Out of the six nominees for this year's Afro Hairdresser Of The Year award (part of the Hairdressers Journal annual awards), only one of them, George Paterson, is not based in London.
His salon, Paterson SA, is not in Manchester, or Liverpool, or any other city with a large black community.
Paterson is based in Edinburgh, not exactly known for its black population (the 1991 census put it at 1,155 out of a total of 429,120). The other surprising thing about Paterson, who has been nominated for this award four times, is that he is white.
"I loved working with Afro hair at the shows," says Paterson, explaining how he first became interested. "Eventually, I felt that if we were going to do it at all, we should offer the full service - not just styling, but the technical aspects as well." So he sent some members of his team to Manchester to train.
"To start with, we had a hard time just finding models," he says, and there was a mixed response from his colleagues. "I was challenged by a couple of black hairdressers at an awards ceremony. People were suspicious, assuming we didn't really know how to treat Afro hair and that we were just jumping on a bandwagon. We had to spend time winning their confidence and proving that we did know what we are doing."
Attracting black clientele also took time: "We had to slowly build up their trust. Black customers would come to us out of curiosity, and because there was no other upmarket salon in Edinburgh that did black hair. They'd realise we knew what we were doing, and came back with friends and family, then suddenly we had a big client base."
The initial suspicion is understandable. I've had one too many bad experiences with white hairdressers who said they could deal with my hair. They'd put me in the most prominent seat of the salon and, one by one, virtually every stylist would rummage through my hair, telling me how curly it was, usually just before producing a brush (a brush!), at which point I would have to explain to these "experts" the finer points of finger combing. So, good luck to Paterson, and others like him. The more white hairdressers that bother to learn how to treat black hair, the better.