Some of you said it with words, paint and song – we loved hearing why you love your natural red hair! Our panel of Eastenders actor Jake Wood, RED HOT photographer Thomas Knights, author Jacky Colliss Harvey, and Kidscape’s CEO Lauren Seager-Smith, have come to their expert decision of the final winners of the £250 prizes: one prize for under-18s, one prize for 18+.
So without further ado, the winners are…
Maisie is aged 14 and from County Durham, UK. She said: “I’m a natural redhead and I have drawn my personal favourite hairstyle which I love. Personally I am so happy and grateful to be born with this gift, and I hope other people embrace their beautiful hair.”
Congratulations to Maisie!
The winner of the 18+ category is Liia Merino, who is aged 45 and from Tallinn, Estonia.
Tallinn: Bonjour, mon coeur! Tallinn is greeting you! How can Paris survive without being on strike for more than a week?
Paris: Hail, oh Queen of the Cloud City! But there we are, some social tensions are happening about 300 metres from my humble castle: the explosions and even a firework was launched towards the policemen last night. This hurly-burly has been going on for the last five nights already.
Tallinn: Looks like you are having lots of fun there. I don’t follow the news much but I guess the lockdown is still in full swing then. But how are you?
Paris: Because all of those idiots I can’t sneak out at night and practice the organ in the church anymore. Every corner is full of policemen. But except the muscle atrophy, everything is fine, thanks. How are you?
Tallinn: Well, with a guitar at home life is much easier. I had yesterday morning Piazzolla and ‘Milonga del Angel’ (with green tea and egg) and in the evening every lute player’s favourite, Bach’s ‘Bourrée’ (with red wine). And last night I dreamed about the story I am writing about for the competition ‘Why I love my natural red hair’. But the picture was in the end so mixed with the chords and notes of ‘Hallelujah’ and floating head of Leonard Cohen that I couldn’t see my own text any longer. This ‘Hallelujah’ song we have to practise in our guitar beginners group, and as I dare not to compete in the music or painting category for this ginger competition, I thought I was going to write about my kindergarten experience, murdered hedgehog, King David and the endless struggles…
Paris: It sounds like a blessed dream!
Tallinn: I’m worried, though. Because of my English.
Paris: Are you really?
Tallinn: Yes, I happen to believe that the most Brits have Shakespeare’s sonnets for breakfast and I can only write in the simple English with mistakes.
Paris: Oh, when you could see how the great scientists here speak broken English you wouldn’t have any fear whatsoever.
Tallinn: All I have is a cold and broken English…and then again, the gingers in Estonia make only 1-3% of the entire population, which is a minority even in the gingers’ minority. In Udmurtia or in Scotland the percentage is 10.
Paris: Haha, in Udmurtia! And did you think out why you love your red hair?
Tallinn: I guess, I know. At least I know that the older I get, the more I do love it. I haven’t dyed them for the last four years and praise every day. Because they look so alive and yes, just beautiful!
But there was a very long period in my life when my ultimate desire was to have blonde hair as the majority of our citizens do.
You know, as newborns we are all so perfect the way we are. But I think the ginger kids are the first ones to experience themselves what it means to be judged just because of their looks – ‘ridiculous’ red hair and ‘sickly’ pale skin – and get into any kind of underdog situations one could only imagine.
Paris: Do you remember anything particular?
Tallinn: I can tell you about my first day in the new kindergarten when I was four years old, and we were new in town. The small nursery lockers in the dressing room, brown linoleum on the floor and the weird smell. And the sunbeams through the windows. The teacher opened the door to the classroom and I was introduced to a whole bunch of children. I had a sponge hedgehog in my hand to be an encouragement but as the teacher noticed it, she told me to put it back into the locker in the dressing room.
It didn’t take too long when one girl (brunette) started to mock me because of my “ugly red hair”. A number of other kids joined her to laugh at me. I managed to stay cool but it wasn’t easy, though. After all, it was my first day there.
In the evening when it was time to go home and I went to my locker to pick up the clothes and my hedgehog, a big black wire poked out of the toy’s belly. It was bent and crooked and the foam was scattered around, but its eyes were still laughing. Now I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Not because I was afraid like in the morning but I was just sad and angry. My true friend was gone.
Paris: Did you know who did that?
Tallinn: It turned out to be the main mocker’s handiwork. The teachers reproved her a little, but not very much either. She was actually never punished. Maybe because of her mother who was the chairman of the local district court.
Paris: Sounds plausible.
Tallinn: Many years later I heard that their own home had been a battlefield during this time.
Paris: It’s often like that. The situation at home is too rough to handle and the pain is too high and one has to give vent to their fury.
Tallinn: So it was. Teasing and mocking started to become everyday business in our kindergarten until one day a brave girl stepped up in my defence. Behold! Her hair seemed to have even deeper shade than mine, while I had a golden hue, she had the strong bronze touch.
From this point on we started to create together the most exciting games and had so strong connection between us that nobody dared even to laugh at me.
Even the kindergarten’s terrible meals and the obligatory bedtime in the afternoon weren’t so bad anymore. Of course, except this time when I had to stand for the punishment in the corner for a while: in my undies and in the dressing room while the other kids were sleeping. I hadn’t been obedient enough, while rejecting the sauerkraut soup in the lunchtime and speaking before the bedtime.
