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The beard, the bet and the best shave of my life

By on 11 December 2012 in Style

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I would not call myself a betting man. I’ve never been particularly keen on losing, and a lot of bets are lost. Just ask that chap who bet some of UBS’ billions and ended up in jail. Silly boy.

I’m not sure what possessed me, therefore, to indulge in a little wager with The Prodigal Fool and Prodigal Six. In a moment of ill-advised bravado, I pledged that if they completed the final leg of The Prodigal Run (who on earth sanctioned that, by the way?) before 8pm, I would shave my beard off.

Two things.

One. There was no way they were going to make it back in time.

I mean, come on. Invite the Prodigals to lunch, and they will be late. Invite them to a party, and they will be late. Just last night I enjoyed a drink with the Fool before he was due at a formal gathering – for which he was then late.


The final leg of this madcap, mid-life-crisis-inspired adventure was a journey from Geneva to London at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster. Now, before you say anything, I know full well it’s possible to drive from Geneva to London in a day. Especially if you’ve got 571bhp to play with and a heavy right foot (the Fool likes a nice lunch). I’ve done similar drives myself in far slower cars. What seemed much less possible was that The Prodigal Fool and Prodigal Six could drive from Geneva to London in a day.

This is how I saw it going. They’d wake up late and leave late. Then they’d get lost, arrested, hijacked or too sauced at lunchtime to drive home. Or they’d crash. And I would win. Toad of Toad Hall had more chance of making it to the finish line in time. Poop, poop.

Next, two. I am really quite attached to my beard.

I worked it out. At the time I made the bet, it had been five years, six months and 11 days since I’d not had a beard. A man gets comfortable with a beard. It becomes part of him. It’s proof of his man-ness. And, assuming it’s well kept, it’s also sign he spends just the right amount of time in front of the mirror. Oh, and I’ve long since convinced myself it suits me.

So this, you understand, was a serious, but safe bet.

Except it wasn’t. Despite getting hauled over by the boys in bleu in France and surrendering over an hour to the clock, Six’s licence and a huge wad of cash, they made it. At 7.59pm. The cads.

Which left me in a bit of a spot. I had not planned on barbering my beard, and, as I may have mentioned, I don’t like losing. The only sensible solution, it occurred to me, was to fall on my sword and head for the nearest gentleman’s grooming establishment for a wet shave. This, it must be said, was no time for Gillette (other brands are available).

To the rescue came Gentlemen’s Tonic and the branch ensconced in the plush surroundings of Gieves & Hawkes No1 Savile Row store.


Inside, Gentlemen’s Tonic is all dark woods, mirrors, marble and black leather barber’s chairs. The lighting’s gentle but not sickly, and there’s some mellow jazz floating somewhere in the background. The air smells fresh and organic but still masculine, so that the place feels more like a contemporary spa than a sweltering Roaring Twenties Chicago barbershop. They’re all about ‘restorative’ treatments, which on a cold winter’s evening in the run-up to Christmas sounds just the thing.

I’m greeted by Mel (as in Melvin? I’m not sure), a smooth-skinned gent with a calm handshake, which is all-important in a chap about to come at you with a cutthroat razor. Mel’s first job is to follow the Fool’s instruction to humiliate me. This is achieved with ease and a set of clippers. First goes the cheek-beard to leave a set of mutton chops and then, with a few cultured flicks of the wrist, all is gone, bar a toothbrush moustache. As sported by everyone’s favourite dictator.

Ha. Ha.

And then it all gets rather nice. Mel applies some pre-shave oil and massages it into my skin, which could be uncomfortably intimate (not least with the Fool pointing an iPhone in my face), but is wonderfully relaxing. Next come the hot towels. And I do love a hot towel. The heat and oily essences are hopelessly soothing. Even if I wanted to get up and run away before Mel reintroduces me to my chin, I can’t. I am suddenly very floppy.


Mel asks me to lie back in the barber’s chair, before placing a hot towel over my eyes. This, he assures me, is to block out light and take everything down a notch, but it feels ever so slightly like being blindfolded. Still, at least it means I can’t see the Fool’s grinning mug.

Then Mel lathers the exposed part of my face in hot traditional shave cream using a badger brush, which feels so good I’m tempted to ask if he could cover me in the stuff from head to toe. The blade comes next, and at this point, I’d like to tell you I’m a bit nervous, but I’m not. I’m nearly asleep. Woozy on balms and hotness, I feel utterly relaxed.

Lots of skin-sating aftershave cream and massaging follow, before the big reveal. And lo and behold, there’s my face. Slightly larger than I remember it, but that might be because there’s more at the top end than there was five years ago.

It could also be because I’m a bit bleary-eyed and struggling to focus. Mel has balmed me into a soporific haze – and it’s really rather wonderful. If only I still had my beard.

Coming through the front door, my wife and son point and stare. And laugh. ‘Your face is bigger,’ they say. Which confirms it. Seriously. If anyone can explain how losing part of my face has made it bigger, I’m eager to know.

Gentlemen’s Tonic, Gieves & Hawkes, No.1 Savile Row, London W1S 3JR, Tel: +44 20 7432 6441, Email:


The beard, the bet and the best shave of my life

Robin Swithinbank bet against The Prodigal Fool and Straight-Six. Normally, that’s a safe thing to do but on this one occasion our two cretinous editors managed to get the upper hand. A gentleman to the last, Robin honours the bet and takes himself down to Savile Row to have his beard shaved off.

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Robin is London's tallest and - until he lost an ill-advised bet to The Prodigal Fool - hairiest luxury journalist. He writes about watches, travel and, most recently, London's finest barber shops for the country's best publications, including: the Financial Times, the Telegraph, QP and, eh, The Prodigal Guide. He also edits Watches of Switzerland's excellent Calibre and writes a monthly watch column for Square Mile magazine.

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  • The Little Sister

    I think you look infinitely better without it. But that’s partly because when I picture you it’s without a beard. And as someone who’s more familiar with you looking like you do now I’ll tell you your face looks exactly the same size as it always has done. You are much more handsome this way!

  • Straight-Six

    We won the bet. Robin looks significantly better. Best bet we all ever made…

    Well done! And I’ll tell the lads with the baseball bats to stand down…:)

  • The Prodigal Fool

    I still don’t understand why he didn’t leave the ‘toothbrush’ on. Suited him.