Celebrating 30 Years Of Hooker & Young

2021 is a bottle popping year for hair heroes and friends of Luxe, Gary Hooker and Michael Young. After an unusual year in business, we’re catching up with the creative duo to celebrate 30 years of Hooker & Young.
Celebrating 30 Years Of Hooker & Young

A trip to see the hairdressing pair is always a joy, and while we’re having to settle with a Zoom chat in the midst of a national lockdown, there’s no compromise when it comes to their boundless energy.

A catch up with Gary and Michael is an instant mood-booster. Throw in a successful business, a stunning home and a happy pack of pooches, and there’s plenty to love. All of that, plus awards and accolades, side-splitting stories from their travels and a hairdressing team to be proud of.

2021 marks 30 years of Gary and Michael and 25 years of Hooker & Young as a salon group; both incredible achievements and remarkable journeys with the North East being at the very heart of the intertwined success stories.

So before we revel in all things silver and pearl, Elysia Fryer sits down for a virtual cuppa with the hairdressing greats…

“I’m not even sure where to start when looking back at the last year, never mind the last 30 years,” says Michael.

“The lockdown period has given us the chance to reflect on what has been an incredibly successful journey, but also an incredible year for us as a business.”

“Not forgetting a couple of interesting setbacks,” Gary butts in, laughing.

“Of course,” Michael smiles.

I picked up the phone to arrange a meeting with Gary and Michael in early January, to learn that, to the very day (almost to the minute) just after the turn of the New Year, Michael broke his leg at home – the exact same accident Gary had the previous year on New Year’s Eve.

“I mean, can you actually believe that happened?” Gary smirks.

“Same leg and everything!” he adds.

“I think one of our friends actually said on the phone, ‘Happy New Year – at least there’s no broken legs this year’, then literally an hour later, we’re in the back of an ambulance.”

“You couldn’t write it,” says Michael.

“Anyway,” he continues.

“Back to business. We actually ended last year on a high because we won three major industry awards.

“Sophie from our Gosforth salon won Colour Genius, Jonathan from Jesmond won North Eastern Hairdresser of the Year, and in December we were crowned Hairdresser of the Year at the Fellowship Awards. So the last three months of 2020 were crazy positive.”

“It was great, and a fantastic way to mark our 25th year in business and 30th year as a couple,” says Gary.

“Of course, we would have loved nothing more than to celebrate with our team – a large part of winning is the glory on the night – but that’s just the way it is, it doesn’t take away from the pride.”

Being recognised as Fellowship British Hairdresser of the Year is a biggie for the boys, and the business as a whole.

Rather than submitting a set of photographs and being judged on what panellists see in front of them, The Fellowship Awards are based on contributions to the industry; and it’s safe to say their contributions haven’t gone unnoticed this last year.

Faced with a global pandemic, Gary and Michael pivoted in any way they could, setting up support groups for clients and staff, and hosting a weekly podcast with Schwarzkopf.

“It was tough going trying to think of fresh content every week,” Michael admits. “Without talking about COVID,” adds Gary.

“But it was really great and a fantastic way to engage with our audience and those in the hairdressing world, who were suddenly deprived of the day job, like many others in business.

“We are delighted to be the first northerners to have ever won Fellowship Hairdresser of the Year. It took us 25 years to win it, but all good things come to those who wait.”

The couple, who evidently haven’t fallen short of success over the years, have earned every single piece of positive feedback and recognition – with gusto. Not only are they incredibly talented as individuals and as a creative duo, but their brand sits on a global stage while remaining loyal to its North East roots – and that’s what we’re all about at Luxe!

What is so incredibly fascinating about the pair is that the day job has taken them to all four corners of the globe, meeting with – and indeed becoming – the best of the best, but home is where the heart is, and there’s no taking that away from them. Some call them the ‘Ant and Dec of the hairdressing world’ and we couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

“We have been offered so many opportunities in amazing five star hotels in Spain, residencies in London – all sorts of things – but we’ve always been more than happy with what we have here in the region,” Gary explains.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are very wowed by it all, but it’s never really appealed to us – we love where we live.”

“For a time, people were so London-centric,” Michael starts.

“The general consensus was that if you wanted to go into fashion, beauty or hairdressing – and make it big – people thought that if you weren’t in London, it wasn’t going to happen.

“So I guess, on the back of that, we always felt like we had something to prove. Yes, we spent a lot of our time in the capital and travelling from country to country, but moving away and opening new salons out of the area just wasn’t for us.

“In fact, when we were down on the Quayside doing this very photoshoot, we were on the bridge and I was looking around thinking, ‘We’ve worked in so many beautiful cities like New York, Paris and Moscow, but it doesn’t get much better than this!’.

“When we did a tour of Australia, I remember getting to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and thinking, ‘It’s our bridge… what’s all the fuss about?’” Gary laughs.

“Yes, we love to travel – when time allows – but nothing beats home. We are lucky to have a house in Spain, but the North East will always be our base. We’ve got all of our dogs here after all!”

We laugh at the thought of Gary and Michael upping sticks with their furry family of 15 and piling into a flat in Mayfair.

“Oh gosh, can you imagine?” Michael laughs.

“I think we’d bring the house prices down in the area,” Gary adds.

The very heart of the Hooker & Young brand, and indeed for Gary and Michael as a couple, lies in their commitment to the North East – and of course, to each other. Working so well together in a creative way is a blessing, and that is how they found success in the hairdressing world.

“We’ve never actually worked in a salon next to each other,” Michael explains.

“Gary has always joked about it, saying there’s no way he could do it, but we definitely could.”

“As long as I was the boss…” Gary cuts in. “Oh, so this is when it becomes a problem,” Michael laughs.

“But seriously, we’re the best of friends, so we bicker and disagree a lot, but creatively, we’ve got the same eye.

“We were once on a UK roadshow and had this idea that we would cross-over with our models half-way through the show. I would finish his head of hair and he would finish mine. It was just to show people how connected we were creatively. Normally, a hairdresser wouldn’t let anybody else finish the head of hair they were working on because you just have a very different creative process. You take complete ownership of your work, but because there’s no barriers with us, it just works.”

A relationship and business built on trust is the perfect recipe for success, but Gary and Michael trump that with the ability to ensure they can be spontaneous and have a laugh with it – evident in their fleeting travels, their party lifestyle and their ever-evolving family of four-legged friends.

Gary and Michael are serious about hairdressing. They’re serious about ensuring they do everything they can to keep that family force at the workplace. But one thing they don’t do is take themselves too seriously. Fun is at the forefront of their flourishing business – and any stylist or client will back them up on this.

Something they have embraced as part of their business culture, as well as in their personal lives, from day one. With ‘fun’ in mind, let’s take it back to the beginning…

“Gary is obviously a bit older than me,” Michael starts.

“I think she’s probably guessed!” adds Gary.

“So when I went into hairdressing, Gary was already riding on the crest of a wave. He had a couple of Saks salons in Newcastle and I went to work for them as a junior apprentice. We didn’t know each other at this point, but we had both been working for the same company.

“I’d been there for two years but I’d never actually met Gary. As chance would have it, we came across each other in a nightclub.” “We did actually meet before that at a salon opening,” Gary adds.

“He was absolutely the most obnoxious person I had ever met! I now realise he was just shy.”

“You can definitely cop a bit of bad press if you’re shy. People think you’re not getting involved in conversation because you think you’re better than everybody else, so maybe that’s where that came from,” Michael suggests.

So, it wasn’t the greatest first meeting?

“No, apparently not!” Michael laughs.

“I did think you were cute though,” Gary adds.

“Oh, well that’s good to know,” says Michael.

“About a year later, our eyes met in a nightclub, but neither of us spoke, and that was it. This was back in the day when there was no social media; if you liked the look of somebody, you just had to hope and pray that they would be in the same place the following week.