Paris: At least you didn’t have to sleep that day! But I remember those meals from my kindergarten as well, not exactly a gourmet experience.
Tallinn: Only my ginger friend had the courage to come and comfort me that day.
Actually we were so “identical” that some townspeople considered us to be twins and many asked my mother why is a strange man walking with me on the street when in reality it was my friend’s father with her walking on the street.
To tell the truth, our fathers were rarely spotted, too. Her father was a sailor and spent most of his time at the Gulf of Bothnia. My father on the other hand spent most of his time in a boozer called ‘Vietnam’ where the sea was only knee-deep, as they say.
Paris: The mums were not so happy.
Tallinn: That’s true. My father’s recurring cures for alcoholism didn’t help him and when I was eight, my parents got divorced and we moved with my mother to the countryside. Guess what? All the ‘carrot’-game started all over again. The loathing towards divorced women and their children was in the countryside particularly clearly expressed. Also in the school. They mocked my hair and called me vain. Also some lines to remember: “The parents of gingers have rusty instruments”, and “The gingers are sluts”.
Paris: What an array of expressions! Did you do anything against it?
Tallinn: Honestly, at one point I was just too tired and bitter. In the teenage years, however, I ‘discovered’ how to disguise my alleged ugliness because “people want to communicate with the eye-pleasing people”, and I became more and more obsessed with the power of make-up. So I started hiding myself under the almighty camouflage. I was constantly on the quest for the foundation called ‘Ballet’, my Holy Grail. A mission quite impossible in the Soviet-time.
I did my best to look like a ‘normal’ person. When the other girls used the make-up to emphasise their beauty, then for me it was the first and most important thing to hide my quick temper (a serial blusher) and to beguile the invisible eyebrows and lashes into the visible ones. At home my stepfather said that all my make-up was plainly ugly and my mother wondered how could anybody be so vain at all but in reality I was just too embarrassed. What can you do!
Paris: I guess, it was a long road before you started to accept you as you are now.
Tallinn: Oh, tell me! It’s a lifelong process. Slowly but surely I rediscover and acknowledge my own wonderfulness and greatness (and of course, gingerness!). See, this hair colour is so unique that I can even pour my heart out for the competition.
I think these endless ups and downs have built a solid ground how one could evolve into an exceptional human being. And now I can only be thankful to my parents because of these often so painful lessons. Because of these inner struggles and the constant mental workout I can finally say goodbye to all of those poisonous thoughts which I’ve heard for so many decades. But of course, there are days when I am just too tired and devastated from it all.
Paris: I feel for you but at the same time I wonder what is your connection with King David. Do you talk about this shepherd who fought with Goliath? Don’t tell me he was a ginger as well!
Tallinn: You know, I just can’t have enough of the Bible stories! No, I’m kidding, they are quite cruel to me. Still interesting.
But I bumped into the story of David and Goliath seemingly occasionally. We had to learn in our guitar group the chords of ‘Hallelujah’ but I couldn’t remember the rhythm and melody correctly, so I listened the song over and over again. And yet still in trouble. So I started reading the lyrics to memorise the melody. It turned out I couldn’t understand much of this message: What ‘secret chord’? Which David? So I did another research and found an interview in Rolling Stone magazine about the background of this song. Ah, this David, the God’s chosen one! The story of David and Goliath! So I read it and the first thing I noticed: David was just another ginger who was mocked because of his hair and because he was so little. And this happened about a thousand years ago.
As we all know, the young and agile shepherd outsmarted the giant using a slingshot – and off with Goliath’s head! The rest is history as they say: David became a king.
Paris: Looks like it’s the fate of the gingers.
Tallinn: Yes, maybe with less blood, but indeed we have to prove our special spiritual power before we can earn some respect: play some secret chord, shoot some slingshot…
But all in all, I think every ginger can become a king or queen in their own kingdom of thoughts despite their hair colour or sometimes for this very reason. Because red is power. And love.
Paris: I raise my Matcha chawan to the success of all your endeavours!
Tallinn: Thanks, your venerable!
Congratulations to Liia!
The Jack Brealey Prize is named after the father of Dr Marc Brealey, who wanted to set up an arts competition in his father’s name in association with anti-bullying charity Kidscape.
Marc said of his father: “Jack was a professional artist, an art lecturer and keen motorcyclist. He often alluded to the fact that he felt self-conscious about having bright red hair – almost as if it were a bane. It saddened me somewhat to hear such a lovely man recall these experiences as if he were somehow outlandish – simply for having red hair.
“Thus, my ambition is that for those of you who had red hair given to you by nature should be rewarded and not punished – rewarded for having such a splendid manifestation bestowed upon you. As redheads you need to celebrate the fact that you are wonderful works of nature, something special, and in every case aesthetically pleasing. As redheads you are rare specimens, therefore you should regard yourselves as something exquisitely remarkable and beautiful – a unique gift bestowed upon the world by mother nature.”
Thanks to all of you who entered the competition – we loved hearing why you love your natural red hair!