Interview

Cutting it

Ahmed Alsanawi’s career has done the equivalent of non-league to Champions League. Here’s how he went from practising on his dad’s hair to being Paul Pogba’s number one barber

WORDS Dan Poole | PHOTOGRAPHY Will Beach

Put yourself in this scenario. You’re a barber looking for a break and you also happen to be a massive Chelsea fan. You’re idly sharpening a pair of scissors (or whatever it is that barbers do in their downtime) when, suddenly, the phone rings. Withheld number. Who, in an ideal world, would you like to be on the other end?

“One day I got a phone call from John Terry and he was like, ‘Heard a lot about you, mate. Can you come down and cut the lads’ hair every Thursday?’”

To be fair to Ahmed Alsanawi, this wasn’t just some bolt from the Blues. Having gone to college and come away with an art diploma, he was looking for an outlet for his creative talents. Fed up with recurring disappointment at the barbers (“They used to mess my hair up all the time”), he decided to buy himself a pair of clippers and get practising. Dad, brother and neighbours were his guinea pigs, before he got himself a job at a shop in his local village of Cobham in Surrey. Three years later he opened his own place nearby – the first iteration of A Star Barbers. 

The Cobham location had one key benefit: it was just around the corner from Chelsea’s training ground. Soon the youth players were lining up for a new ’do – and that’s how the then club captain got to hear that there was a first-class coiffeur in town.

“I was like, ‘Flipping heck!’ Proper starstruck and everything,” says Alsanawi of the first time he stepped up to chop first-team Chelsea barnets. “I knew I would deliver, but the pressure was on. Honestly, that dressing room: we had Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesc Fàbregas… it was like crazy, crazy. That was the year [2015] that we won the league, when José Mourinho came back.”

The next phone call came from up north, courtesy of a player who was tipped off by friends among the Chelsea squad. “Paul Pogba rang me. Now his haircuts, they’re not very… they’re not your short back and sides, put it that way. They’re all colours and patterns.” On this occasion, Pogba wanted ‘#equal’, shaved into his head, in preparation for his appearance at an event for UEFA’s Respect campaign. “Going back to why I started this – with the art and everything – that’s the sort of thing I love to do. He posted me on Instagram, that went viral and it’s been a snowball effect since then.”

“We’ve gone through a phase of skin fades, now I believe it’s going to be over the ears, a longer look – or the curtains. The mullet might even make a comeback, you never know”
By

So much so that this interview with Alsanawi took place in his bigger and better premises in Chessington, a few miles from Cobham, which he moved into in 2018. He’s also got a tattoo parlour out the back and a coffee shop next door, which is run by his dad (who produces a mean latte, just FYI). On the morning that Champions Journal visits, there’s music pumping out of the speakers and a relaxed vibe among Alsanawi’s cutting crew, which includes his brother. There’s even an opportunity for art director Oliver Meikle to get in the chair for a trim, experiencing not only the owner’s prowess with a pair of clippers but also his way with words.

“With barbering it’s not just your haircut, it’s about someone feeling comfortable in your chair – then you build a relationship,” says Alsanawi. “A barber is one of your best friends, because you can come every week and tell him what’s happening in your life, so you do become close.” Does that mean he gets to hear some of the gossip that doesn’t even make its way to the back pages? “Yeah, 100%. You’re the first one to know certain things. But that’s why you’re trusted: they’ve shared so many things with you and they haven’t got out, so they know you’re reliable.”

Alsanawi’s reputation is such that he was flown out to cut the hair of the French and Belgian sides during the most recent EURO and World Cup; trimming the squad, but in a good way. He’s got his eye on another team for the tournament in Qatar, however. “I’m hoping I can be the England barber – that’s the target.” And would the plan be to stay in camp for the whole time? “I should get the experience of it and stay out with these teams, but I can’t leave my wife with three naughty kids. So I tend to go, trim all day, sleep over and fly home the following morning.”

Back in the 1980s there were a couple of England footballers who were renowned for their perms: Bryan Robson and Kevin Keegan. Is it a style that Alsanawi can see making a comeback? “Yeah, I think soon – I think very soon,” comes the reply. “I will try and do it for someone. Fashion always repeats itself. We’ve gone through a phase of skin fades, now I believe it’s going to be over the ears, a longer look – or the curtains. The mullet might even make a comeback, you never know.”

Still reeling from this roll call of unexpectedly imminent hair trends, we wonder aloud whether there’s a footballer out there that Alsanawi hasn’t yet had the chance to work with. “I really, really want to cut Cristiano Ronaldo’s, because for his image it’s just… I don’t know, his haircuts ain’t top,” he says. “I could definitely improve that blend he has. And I would say Messi, but what am I going to do? His hair is so plain and simple.”

So could Ronaldo be a candidate for the perm? “Yeah, that would be a good look for him.” Blimey, it might be time for another coffee. 

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Interview

Cutting it

Ahmed Alsanawi’s career has done the equivalent of non-league to Champions League. Here’s how he went from practising on his dad’s hair to being Paul Pogba’s number one barber

WORDS Dan Poole | PHOTOGRAPHY Will Beach

Put yourself in this scenario. You’re a barber looking for a break and you also happen to be a massive Chelsea fan. You’re idly sharpening a pair of scissors (or whatever it is that barbers do in their downtime) when, suddenly, the phone rings. Withheld number. Who, in an ideal world, would you like to be on the other end?

“One day I got a phone call from John Terry and he was like, ‘Heard a lot about you, mate. Can you come down and cut the lads’ hair every Thursday?’”

To be fair to Ahmed Alsanawi, this wasn’t just some bolt from the Blues. Having gone to college and come away with an art diploma, he was looking for an outlet for his creative talents. Fed up with recurring disappointment at the barbers (“They used to mess my hair up all the time”), he decided to buy himself a pair of clippers and get practising. Dad, brother and neighbours were his guinea pigs, before he got himself a job at a shop in his local village of Cobham in Surrey. Three years later he opened his own place nearby – the first iteration of A Star Barbers. 

The Cobham location had one key benefit: it was just around the corner from Chelsea’s training ground. Soon the youth players were lining up for a new ’do – and that’s how the then club captain got to hear that there was a first-class coiffeur in town.

“I was like, ‘Flipping heck!’ Proper starstruck and everything,” says Alsanawi of the first time he stepped up to chop first-team Chelsea barnets. “I knew I would deliver, but the pressure was on. Honestly, that dressing room: we had Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesc Fàbregas… it was like crazy, crazy. That was the year [2015] that we won the league, when José Mourinho came back.”

The next phone call came from up north, courtesy of a player who was tipped off by friends among the Chelsea squad. “Paul Pogba rang me. Now his haircuts, they’re not very… they’re not your short back and sides, put it that way. They’re all colours and patterns.” On this occasion, Pogba wanted ‘#equal’, shaved into his head, in preparation for his appearance at an event for UEFA’s Respect campaign. “Going back to why I started this – with the art and everything – that’s the sort of thing I love to do. He posted me on Instagram, that went viral and it’s been a snowball effect since then.”

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“We’ve gone through a phase of skin fades, now I believe it’s going to be over the ears, a longer look – or the curtains. The mullet might even make a comeback, you never know”
By

So much so that this interview with Alsanawi took place in his bigger and better premises in Chessington, a few miles from Cobham, which he moved into in 2018. He’s also got a tattoo parlour out the back and a coffee shop next door, which is run by his dad (who produces a mean latte, just FYI). On the morning that Champions Journal visits, there’s music pumping out of the speakers and a relaxed vibe among Alsanawi’s cutting crew, which includes his brother. There’s even an opportunity for art director Oliver Meikle to get in the chair for a trim, experiencing not only the owner’s prowess with a pair of clippers but also his way with words.

“With barbering it’s not just your haircut, it’s about someone feeling comfortable in your chair – then you build a relationship,” says Alsanawi. “A barber is one of your best friends, because you can come every week and tell him what’s happening in your life, so you do become close.” Does that mean he gets to hear some of the gossip that doesn’t even make its way to the back pages? “Yeah, 100%. You’re the first one to know certain things. But that’s why you’re trusted: they’ve shared so many things with you and they haven’t got out, so they know you’re reliable.”

Alsanawi’s reputation is such that he was flown out to cut the hair of the French and Belgian sides during the most recent EURO and World Cup; trimming the squad, but in a good way. He’s got his eye on another team for the tournament in Qatar, however. “I’m hoping I can be the England barber – that’s the target.” And would the plan be to stay in camp for the whole time? “I should get the experience of it and stay out with these teams, but I can’t leave my wife with three naughty kids. So I tend to go, trim all day, sleep over and fly home the following morning.”

Back in the 1980s there were a couple of England footballers who were renowned for their perms: Bryan Robson and Kevin Keegan. Is it a style that Alsanawi can see making a comeback? “Yeah, I think soon – I think very soon,” comes the reply. “I will try and do it for someone. Fashion always repeats itself. We’ve gone through a phase of skin fades, now I believe it’s going to be over the ears, a longer look – or the curtains. The mullet might even make a comeback, you never know.”

Still reeling from this roll call of unexpectedly imminent hair trends, we wonder aloud whether there’s a footballer out there that Alsanawi hasn’t yet had the chance to work with. “I really, really want to cut Cristiano Ronaldo’s, because for his image it’s just… I don’t know, his haircuts ain’t top,” he says. “I could definitely improve that blend he has. And I would say Messi, but what am I going to do? His hair is so plain and simple.”

So could Ronaldo be a candidate for the perm? “Yeah, that would be a good look for him.” Blimey, it might be time for another coffee. 

Interview

Cutting it

Ahmed Alsanawi’s career has done the equivalent of non-league to Champions League. Here’s how he went from practising on his dad’s hair to being Paul Pogba’s number one barber

WORDS Dan Poole | PHOTOGRAPHY Will Beach

Put yourself in this scenario. You’re a barber looking for a break and you also happen to be a massive Chelsea fan. You’re idly sharpening a pair of scissors (or whatever it is that barbers do in their downtime) when, suddenly, the phone rings. Withheld number. Who, in an ideal world, would you like to be on the other end?

“One day I got a phone call from John Terry and he was like, ‘Heard a lot about you, mate. Can you come down and cut the lads’ hair every Thursday?’”

To be fair to Ahmed Alsanawi, this wasn’t just some bolt from the Blues. Having gone to college and come away with an art diploma, he was looking for an outlet for his creative talents. Fed up with recurring disappointment at the barbers (“They used to mess my hair up all the time”), he decided to buy himself a pair of clippers and get practising. Dad, brother and neighbours were his guinea pigs, before he got himself a job at a shop in his local village of Cobham in Surrey. Three years later he opened his own place nearby – the first iteration of A Star Barbers. 

The Cobham location had one key benefit: it was just around the corner from Chelsea’s training ground. Soon the youth players were lining up for a new ’do – and that’s how the then club captain got to hear that there was a first-class coiffeur in town.

“I was like, ‘Flipping heck!’ Proper starstruck and everything,” says Alsanawi of the first time he stepped up to chop first-team Chelsea barnets. “I knew I would deliver, but the pressure was on. Honestly, that dressing room: we had Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesc Fàbregas… it was like crazy, crazy. That was the year [2015] that we won the league, when José Mourinho came back.”

The next phone call came from up north, courtesy of a player who was tipped off by friends among the Chelsea squad. “Paul Pogba rang me. Now his haircuts, they’re not very… they’re not your short back and sides, put it that way. They’re all colours and patterns.” On this occasion, Pogba wanted ‘#equal’, shaved into his head, in preparation for his appearance at an event for UEFA’s Respect campaign. “Going back to why I started this – with the art and everything – that’s the sort of thing I love to do. He posted me on Instagram, that went viral and it’s been a snowball effect since then.”

“We’ve gone through a phase of skin fades, now I believe it’s going to be over the ears, a longer look – or the curtains. The mullet might even make a comeback, you never know”
By

So much so that this interview with Alsanawi took place in his bigger and better premises in Chessington, a few miles from Cobham, which he moved into in 2018. He’s also got a tattoo parlour out the back and a coffee shop next door, which is run by his dad (who produces a mean latte, just FYI). On the morning that Champions Journal visits, there’s music pumping out of the speakers and a relaxed vibe among Alsanawi’s cutting crew, which includes his brother. There’s even an opportunity for art director Oliver Meikle to get in the chair for a trim, experiencing not only the owner’s prowess with a pair of clippers but also his way with words.

“With barbering it’s not just your haircut, it’s about someone feeling comfortable in your chair – then you build a relationship,” says Alsanawi. “A barber is one of your best friends, because you can come every week and tell him what’s happening in your life, so you do become close.” Does that mean he gets to hear some of the gossip that doesn’t even make its way to the back pages? “Yeah, 100%. You’re the first one to know certain things. But that’s why you’re trusted: they’ve shared so many things with you and they haven’t got out, so they know you’re reliable.”

Alsanawi’s reputation is such that he was flown out to cut the hair of the French and Belgian sides during the most recent EURO and World Cup; trimming the squad, but in a good way. He’s got his eye on another team for the tournament in Qatar, however. “I’m hoping I can be the England barber – that’s the target.” And would the plan be to stay in camp for the whole time? “I should get the experience of it and stay out with these teams, but I can’t leave my wife with three naughty kids. So I tend to go, trim all day, sleep over and fly home the following morning.”

Back in the 1980s there were a couple of England footballers who were renowned for their perms: Bryan Robson and Kevin Keegan. Is it a style that Alsanawi can see making a comeback? “Yeah, I think soon – I think very soon,” comes the reply. “I will try and do it for someone. Fashion always repeats itself. We’ve gone through a phase of skin fades, now I believe it’s going to be over the ears, a longer look – or the curtains. The mullet might even make a comeback, you never know.”

Still reeling from this roll call of unexpectedly imminent hair trends, we wonder aloud whether there’s a footballer out there that Alsanawi hasn’t yet had the chance to work with. “I really, really want to cut Cristiano Ronaldo’s, because for his image it’s just… I don’t know, his haircuts ain’t top,” he says. “I could definitely improve that blend he has. And I would say Messi, but what am I going to do? His hair is so plain and simple.”

So could Ronaldo be a candidate for the perm? “Yeah, that would be a good look for him.” Blimey, it might be time for another coffee. 

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