“On the Monday morning, I was booked to go and work in the salon on Northumberland Street, which was Gary’s salon.

“When I got there, I went up to the staff room. Gary was in there with his back to me, holding court while the girls were sitting there having their morning coffee and talking about what they had done over the weekend. Gary chirps up to tell them about this guy that he’d seen on a night out. He turned around, saw me and realised that the person he had just been telling them about was standing in his salon!

“He ignored me all day. So, actually, you were the obnoxious one Gary!

“Shortly afterwards we arranged a date and the rest is history.”

After a good stint at various Saks salons across the region, Gary and Michael were officially a couple and came across some creative differences between themselves and the salon group.

“When we left Saks there was a clause in the contract that said we weren’t allowed to work together, so Gary continued to work at the Gosforth Park salon and changed the name to Gary Hooker Hairdressing. At the same time, one of my clients had offered up a salon inside a health club called Ivy Court in Jesmond. We spoke about it and decided it was perfect, so I opened a salon called Michael Young Hairdressing.

“When we first left, we were living together and we had these two salons – one called Gary Hooker Hairdressing and one called Michael Young Hairdressing.”

“It was ridiculous really, looking back on it,” Gary says.

“But it only went on like that for about a year or so.”

When the contract was up, it was time for their next chapter. The pair decided to stick with the Gary Hooker Hairdressing name and continued to operate out of both salons in Gosforth and Jesmond, but the pages were still turning… at least in Michael’s head.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Michael starts.

“We went on safari in Kenya and we were sitting one night having dinner. It was like proposing to somebody because I knew that I wanted to ask him how he would feel about changing the name to Hooker & Young.

“My heart was in my mouth, but I knew it had to be done, I just didn’t know how he was going to take it. The last thing I wanted was to sound like I was being disrespectful or precious. I just knew where we were going as a couple and it seemed like the right thing in my head.

“I asked him and straight away he came back with, ‘Na man, it sounds like a solicitors!’”

“There was a big conversation about whether we were going to do it,” Gary continues.

“Obviously, in my heart I knew it was the right thing to do, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it was going to come up, but when he asked me it did come as a bit of a shock. It was all getting very serious.”

At the time, Gary Hooker Hairdressing had a great name. Why fix what isn’t broken was the question on everybody’s lips, but the couple decided to take the plunge and have never looked back.

“We were at that stage where we were competing against each other at the British Hairdressing Awards. It just seemed ridiculous. The decision we made to join forces was the best thing we ever did,” says Gary.

“It took years for people to think of us as one person though,” he adds.

“We had to make sure we never went anywhere without each other. If we did a show, we did it together. If we did a seminar, we did it together. We were a bit like a double act.

“It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about him, it was about Hooker & Young the brand.”

The first big Hooker & Young business decision came in the millennium when the pair decided to relocate the Jesmond salon to Clayton Road.

“At that stage, if I’m really honest, we never really had any aspiration to be a multi-salon group. We had two busy salons, Gary headed up one, I headed up the other, and we were really, really happy,” Michael explains.

“The continued growth of the brand was all based around people. We’ve got such amazing longevity with staff. Hairdressing is notorious for people moving around a lot. It doesn’t happen with us. We would get people straight out of school, they’d train with us, they’d earn their stripes, and then they would be ready to be a stylist. The two salons that we had were quite small, so the only way we were ever going to be able to grow our team and give these people careers, was to open more sites.

“It was very organic and it happened because we didn’t want to let people go and turn people away who had star potential.” Next up came the Wynyard salon.

“We moved and lived in Wynyard for a while because we had a lot of friends down there, and as this was all going on a site came up for sale,” says Gary.

“We had staff from the Teesside area, so for them, the natural progression was to go and head up the Wynyard salon. It just slotted in perfectly.”

