How a brave young girl has coped with a devastating condition


‘Annie – the girl who always has a smile on her face’


As a bouncy three-year-old with tumbling blonde curls, Annie was blissfully unaware that her hair had started to fall out, leaving bald patches on her scalp. She was more interested in the day-to-day business of being a playful, adventurous, active little girl. As the hair loss became more noticeable, Annie wore pretty hats and bandanas but was not considered unusual at her small village primary school, where everyone knew everyone and Annie was accepted for the bright, cheerful smiley child she had always been. Very young children, although naturally inquisitive, can be much more concerned with getting on with play than noticing the differences of others and Annie didn’t feel that she was singled out in any way by her peers.


This all changed however when she started at a much larger secondary school at the age of eleven, where children came from other areas and were not so familiar with Annie’s condition. Although Annie did not suffer from being a victim of blatant bullying, she was often the target of questions such as ‘What is under your hat?’, ‘Do you have cancer?’ and ‘Are you going to die?’  If she wore a trendy baseball cap, she would often be called “Sonny” because people would mistake her for a boy. The school responded very well to Annie’s situation by holding a special assembly where the condition of alopecia was explained and discussed. The talk made it clear that Annie was not ill and what she has was not contagious. This helped to satisfy curiosity from her school mates and resulted in a lot more understanding.



Around this time, Annie started to wear wigs, provided by the NHS, but they were never really satisfactory, looking bulky and stiff and far from natural. Added to this they were itchy to wear, especially on a hot day, and the ‘one size fits all’ nature of them was not especially flattering or comfortable. The effort put into the design and fitting of these wigs is especially poor for children. Annie’s mum Ursula took her to London to try and find a solution, but she found what was on offer to be very impersonal and expensive.


Annie is now sixteen and about to start sixth-form at one of Warwickshire’s top schools. For the last two years she has been wearing a good quality, human hair wig that was cut and styled by Neil Harvey, who is based at his salon at The Arden Centre in Little Alne, near Wooton Wawen. Ursula says, ‘Neil Harvey has been a real find because Annie always has the salon and Neil’s full attention to herself. He really cares and takes time and trouble in making sure that everything is spot on.’


With Neil’s help and guidance, Annie’s new look gave her much more confidence, and she was happy that anyone she met would be unaware that she was wearing a wig. Like most teenagers, Annie enjoys a busy social life. She is an accomplished pianist and plays county hockey as well as being an enthusiastic actor in theatre productions – she recently played the part of one of the Vonn-Trapp children in the Sound of Music, where she had to have her hair plaited.


Neil Harvey has nothing but admiration for Annie’s positive approach to her condition, and her determination not to let alopecia interfere with a full and rewarding lifestyle. Neil says, ‘Annie’s zest for life is breathtaking. At a time when teenagers are the most sensitive and aware of their appearance, Annie just gets on with it.’ But Neil was also aware that he could do more to make things easier and as a result, Annie would be able to live life as if she had her own head of hair.


‘I knew that the élan system would suit Annie very well and allow her to be carefree like all her friends with natural hair. With the élan system, she doesn’t have to worry about the normal things, like going swimming, sleep-overs or showering, because élan is just like having a normal head of hair. It is also so much more comfortable to wear, because it is measured and tailor- made for her head’, said Neil.


Annie is delighted with her new élan hair. She says, ‘There are so many advantages that only a ‘wearer’ would appreciate; such as the absolute comfort and lightweight secure fit and feel of something made to your exact requirements. My hair now looks and feels completely natural, it falls and behaves like real hair, and it’s so easy to look after! The curls and movement simply return after shampooing and unlike my old wig, I don’t have to spend ages blow-drying or styling it. It’s great!’


Neil and Annie had lots of fun choosing colours too – they decided on three shades of highlights and lowlights which combine to give a wonderful naturalness of colour – A radiant conker-brown for the underneath hair, a shade of deep-apricot for on top, and then some sun-kissed blonde highlights which Neil has run finely throughout to give it a real lustrous look. When the strands of colour are combined the appearance is stunning.  Neil says ‘The result of matching and blending the colours has worked out really well; we are both extremely pleased with the overall effect.’


The first outing for Annie’s élan hair was at her school prom and Annie’s mum was bursting with pride for her beautiful daughter. Ursula says, ‘Annie was able to get ready with her friends, doing their hair and make up together and it was wonderful for her to be part of what is a very special occasion for teenage girls.’


But we’ll leave the last word to Annie who says, ‘The élan system is fab and so easy to look after. I am totally confident in any situation now, whether out having fun with my friends, or on stage performing in front of an audience. I would say to anyone who has hair loss problems that they should come to see Neil. He’s very knowledgeable about this sort of problem, instils you with total confidence and you get a private consultation every time, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed about discussing your situation in front of a salon full of people.’