Whatever happened to session stylist Keith Harris

I actually know the answer to that question, read on:

 

About six months ago I came across an Instagram account for Internationally renowned, freelance session hairstylist and consultant, Keith Harris…. Find it at keithharrishair

I started following the page and them sent Keith a message, we have known each other a long time, from way back when Keith was a guest artist for Wella Professionals and regularly came up to the Wella Edinburgh Studio to deliver educational, informative and inspiring seminars, so it felt right that I got in touch as I had often wondered about whatever had happened to him.

We have been communicating via Instagram ever since and I had asked Keith if he would be willing to be interviewed for mrhaircare. He said yes, much to my delight, and at long last we managed to meet up last week at Alison Jameson Consultants offices here in Edinburgh. Thank you, Alison, for letting us use your office space (Keith and Alison are long-time friends)

Prior to meeting I’d sent the usual set of questions that everyone who agrees to be interviewed receives, from which we either put together the post via a skype chat, over the phone, in person or by email.

But what follows is not the normal interview, it’s not what I was expecting to write, but Keith’s story genuinely moved me and it deserves to be shared far and wide. This is a remarkable tale of strength and courage in dark times and an absolute passion to get back to doing what Keith loves doing best…. Hair.

It’s a long read so I suggest you go make a coffee, or grab a glass of wine, sit down and make yourself comfortable and read at your leisure.

I hope this inspires you as much as it has me.

 

 

It’s fair to say that Keith has been out of the limelight. We lost touch when I left Wella but I followed his career with interest, and then about 7 years ago he just seemed to vanish. I thought he’d probably found himself some fabulously wealthy, stunning super model who had been dazzled by his talent, wit and charm …. But no, the truth is something completely different. Here is what Keith told me.

Keith told me that back in 2011 he was on a trip to NYC. During the flight he felt unwell. When he landed he took himself off to stay with a cousin and proceeded to spend the next 5 days on the sofa, because as he says “I couldn’t move”.

When eventually managing to get up and going along to see a doctor who gave him anti-biotics because he was told he had a bacterial infection, it was nothing serious or to worry about.

Moving on…. Because there was a consistent pain in his throat and following on from the NYC episode and after seeing 5 doctors in 5 months in Italy, in desperation he was taken to see the top throat surgeon [in Italy] who gave him 6 weeks to live. The biopsy he had taken, showed throat cancer and the type it was would not respond to any chemotherapy.

Keith went on to say “Like most people, I didn’t know much about [cancer] but I was not one to give in, and I certainly was not wanting to die in 6 weeks…. I had my boys to take care of, so I opted for surgery, invasive surgery that took 11.5 hours to complete, but it was the only option. Having always held everyone in the medical profession in the highest regard this really was the only thing I was going to do and I trusted their judgement.

I was told that I would never speak again, would not be able to eat ever again, and would have to get my daily intake of nourishment through a tube. Ultimately, my two boys saved me, My father died when I was eight and I did not want my boys growing up through their teenage years without a daddy. It was that thought that drove me on, I didn’t want to leave them and let them down, everyone deserves to have a loving Mum and Dad”.

After speaking with a very close friend Trevor Leighton about cancer, he calmed Keith down, especially about the radio-therapy which he was about to undertake. That was the total amount of research carried out, speaking to one of his closest friends.

The surgeons rebuilt the inside of his throat and mouth.  Then there was (what he thought was) 5 weeks of radio-therapy. In actual fact it was 6 weeks. After the 4th week the pain was unbearable but sticking with it was the only option, however, that last week was one of the most challenging of his life.

Just as he thought everything was over and done with after the radiotherapy, a pain started in the jaw, putting it down to all that happened it was ignored until it became more excruciating and Keith had to go back and see what was happening.

The jawbone had been burnt during the radio-therapy and was literally breaking away. The surgeon who carried out the examination pulled something from his mouth, Keith thought it was a piece of food that had got stuck and was causing the pain, it was actually a piece of his jawbone. The surgeon said, “it was the radiotherapy that cooked the bone”. This, of course meant more surgery, and if it didn’t happen septicaemia would set in and … well basically, death would be the only outcome.

Another mammoth11-hour operation, this time a shin bone removed from the leg and a piece of metal and thigh muscle carved together to create a new jawbone, Keith recalls that’s when he was told he’d never walk again! No walking, no talking, no eating, he wanted to say ‘F*** the lot of you, I will do this’, he refused to accept this.

Lots of memories about this time are vague, he was told the surgeon had 10 people working alongside him and they all looked like Italian movie stars, George Clooneyesque lookalikes and one very beautiful girl who he later repaid his gratitude to her with a haircut!

Unfortunately, from the surgery he slipped into a coma for 4 – 6 months, and because where the bone was removed had become gangrenous and the last rites were administered twice.

Keith recalled waking up, chained to the bed (he later find out) for constantly trying to pull out the tubes and instruments keeping him alive, at one point he haemorrhaged and fortunately a doctor who was passing by had to put his hand down his throat to stop the bleeding. He didn’t know why he was chained up, he wasn’t aware but it was explained to him by his son Ryan, it was because he kept trying to free himself from the equipment.

For over 12 months, (1 year and 17 days to be exact) Keith was hospitalised, thinking about what was happening and how it wasn’t going to defeat him, so as soon as was able he started the long, arduous process of learning to walk again. Crutches were best friends and now almost 7 years later he can walk without the aid of a stick (although still carrying one), jogging on the spot is also a regular occurrence now. Keith states “I consider learning to walk again to be one my all-time greatest achievements. I was, and still am absolutely driven to be fully better and now I can talk and walk and eat…. All because I needed to get through this for my boys”.

One recollection whilst all this was happening, there was a lot of political stuff going on with the British government refusing to pay for treatments etc, but after much communication between different professional bodies in the UK and Italy everything was sorted.

At the end of June 2018 Keith Harris will be 7 years cancer free and there isn’t a day goes by that he doesn’t feel gratitude and thanks for being given this chance to start again… and that’s why Keith Harris Mk2 is definitely happening.

Without giving too much away, there is the possibility of a documentary being produced by an Italian film company that will hopefully share his story with anyone interested enough to want to see it, (that’s all of us, right!!)

Likewise, the story of Keith’s journey is very long so I hope you find this ‘condensed’ interview of interest, “it’s a very personal story and Emil is the first person I have shared it with for the purpose of being published” says Keith.

The next venture has already started, there is a desire to bring something new to the world of hair, so watch this space.

In the meantime, please check out my Instagram ‘archive’ page @Keithharrishair, I would be thrilled if you started following me.

What am I doing in readiness for Keith Harris Mk2?

*Building up a library of new material.

*To relaunch KH Mk2 I am thinking along the lines of ‘Old Git’ reimagined.

*The plan is to be ‘good to go’ in November so watch this space.

 

Note from Emil. As I stated this is not the normal kind of interview but this story of sheer dogged determination to survive against all the odds really inspired me. I hope you feel the same, and I for one look forward to seeing what the next chapter of Keith Harris, Session Stylist extraordinaire brings. For those of you who have checked out Keith’s Instagram account you will see there are literally hundreds of images. We discussed at length using some here but ultimately the story is powerful in its own right, we will leave the archive till the next time because we will do a follow up with the ‘normal’ kind of interview questions. The 5 you find in this blog post are my personal faves.