“There was a little bit of a pattern forming in that we had these luxury salons in affluent, residential areas,” adds Michael. Then came the next Hooker & Young venture…

“We were good friends with Tom and Jocelyn Maxfield, who set up Seaham Hall. I remember Jocelyn inviting us for dinner and telling us about this amazing spa. There was going to be nothing like it, not just in the region, but across the country,” Michael explains.

“We were really excited about it, and when they showed us the space they wanted to let us have as a salon, it was just a no brainer.

“The Sunday Times dubbed it the ‘best spa on the planet’, Wallpaper* magazine said it was ‘the most incredible space’.

“We often tried to get the London beauty press up to Newcastle for a ‘hair day with Gary and Michael’, but trying to convince people to come up north, when they all thought it was going to be like a scene from Emmerdale Farm, was just impossible.

“Once our hair spa in Seaham Hall started winning all of these awards, we had them queuing up to come and see us. We had the beauty editors from Tatler, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar – we were hosting them all and we were just loving every minute of it.

“All of this really put us on the map in the beauty and fashion industry.

“Seven years later, when Tom and Jocelyn sold it, that signified our departure. It was bye bye Seaham Hall.

“Paul Ferguson, who managed the Seaham salon for us, had already been with us for about 10 years. He needed a new challenge
– we had lost a salon, so we were looking for something new, and that’s when we decided to look at Ponteland. We wanted to do it in partnership with Paul.”

After pondering the prospect of a new salon just a short distance from Gosforth and Jesmond, the pair decided that it was best to become their own competition rather than having to compete with other new businesses.

“Ponteland was an overnight success,” explains Gary.

“The buzz and momentum it brought when we started teasing it was just incredible. Everybody was talking about it.

“When the traffic lights outside were on red, people were going into the back of cars as they were staring into the salon. We’ve never seen such quick success, we thought, ‘this is easy this!’”

“Everything just fell into place. The timing was right and the site was perfect,” Michael adds.

“The staff who started on that day are all still there,” says Gary.

“When people ask, ‘What is one of your biggest achievements?’, of course there are many, but I would definitely have to say I feel so proud of our team. We’ve nurtured such an incredible group of people who feel the same way about us as we do about them,” Michael smiles.

“We’ve managed to create this family unit where they all just love each other. There’s just a real warmth to it.”

The friendships formed amongst staff is something that has been passed on by the way in which Gary and Michael work together. That, paired with the neighbourhood feel and the true ‘luxe’ nature of the salons, makes Hooker & Young a jewel in the North East’s crown.

While business has boomed in the region over the years, Gary, Michael and their teams have jetted off in style, making their way around the hairdressing world – quite literally.

“We’ve probably been to most parts of the world now. We’ve done tours in Australia, we worked a lot in America, we’ve been to Russia…” Gary starts.

“Whichever product manufacturer we are working with – we were with Clynol for 10 years, then we were with Matrix for 10 years, and now we’re into our sixth year with Schwarzkopf Professional – we represent their brand on a national and international level,” explains Michael.

“We were global ambassadors for Matrix, now we are international ambassadors with Schwarzkopf. Because of that, you get to represent them on a global stage, so they might say, ‘We’ve got a new colour launch in Australia and they’ve asked if you guys will head it up.’

“That did happen, so we went to Australia for four weeks, where we were part of a huge choreographed show. We toured with the models – I guess it’s like a musician touring with the same backing dancers.

“We did shows in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne – we were flying from state to state. It’s brilliant, you feel like a bit of a rockstar.”

“You don’t get much sleep and you don’t even know where you are half of the time, but we love it,” Gary adds.

“The Matrix HQ is in New York, so we spent quite a lot of time over there when we were working with them as ambassadors. You just end up living this international life, it’s great,” says Michael.

“Getting flown into places like Moscow to do a show is just amazing. The last time we were there they asked if we would do the main stage show at the Russian Hairdressing Awards.”

“Now we’re talking about things, so many amazing memories are cropping up for me,” Gary remembers.

