As Fiona Bruce admits going grey would be a bad career move, SARAH JONES finds there is a sharp sex divide in the politics of hair colour.

FINDING their first grey hair can be a defining moment for many women.

A man sporting the salt and pepper look is often championed as a distinguished silver fox – George Clooney, Richard Gere and even Philip Schofield have certainly had few complaints.

But the fairer sex can be accused of “letting themselves go” if they fail to reach immediately for the hair dye.

It’s a view that was confirmed by BBC1 newsreader Fiona Bruce earlier this week, when she declared that going grey would be bad for her career.

“Age is definitely an issue for women in TV,” said the 48-year-old brunette.

“So far, it hasn’t been for me, but I know I need to make the best of myself.

“For instance, I have a few grey hairs. I dye them. I don’t let my grey hair show when I’m reading the news.”

For Esther Rantzen, 72, it has never been a concern.

Like her father before her, the TV presenter says she has never gone grey – but she can definitely see the newsreader’s point.

“If you are a woman with grey hair presenting a programme, there is a fear – a terror – among TV producers that you will alienate your male viewers,” she said.

But away from the harsh lighting and camera lenses of the TV world – does going grey really matter for the rest of us?

For Esther, who splits her time between her home in Bramshaw in the New Forest and London, it is obvious to whom it matters most – men.

“Women are more appreciative of silver hair,” she says. “That’s because they look for things like intelligence, charm and humour. Whereas men, I think, look for legs, boobs and fertility.

“Women often feel that if they go grey, they will be regarded as past their sell-by date, no longer vibrant, interesting or adventurous – all those nice things that the young are – and I think we like to look the way we feel.”

One person on the frontline in women’s war against Mother Nature is top Hampshire stylist Guillaume Vappereau.

“There is a stigma that grey hair means old,” he says. “Over the years it has been drilled into women’s heads that they shouldn’t let it happen.”

And just like Esther, Guillaume has firm views on where much of the blame lies.

“Husbands are always a problem,” he says.  “There is a lot of pressure from them. They don’t want to look at their wives getting older.”

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.Guillaume may be a man – and one who would be much poorer if it wasn’t for women’s penchant for hair dye at that – but he believes that females should be able to “go grey gracefully”.

But, he adds, they need to be in the right mindset before waving goodbye to the silver foils forever.

“As soon as you go grey, you age ten years. There is no discussion about it.

“You have to be prepared in your head to look at yourself in that different way.”

Estimating that around 80 per cent of clients to his Otterbourne salon aged over 35 get their hair coloured (some see him as often as every three weeks), few women, it seems, are choosing this path.

Of course we all know that it shouldn’t be this way.

As Age Concern Hampshire director Rick Smith says: “Society needs to stop and realise that everybody’s valuable, whether you’re young or old, it doesn’t matter.

“Society is changing when it comes to racial prejudice, it’s just not changing quick enough with age-based prejudice.”

Prominent local businesswoman Avril Owton, who is 70, agrees that older people have a wealth of workplace experience that shouldn’t be ignored.

But for Avril – proprietor of The Cloud Hotel in Brockenhurst and founder of the Wessex Women’s Network – when it comes to business , it’s not the shade of your locks that matters, it’s the style.

“I do think going grey ages a woman, but some people look fabulous with it,” she says. “I don’t think it’s the colour that matters, however old you are, what’s important is looking smart and wellgroomed to create an image of professionalism.”

Whether you agree with Avril or not, the fact that the global hair dye industry is worth billions of pounds remains.

However many women buck the trend, there will always be those of us that will fall victim to the glossy ad campaigns which prey on our insecurities.

And – let’s face it – there are far more important things to worry about.

That’s what Esther Rantzen believes anyway.

“Health is much more important than hair dye,” she says.

““The crucial thing is that older women stay fit and healthy, don’t smoke or fall for too many boxes of chocolates.

“What you need to be able to do is remain as active physically and mentally as you want to be.

“If you use that mobility to march into the chemist and buy yourself some hair dye, I don’t think it terribly matters.”