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For Pamela Neal, becoming a hair stylist to the stars began as a matter of convenience. Growing up in the resort town of Bournemouth, on the south coast of England, Neal felt a calling to create: “Back home, we girls did all sorts of crafts. To me, hair was just another medium for artistic expression.” Plus, it was accessible. “Everybody in my family had hair on their head; I could get at it,” she says.
Today Neal is known as a top stylist who helps boundary-pushing artists push their own boundaries, creating iconic looks for St. Vincent, Bjork, Pink, Marilyn Manson, Tricky, David Bowie, Katy Perry and, most recently, Adele — for whom she provided the soft and sexy hairstyle in her video for “Hello.”
“When you’re doing music videos, the artist sings quite a bit. Adele was just belting it out in the middle of this windstorm in cold Montreal. It felt like I was having a personal private show,” recalls Neal. “It was spectacular.”
Trained in London, Neal opened her first salon in Toronto when she was 25. Later, after launching a second one in New York, she began doing hair and makeup for videos and album shoots, including St. Vincent’s self-titled 2014 release. Though the indie-rock icon arrived on set with damaged, tobacco-colored hair that “was a disaster” — some quick thinking, blue die and a willing St. Vincent (“her attitude was ‘Let’s go with it'”) resulted in the musician’s visually arresting violet look. The two have collaborated ever since.
“Pamela is a visionary and can change your whole attitude and presence with her work,” says Pink, who has been a client for two years. “I feel very lucky to have her hands in my head.”
Neal says the highlight “of my life, let alone career,” is her ongoing work with Bowie, starting with the 1997 video for “Little Wonder” and more recently with Bowie and Tilda Swinton for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”
HAIRSPIRATION: Neal creates moodboards before each shoot.
“He was always my hero, not just for fashion and music but for life,” she says. After spending the past decade on movie and video sets, Neal now lives in Los Angeles, where she is once again focusing primarily on hair. As the art director of Benjamin, a West Hollywood salon, Neal works by appointment on both the famous and the wealthy — a session runs at least $300.
“I feel most comfortable,” she says with a laugh, “when I go back to my roots.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of Billboard magazine.
BRUSH IT OFF: “I geek out about my tools. I have about 15 brushes and 15 combs,” says Neal.
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