“A few years ago I had a major operation on my hip and we were booked in to do a job in Oman. I didn’t think I would be able to do it because I was still in a wheelchair.

“Come to think of it, I feel like I’ve spent my life in a wheelchair lately!

“Anyway, they came back and said, ‘How about if we fly you first class?’, so of course we said, ‘Oh alright, that’ll do!

“On the way home there were only eight seats in first class and the other six people were from The Rolling Stones. We were sitting next to Mick Jagger!”

It doesn’t get more rockstar than that, right? “It really doesn’t,” Michael laughs.

“We have to pinch ourselves sometimes. “Although hairdressing is the job that we love and it has given us an amazing life, it’s also given us so much more – so many memories and experiences that we would never have had access to.”

“And being able to do it together has been really special,” Gary adds.

“If there are any people reading this and thinking about doing it, it’s got such a lot to offer as an industry,” says Michael.

“It’s not just about standing behind a chair cutting hair – it opens up so many opportunities.

“How many industries give you the opportunity to travel internationally, be on stage, be on the telly, and truly love what you do? It’s just ridiculous the amount of boxes we’ve ticked that have all been achieved through hairdressing.”

So, we’ve been on the colourful journey of Hooker & Young – from star-crossed lovers in a Newcastle club, to jet-setting superstar hairdressers – but throw in a pandemic and a whole load of challenges (with two good legs between them!), what is next for the business?

“Before the pandemic hit, we were talking about opening another salon with a bigger offering,” explains Gary.

“It seems everytime we pick the project back up again, we’re faced with another lockdown, so we decided we would reconvene after Christmas.

“Of course, January arrived and we were put in another lockdown, so this project that could’ve been open a year ago, just keeps on getting delayed, but we spoke about it recently and have decided that we both very much want to do it when we can.

“We’re not getting any younger, and we never really thought that we would open another site, so I do believe that this will be the last one that we open, so for that reason, we want it to be the ultimate Hooker & Young salon.”

“Everything we’ve learnt over the last 30 years, we want to put into this salon.

“We want to implement all of the things we know will make it a success.”

“Think of it as a new addition with a bigger offering – covering hair, beauty, aesthetics and retail,” says Michael.

“And a champagne bar when we’re allowed!” Gary adds.

“Now you’re talking! All I’ll say is watch this space…” Michael smiles.

On reflection, despite not being able to celebrate with the team and bask in all the glory of a big, glitzy hairdressing event, 2020 was a time to reflect on what has been an incredibly successful 30 years as a couple and 25 years in business.

“I think this last year has definitely given us the time we needed to reflect,” says Michael.

“I’m my own worst enemy; I take too much on and end up causing myself massive stress and anxiety because I’m spinning plates – but I’ll never let myself become that person again. I still want to do everything that we were doing, but it’s just about time management and a better work-life balance.”

“It’s been hard for me because I hate not doing anything,” Gary adds.

“I never spend time in my own home. I want to be out doing things – travelling, socialising, showing dogs – so I’ve been forced to enjoy my own space, and we’ve actually got on really well with it.

“He’s kept me busy because I’ve been rushing around nursing him recently!

“I nursed you through the first lockdown with your leg, don’t forget, so it was my turn,” Michael cuts in, laughing.

As the country starts to wake up from its turbulent lockdown slumber, Gary and Michael have their eyes set firmly on their local haunts – the first places they’ll be heading to celebrate with staff when time allows.

”Do you know what? Our go-to restaurants tend to be all of Terry Laybourne’s places – St. Vincent, 21, Saltwater Fish Company and Porterhouse Butcher and Grill,” Michael says. “Locally, we go to Fratellis and The Blackbird in Ponteland,” adds Gary.

“That is one of the things we miss the most. Whizzing home every night, calling the Ponteland salon and popping to The Blackbird for a drink and a bite to eat. The spontaneity of it all is what we’re craving right now.

“We just can’t wait to get our big family back together, doing what we do best.”


hookerandyoung.co.uk

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