Every British actress knows the power of a Hollywood makeover. She may make her name with pale skin, wild hair and her own teeth but then fame sweeps her off. Overnight, she emerges on a red carpet, a goddess with radiant tresses, cheeks aglow and incisors so bright they may glow in the dark. If rumours are to be believed Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery recently spent £25,000 getting herself ready for one red carpet appearance alone. If you are hoping to hit the big time, you need to hire a decent hairdresser.
Next Sunday marks the most important date in the British acting calendar. The most celebrated names in Tinseltown will fly into London hoping to win a gong at the EE British Academy Film Awards. Among the actresses nominated in the key acting categories are contemporary legends, including Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain and Marion Cotillard. But unlike Michelle Dockery they won’t need to splash out vast sums in order to look their best – for this year Bafta is employing a team of experts to offer them the full red-carpet treatment.
A decade ago the Bafta awards may have seemed a somewhat parochial affair, playing a distant fiddle to the Academy Awards in the glamour stakes – but no longer. Until 1998, the awards for both film and television were presented at the same ceremony and until 2002, they were awarded in April or May, which made them seem somewhat of an afterthought to the Oscars. In recent years, however, the success of British acting talent and British films, such as The King’s Speech, has made the Baftas one of the most prestigious ceremonies in the world.
The glittering ceremony unfolds amidst the opulence of the Royal Opera House. With a myriad of exclusive sponsors, Bafta now vies with Oscars in terms of the luxury experiences it offers its stars. But can a makeover really transform you into a siren? The Mail On Sunday decides to test the theory by sending me, its resident plain Jane, to test the full Bafta experience.To date, my idea of a makeover consists of taking my glasses off. It worked for Clark Kent – and you would be amazed how much better you look when you can’t see yourself properly in the mirror.
I arrive at the plushest suite in The Savoy Hotel and am immediately plied with Taittinger – which has a similar effect – and am whisked off into the miniature hairdressing grotto of legendary coiffeuse Charles Worthington. Charles, as I now call him, does Claire’s hair (that’s Danes to you) and he does Rebecca’s hair (as in Hall) and he also tends to Sharon (Stone). I haven’t got that much hair to work with but this does not deter Charles, he is going to make me ‘fabulous’.
British actresses are often celebrated for their quirky sense of style. Stars like Helena Bonham Carter and Tilda Swinton work in Hollywood but do not force themselves into the stereotypical Hollywood mould. Charles explains that he always caters a client’s hair to his or her personality and individual style. ‘Red carpet hair is all about looking at the dress and creating something that feels special,’ he says. ‘I think we should do some sort of sixties-ish boofy thing for you.’ He gets his exclusive primping lotions out, created especially for the Bafta stars, and fires up his hairdryer. Then he shakes some sort of heavenly smelling powder into my roots and talks about how important it is to volumise.
‘For me hair is architecture for the face,’ Charles explains. As I am very short, he is perhaps looking at my hair as a potential loft extension. At any rate I soon emerge with a flawless bouffant which gives me an extra four inches. I catch sight of myself in the mirror and wonder if I look a bit like Jedward. With another dose of Taittinger, however, I realise that I am, in fact, channelling Sharon Stone. I just need to preserve my epic new barnet from outside interference. Charles gets out the hairspray. ‘A red carpet do has to stand up to lots of air kissing,’ he explains.
Next I am ushered into the boudoir of Daniel Wingate, design director of Escada.
Up close couture gowns are quite breath-taking. It is surprisingly difficult to choose a dress when each one costs over £5000 and look like they have been made from magic thread, precious jewels and fairy dust. I feel a bit over excited. ‘Oh gosh,’ says Daniel, when I suggest he picks something for me because I can’t choose. ‘I would not do something too overpowering. I wouldn’t break you up. You should be in one colour. We don’t want to cut you in the wrong places.’ This is starting to sound a little brutal. I am hoisted into a sample size and pinned in by two assistants.
I parade about in a succession of gorgeous dresses to see which one suits. Daniel squints at me as I shuffle in trying not to tread on the designer fabric. After three changes, with a magisterial wave, he determines that I look best in the green number. It does not matter that I am so short it now has an added train. ‘Designers have their tricks,’ he says, extolling the wonders of hidden platforms and corsetry. ‘I would never chose a gown that would make you look shorter. On the red carpet no one will recognise if you are two foot tall or six foot nine. You know, Madonna is tiny.’
Recently, Daniel has been responsible for the red carpet looks of rising Hollywood starlet Emma Roberts, Bond girl Berenice Marlohe and the model Heidi Klum. ‘It’s all about the woman herself and how she wants to be portrayed,’ Daniel explains. ‘It’s about the history of what she has worn before and how we can reinvent that going forward.’ When Escada dresses the stars, the process takes months. Stylists liaise, designs are chosen, alterations made. Daniel would probably make me a dress with arms if I was a star. Either that or I’d get a personal trainer.
Hair primped and gown chosen, I am transported to Lancôme to have my make-up done. As I sail down the hall in my high heels everyone compliments me on my hair. I am unused to getting compliments on my hair. Most of the time it looks crazed. Having my face made up is the high point of my day. Lancôme’s Bafta specialist, Jaysam Barbosa, bathes my face in the scent of roses, pats my skin down with Génifique, the new wonder fluid Emma Watson swears by, and sets about painting my face all over with foundation. His brush flicks across my cheek bones with all the skill of an Old Master. ‘Every face is a different canvas,’ Jaysam explains.
Most stars, when they arrive at the Bafta awards, have just got off a plane from LA so they are tired and prone to dark circles beneath the eyes. Fortunately I have managed to simulate jetlag by arriving at The Savoy on just three hours sleep, so I have a fine set of black bags on which Jaysam can demonstrate his skills. He launches into a highly illuminating speech on what Lancôme calls ‘the triangle of light’. Jaysam applies Éclat Miracle in a triangle under my eyes and a smaller one in the inner corner and gently pats this out with his fourth finger. If a flashbulb hits me now I will radiate like a divinity.
It is time to grab some jewels. I pick out the biggest necklace in Asprey’s showcase, a beautiful glittering diamond necklace set in white gold. It feels like a cool neck brace, costs £120,000 and comes complete with a security guard who now follows me wherever I go, making me feel ever more like a starlet. He trails me at ten paces as I pick out a watch from 88 Rue Du Rhone and take a look at what my Bafta date will wear at Hackett. I decide he will be Bradley Cooper, wearing blue velvet in the manner of Bradley Wiggins.
Finally I am off to have my photos taken – outside The Savoy. Someone hands me a Bafta. It is surprisingly heavy. The security guard looks worried. With Ian the photographer snapping away, a crowd of passing Japanese tourists start filming me on their phones. As Ian dives into the road directly into the path of a taxi to get more shots I begin to laugh hysterically. The passers-by seem to think that I am crying – probably with joy, because I am clutching the iconic bronze mask and must, therefore, be really famous. As my entourage escorts me back to the hotel – and the security guard wrests back his diamonds – there are cries in the street of ‘Who WAS that girl?’
A complete nobody, is the answer. But a complete nobody who has just won the 2013 Bafta award for best makeover.