TUNBRIDGE WELLS HAIR SALON OWNER LEIGH ROBERTS TELLS US WHY HIS TEAM, SALON AND STYLE ARE A CUT ABOVE…
What’s your professional background?
I’ve worked locally, I’ve worked in London and I very nearly ended up living and working in Paris but decided against it to open my own salon here in Tunbridge Wells. I’ve been a colour specialist for 30 years now, and I still love it. I’ve also spent a lot of my career teaching, whether that be mentoring apprentices or presenting demonstrations and seminars.
How long ago did you open the salon, and what made you decide to open?
I opened the salon with my business partner Karen in 2002. We wanted to open a truly independent salon and give my team a freedom to develop their own personalities without dictating their creativity. I’ve worked in the big corporate salon chains and felt the time was right for me to do something a bit more bespoke and individual.
It took more than two years to find the perfect premises, but we were so lucky to find the building we have. The location is perfect – right next to the station which our London clientele appreciate, great parking right next door, a huge bonus in Tunbridge Wells, and a discreet location. We really didn’t want to be somewhere too obvious, our clients appreciate discretion. The big plus is that we bought the freehold which was the cornerstone of our overall business plan, and it puts us in a very strong position. Long leases plus high rent and rates kill off all too many businesses in Tunbridge Wells.
What’s been your career highlight?
I don’t think that there is any one thing in particular. I’ve had a rewarding career, I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve won some awards which I’m grateful for but I don’t crave the recognition they bring. All in all I’m just happy that through my own hard work I’ve been successful and able to provide for my family. There’s something inherent in a man to want to do that. My wife and son will always be the most important things in my life.
You’re known as ‘King of the Blondes’ – how did you get that nickname?
The Times newspaper did a feature on me years ago for their supplement. At the time I was working with quite a lot of high-profile clients and many of them happened to be blonde. They used the headline ‘An interview with in-demand colourist Leigh Roberts A.K.A King of the Blondes’… I hated it at the time, but it kind of stuck. I don’t really mind it now, although ironically I’m much more of a brunette man.
You’ve recently made some big changes at the salon – what’s new, and what was the thought behind the updates?
Tunbridge Wells is changing, and the best time to change is before you need to. We recognised that there has been a huge shift in design and we wanted to lead from the front; to do something new, fresh and different.
The ‘new cool’ in design is rooted in tradition but is also eclectic and contemporary; there’s always some original art or an unexpected splash of colour to keep the eye entertained. We loved the look of salons in places like Shoreditch and the whole design direction of Soho House who are embracing an altogether more indulgent and expressive look. We needed to become a purveyor of all cool things.
With black smoked mirrors, original 1930s lamps, a bespoke metal-dipped reception desk, bottle-green tiling and the coolest loo you’ll ever see, the salon has been designed to be a visually impressive and inspiring space for our clients and staff alike.
What’s the best part of your job?
Teaching. Taking in young apprentices, mentoring them and watching them grow. It’s the most satisfying thing to pass your knowledge on to the next generation. There are people I’ve taught working all over the world and doing really well for themselves.
I have a guy called James at the salon who I took on a few years ago as my apprentice and through his hard work has developed himself into a fantastic young colourist in his own right. Charlotte as well, a really talented young stylist who is really growing into her role. That makes me proud.