There were passengers who thought nothing of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds for prime accommodation on the QE2’s world cruises. For these regulars, the liner became a home-away-from-home on which they would spend four months of each year. One of these was Mr Goldberg, a ghastly name-dropper who had, after his wife passed away, married her nurse – in fact, he and the nurse had come onto the ship at Fort Lauderdale and got married on board; I was responsible for the hair for that wedding.
Over eight of the years I worked on the QE2, Mr Goldberg forked out for eight penthouses every year – for himself, his wife and his business manager. I once asked the second Mrs Goldberg why they needed eight penthouses for just the three of them. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we have a castle on the Isle of Wight and a mansion in Florida, so we’re used to a lot of space. And if we didn’t have all this room,’ she said, sweeping an arm out to indicate the £100 000-odd worth of accommodation her husband had rented, ‘we’d probably start feeling a little claustrophobic.’
The second Mrs Goldberg, despite being married to a man of obscene wealth, had never really become accustomed to the high life. She was shy, and didn’t like to come to the salon; instead, I would go to her penthouse every Tuesday and Friday to style her hair. There, I discovered that, in spite of having her choice of the most delectable foods prepared by some of the best chefs, she preferred to make her own breakfast and lunch – and usually something very simple, like a bowl of muesli or a boiled egg on toast. For this purpose, she brought on board with her a range of the most fabulous kitchen equipment – and at the end of each world cruise, she would present me with a box of used (but only barely) silverware, glassware, cutlery and crockery.
Mr Goldberg, for his part, was simply terrified of change. He was very specific about how he wanted his hair – it was always to look precisely the same. He would book his weekly appointments with me a year in advance – he had the 10am slot every Thursday, for an invisible trim-and-style, and a manicure. He would sweep into the salon at 10 on the dot, and he required that I was always ready, holding his chair out for him, and that the manicurist was so placed that as he sat down, his hands would land in hers, ready to be pampered.
As if money breeds madness, there were always eccentrics on board. One was a charming but totally batty old dear, Mrs Macky, who regularly took two prime staterooms on the world cruises – one for herself and one for her vast collection of stuffed animals, which were as real and alive to her as anyone else’s flesh-and-blood pets. There were close on a hundred of these fluffy toys, and each was individually dressed in a beautiful, hand-sewn outfit.
Mrs Macky was scrupulous about giving each of her ‘pets’ individual attention, and could be seen with a different one at various times of the day – the stuffed bunny, for instance, would accompany her to breakfast; the toy bear would require its own seat next to her in the salon while we did her hair; a fluffy kitten would join her at lunch; a kangaroo, pert in a miniature Aussie bush hat complete with corks, was her companion at afternoon tea; and a wiry dog with lolling felt tongue would perch next to her at dinner. ‘They get lonely without me,’ she would tell us, solemnly. ‘They need a lot of love and care.’ Dear Mrs Macky: it was clear that she was the one in need – if not of love and care, then at least a bit of light electric shock therapy.
Another passenger who had more money than God was a woman called Heidi. Her marvellous generosity was mirrored in her body shape – she was one of the largest women I’ve ever met. She was always accompanied by her husband, Neville – a scrawny stick-figure of a man who spent much of his time literally in his wife’s shadow. Heidi would sweep into a room and look around for her husband; not seeing him, she would roar, ‘Neville!’ and this tiny little man would step out from behind her. ‘Yes, dear?’ he would say, mildly.
When she came on board, Heidi would pay visits to all the staff who would be looking after her for the next few months and ask them what gift they would like her to give them when the cruise ended – she didn’t want to buy them something they didn’t want or would never use.
One year, when she asked me, I told her I’d like one of those eight-foot-tall wooden carved giraffes that were all the rage at the time. Heidi thought this a fine idea, and added that she had some friends in Florida who would probably like to receive the same gift.
The ‘some’ friends turned out to number 22, and when we put in at Mombasa in Kenya, Heidi excitedly went ashore to seek her giraffes. She duly found them, and that evening 23 strapping young Kenyan men marched up the gangway, each carrying an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe. Twenty-two of these were stowed in Heidi and Neville’s penthouse; Heidi gave me mine.
Neville was just short enough to be more or less at eye-level with the undercarriage of the gigantic giraffes, and it was this tiny man who pointed out to his wife something that might cause some of their Florida friends embarrassment: all the giraffes were male, and all had an intricately carved wooden penis.
So the next morning, 22 strapping young Kenyan men marched up the gangway once again, and left the same way, each carrying an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe. And that evening, they returned, each carrying an eight-foot-tall wooden giraffe – each with its penis carefully removed. (Only 22 of the giraffes got the Bobbitt treatment because I opted to keep my giraffe with its penis intact.)
* John Wayne Bobbitt gained worldwide notoriety in 1993 when his enraged wife cut off his penis with a knife. The penis was found and sewed back on. Later, Bobbitt formed a band, The Severed Parts, and appeared in the porn movies John Wayne Bobbitt: Uncut and Frankenpenis.
Extracted from the ebook for Kindle Life on a Permanent Wave: Hair-raising Stories from a Shipboard Stylist. Buy your copy here: