John Altman is a musical director, arranger, conductor, saxophonist and Emmy and BAFTA award winning composer. He began his musical career at the age of 3 with Judy Garland at the London Palladium. The people John has worked with over the years reads like a who's who of the music industry! Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, George Michael, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison and Amy Winehouse, to name just a few! We're delighted to have John as an ambassador of Alopecia UK and we look forward to working with him to help further the charity's work.
'In the early part of 1999 I was doing what I'd been doing for many years, writing and playing music all over the world. I was working on the HBO movie ‘RKO281’ (for which I subsequently won the Emmy Award for 'Most Outstanding Music Score'). November '98 to spring '99 saw me in Los Angeles, London, Australia, London, the West Indies and Los Angeles again! Somewhere in the middle of all this I developed an eye infection and noticed my eyelashes had fallen out.
I went to the doctor and he said "It's the other way round. Your eyelashes fell out and you then got an infection. You have alopecia." I replied "If I've got alopecia surely my hair would be falling out?" He said "It is” and pointed out a patch at the back of my head, "Keep an eye on it and we'll go from there." As I was approaching 50 I wasn't overly concerned. I'd had friends with alopecia, either after a shock or from stress and they'd seen their hair grow back. However over the next couple of weeks my hair rapidly disappeared and I was left with patches all over.
I took to wearing a cap all the time until a friend said "Don't let it take charge of you, you take charge of it!" I went to the local hairdresser, had it cropped short, came home, looked in the mirror, got out a razor and took the lot off!
That evening I had an art opening to attend - the paintings of Cynthia Lennon hosted by my old friend Pauline Sutcliffe whose brother had been the fifth Beatle. I arrived at the gallery to see Cynthia and Julian Lennon being photographed for the Evening Standard. As I self-consciously removed my cap, the photographer motioned to me to get in the picture. As someone who'd been shoved out of the way on red carpets because a celebrity was behind me (even when carrying my British Film Award in my hand!) this was a new experience and I thought 'maybe it's not going to be so bad after all!'
The introduction to my new look for most of my friends came via that photo in the Standard. My hair never did grow back. Within a few months I didn't need to shave my head (or my face) and I can proudly say I haven't shaved this millennium! Within the year I had won my Emmy and appeared on TV as a 'talking (bald) head' in several programmes. Somehow the new look gave me far more personal confidence than my old pre-alopecia look. My hair was becoming thin and grey and seeing 'before' photos now, I realise that I have more confidence in myself today. I look younger and my 'hairstyle' is even admired by our former PM Sir John Major (by his own admission)!!
It has now been 15 years. I can safely say I've never missed the hair although I wouldn't mind my eyebrows and eyelashes back but at least there's no more smoking in clubs, although candlelight doesn't work too well for me. I'm delighted to be an ambassador for Alopecia UK because I've been healthy, successful and thrived despite having alopecia. There's no reason for alopecia to stop anyone being whatever they feel they want to be.
To find out more about John Altman’s impressive career, you can watch this film on YouTube, check out his articles for Mimo (an online music news site) or read this great interview in City Weekend.