairdresser son Franco moved to Britain. His own sons were involved from very young ages. Did Toni, the oldest boy, ever consider doing something different from his father and grandfather?

"I think I would have made a very good accountant or a lawyer. Funnily enough, I now have perhaps a hundred accountants and three top lawyers working for me, and they come to me for advice!" he chuckles.


Start of the empire

It didn't take the young Toni - his real first name is Giuseppe like his grandfather - very long to realise that if he and Guy wanted to make a real success of their family business they needed to start buying up shops. In one of the early ones in south London worked a strikingly pretty young apprentice. Pauline became Toni's wife, and in 2010 they will celebrate 40 years of marriage.

"Of course, money is important," Toni says. "But my wife and my family are the most important things. For everyone, that should always be the most important thing."

Once the shops got going - with other brothers, Bruno and Anthony, also involved - the Mascolos began making serious money.

"Back in 1962, I was earning �70 or �80 a week," says Toni. "You have to remember an average civil servant was probably getting only �12 a week."

Growth came not just from bringing in new styles - like the 'chunky cut' inspired by the TV series Charlie's Angels - the brothers also decided to launch their own hairdressing products. From that came salon and specially-designed IT equipment, the training of vast numbers of up-and-coming hairdressers, expansion into a chain of coffee shops and even Toni & Guy opticians.

The key to the really giddying expansion of the last couple of decades or so has been the franchising of the brand, where local people run their own Toni & Guy branches, all operating to the standards and procedures laid down from the centre. Along the shelves of Toni's airy study at home in Surrey are many awards for being among the best and most recognisable names in the franchise world.

Those awards, and many others relating to hairdressing proper, are the evidence of ambition realised.

"It was always my dream to turn hairdressing into a profession, to give it a career structure," he says. "And we've done it not just here, but in America, in China, in India..."

Perhaps the highest accolade has been the honorary OBE that this Italian citizen received last year. He was thrilled: "Although, I'm Italian, I do feel very British." Only three other honorary OBEs had been handed out.

Of course, business success played its part, but so too did the energy that Toni and Pauline have devoted to helping charities, especially one to equip and run a special children's ward at King's College Hospital in London.


Life in Surrey

And at the heart of it all, never far away from his sprawling house with its gorgeous, highly polished marble floored entrance so reminiscent of an Italian villa, is the Mascolo family.

Pauline herself is now 63, and takes great delight in playing with the grandchildren whose happy shrieks echo close to Toni's study. The couple have three children. Daughter Sacha, 38, is married to James Tarbuck, son of the famous comedian. Sacha is an award-winning hairdresser in her own right, and she and her husband run parts of the organisation. Also heavily involved are Toni's sons, Christian, 37, and Pierre, 30.

When Pauline comes quietly into the study with tea and coffee, he turns to me: "Do you want to talk to her about all this?" "No, no," she says quickly. "Toni, you are the star."

Star, maybe, yet not too grand to drive his own unflashy car to Effingham Junction station to take the train into London. There he prefers the Tube or walking to taking taxis on the days when he goes back to the old job, standing behind his barber's chair and wielding the scissors as he has done for more than half a century.

Before we say goodbye, however, I have to ask him whose hairstyles he particularly admires...

"Helen Mirren has classic, beautiful hair, and so very natural," he says. "And the model Linda Evangelista. She has the rare ability to wear her hair at any length and in any colour. She can keep on reinventing herself."


Favourite styles

The haircutting, the constant deal-making, the dreaming up of new business ideas and the charity commitments leave little room for relaxation. Apart from Toni's beloved Chelsea, run by an Italian manager naturally, he loves clay pigeon shooting, and has found time to start playing golf under the guidance of a local professional, Lee Johnson.

No way, though, will the football, shooting and golf take over.

"I work six or seven days a week. Retirement? Plenty of time to retire when you are in that wooden box."

A final and inevitable question. His head is pretty bald. So it may not be a big task, but who does cut his hair? Toni Mascolo glances down, then looks up with the broadest of smiles and a glance out of the window to where some of his family are enjoying a day in the garden. He replies: "Pauline... of course."


My favourite Surrey

Restaurant: Chinese and Thai are one of my favourite cuisines, and Pauline and I often eat at Rum Wong and the Thai Terrace in Guildford.

Shop: Vernon Antiques, because my wife and I absolutely love antiques.

View: The view from Ranmore Common is breathtaking; it's one of the reasons that I love living in Surrey.

Place to chill: Loseley Park in Guildford is the perfect place to relax and gather my thoughts.

Place to visit: With my busy schedule, I don't often get a chance to appreciate the lovely places there are to visit in England, but when I do, Polesden Lacey and Hampton Court are two of my favourites.