From his eponymous Burnley salon, Simon Townley has carved himself a reputation for creating ontrend styles not just for his local clientele, but also for a host of well-known footballers who now see him as their go-to hairdresser. Simon’s reputation for looking after players from the local Burnley team raised his profile and open doors to the extent that in 2018, he was asked to cut the hair of members of the World Cup England squad, including manager, Gareth Southgate. As well as this he is an educator and ambassador for Matrix, travelling the UK to attend hair events and shows.
All this success is impressive enough, but Simon’s achievements are even more remarkable when you take into account that he has created a successful business and built his reputation while dealing with the debilitating condition, brittle bone disease.
“My condition is officially known as osteogenesis imperfecta, but I just call it brittle bones disease. It means my bones can break easily under very little stress of impact,” explains Simon. “My friends often called me Mr. Glass when I was growing up and this was a fair summary. I have broken well over 150 bones at a guess, but more recently I have found breaks are getting more severe and more difficult to recover from. I used a wheelchair until my early teens. During this time I was having operations like metal rods down my shins and fixators to straighten my legs in my desperate attempts to walk and look ‘normal’.
“I have now come full circle and, after years of walking and breaking more and more bones, I am again using my wheelchair on a day-to-day basis to try and stop the breaks and keep me working for as long as I possibly can.”
Simon began his career in hairdressing at the age of 18. He took the decision to tell his new employer about his disability, which proved the right choice, as shortly after beginning his training, he broke his arm. Despite this setback, Simon managed to continue his training with his arm in a cast. Two years later, while looking for another job, Simon discovered that his original employer hadn’t officially registered him with the college, as they hadn’t believed he would complete the training. This meant despite his incredible efforts, he wasn’t officially qualified.
“This was the first realisation that my fear about my disability holding me back could be correct,” recalls Simon. “At this point, I considered changing careers but a friend I made at the previous employers wanted to open a salon and we decided to go into a partnership.”
“I WANTED TO BE A HAIRDRESSER FOR THE ENGLAND FOOTBALL TEAM. THIS WAS MY DRIVING FORCE.”
This first venture came with a new set of challenges, not least because shortly after opening in 2008, the UK was plunged into recession.
“Unfortunately the financial world shifted completely and we were over-paying on rent and other outgoings for three years,” says Simon. “We moved to a different salon at the first opportunity but after five years we went our separate ways.”
Despite its challenges. Simon doesn’t regret this first business venture. “I learned a lot in this time about my hairdressing skills and some of this was thanks to my business partner at the time.”
While he considered his options, Simon rented a chair in a salon for a year before opening his current salon in Burnley, which has now been open for six years.
“In these years of trying to grow a business and battling my brittle bones condition, I can’t tell you how many bones I had broken,” says Simon. “It’s sometimes more of a battle when you feel capable but your body tells you that you can’t by giving you these breaks and putting you in bed again, sometimes for weeks.”
Simon continues: “I was told from an early age I would need to do an office job and it’s partly down to this negativity that I continued to drive towards my goals. I wanted to be a hairdresser for the England football team and be the hairdresser other hairdressers wanted a haircut from. This was my driving force.”
Simon’s ambition to cut the hair of the nation’s leading footballers stems from a life-long love of the game.
“I’m a man who is obsessed with football,” he says. “My grandad was a footballer for my hometown Burnley in the 50’s so I had dreams, like every kid, of walking onto the pitch like my hero. Although I knew this dream wasn’t achievable with brittle bones, I still wanted to be part of football. I left school when David Beckham was at the height of his fashion icon status. I used to go to a salon in Blackburn and my hairdresser at the time was called Alex. This guy was so cool and it was during one visit to this salon at the age of 17 that I realised this environment was something I wanted to be part of daily, not just when I was getting a hairstyle — Ihad a highlighted mullet.”
Simon started to specialise in men’s hair early in his career and one of his first clients was a young reserve player for the Burnley team. This grew to two clients from the Burnley team to four and then Burnley were promoted to the Premier League, which helped open doors for Simon.
Through his connections with the younger Burnley players, several of whom went on to play for other premier league teams, Simon met a number of top players, including members of the England squad such as Danny Ings and Tom Heaton.
“This is when my career seriously began to change,” says Simon. “Suddenly I was being invited to top players’ houses to cut hair. When I first cut Tom Heaton’s hair, he was reputed to be heading to the European Cup in France in 2016 as part of the England squad. I told him that I was also going to France to watch the tournament, hoping he would call me for a haircut.”
This conversation led to a phone call from Tom a few weeks later, inviting Simon to cut his hair while in France.
Just as everything seemed to be coming together for Simon, brittle bones disease struck another blow. While taking part in a wheelchair basketball game the weekend before he was due to fly to France, he was knocked out of his chair and sustained several serious breaks, including his collar bone and knee cap.
“I didn’t tell Tom this as there was no way I wasn’t going,” recalls Simon. “I phoned my friend Joe and asked him if he would come with me and help carry my things. A lot of painkillers later I made the most amazing trip I had ever had.
I ended up cutting not just Tom’s hair, but several members of the squad, including Joe Hart. I will always be so grateful to Tom for opening these doors for me, since then, the opportunities have just got bigger.”