For Richard Dalton, who spent a great deal of time with Princess Diana as her personal hairdresser, the glaring spotlight on the newest “Wives of Windsor”—both Catherine and Meghan—brings back a deluge of memories.
“I met Diana when she was 17,” he told me from his home in Southern California. “I worked at Fenwick of Bond Street’s in-store salon, and cut her sisters’ hair.” Dalton isn't responsible for the young bride's now-iconic flicked and feathered cut. That was his fellow stylist Kevin Shanley, to whom Dalton passed the shy teen. Shanley also styled Diana for her wedding.
But a dustup over a styling for the State Opening of Parliament put the royal locks in Dalton’s capable hands. “I was with her every day for 12 years,” he says. He also gave the young Princes William and Harry their first haircuts.
Dalton remains positively sphinx-like when it comes to sharing anything truly personal about the late princess, even though he moved permanently to the U.S. six years before her death. It is a confidence that he holds out of respect not only to her memory, but to her sons. But when it comes to general matters of royal style, he allows himself to be more open.
Apparently, the princess wanted much shorter, easier hair for an upcoming trip to Africa, but was concerned about what impact a drastic change might have. Their solution was to cut it in imperceptible increments. “Whatever I did to her hair became front page news,” he said. “We had to be very careful. We had to do it one-fourth of an inch at a time over several weeks.”
Watching the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle brought back a flood of memories, along with some unique insights. “Her hair looked very elegant,” he said of the bride. “It not only complemented the gown, but also balanced the tiara and veil.”
“What people don’t realize,” he continued, “is the magnitude of that monarch length veil and the significance of the tiara. It’s a crown jewel, and must be respected and protected. You have to be extremely careful and gentle with it, and absolutely no hairspray or styling product can touch the stones.”
Most poignant were the many subtle nods to Diana that Dalton noticed. “From the vacant chair beside Prince William to Diana’s favorite hymn, ‘Guide Me, O Thy Great Redeemer,’ which was sung at both her wedding to Prince Charles and at her funeral, she was there in many ways. And then there were the flowers—white roses and lily of the valley. Those were her favorites.” (Editor's Note: The chair beside Prince William was left empty because it was in front of the Queen's seat.)
As Diana’s life evolved, so did Dalton’s. Originally from Scotland, he came to London as a young man after winning a scholarship to Vidal Sassoon’s academy. After graduation, he worked for several top salons while also serving as a member of Glemby International’s Creative Team, developing a reputation as an unflappable master of flawlessly elegant hair styling for photo shoots and runway shows during the formative years of London Fashion Week.
In 1981, he became Princess Diana’s personal hairdresser, while simultaneously owning and operating his own salon in Claridge's Hotel. When he was asked to join the princess full-time, including all global tours of duty, he sold the salon and joined her.
For more than a decade, Dalton created looks for the Princess that are now seen as iconic—the jeweled choker as headband in Australia, the controversial retro 1940s roll and, ultimately, the big hair needed to counterbalance the shoulder-padded fashions of 80s, snarkily referred to as “the Dynasty Di years.”
I met Dalton when he was shuttling back and forth between London and New York, having been named creative director of haircare giant Clairol. His Dove Mews flat, on a cobbled cul-de-sac between South Kensington and Chelsea, remains one of the most charming places I have ever seen. Our friendship grew personally and professionally. Not only did Dalton do the hair for all of my Seventh on Sixth runway shows, he was also pressed into service for my youngest sister’s wedding. The marriage didn’t last, but everyone’s hair looked amazing.
Ultimately, the climate and lifestyle of Southern California beckoned and Dalton moved to the left coast. There, he continues to work with ladies in the limelight. Past and present clients include Sophia Loren, Jane Seymour, Barbara Grant, and the late Joan Rivers (along with daughter Melissa). He’s even done Katy Perry, “before she was known as Katy Perry,” he laughs.
But the crowning achievement of his career will always be his years by the side of the extraordinary woman who, had fate not cruelly intervened, could have legitimately worn not just any old crown, but the Crown.
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