It was an unusual thing for a 10-year-old girl to say to her teacher, and it led, quite literally, to a hair-raising commitment.
Back in spring 2015, 24-year-old Ed Grimer – a private tutor living in Tecom, Dubai – had allowed his hair to grow a little longer than usual. And one of his young charges was less than impressed.
‘It wasn’t an intentional thing,’ remembers Ed. ‘I’d just had a busy few weeks and hadn’t been to the barbers. But she kept looking at me during our lesson. Eventually, I said to her, “Come on, what’s going on?” And she just came out with it. She said, “Ed, your hair looks stupid like that. Are you growing it for charity or something?”
‘I kind of did a double take and was like, “Wait, what do you mean growing it for charity?’’’ he recalls. ‘I mean, who grows their hair for charity?’
While Ed is relieved he can get his high-maintenance locks chopped soon, he’s happy he could help so many kids
The youngster then explained how she had been told about an organisation that makes wigs for children who had lost their hair due to cancer treatments. She said each wig needed real human hair, and the charity, the Little Princess Trust based in the UK, was continually looking for people to donate their own. And she said when she was a little older she was going to grow her’s to the required 17cm and then give it up.
‘I’d never heard of it before,’ says Ed. ‘But it sounded so worthwhile and by the time I left the lesson that day I knew I was going to do it. I just thought it was such a good idea.’
It would not be his only commitment, though.
That night he researched the charity and learned that, while wigs made from donated hair cost it nothing to make, to keep up with demand it also buys hundreds more at about Dh2,000 per wig.
So he set himself the challenge of additionally raising the cash for another five hairpieces in the year it would take to grow his own hair to the correct length.
Looking around his room and seeing a monkey onesie a friend had bought him for a joke, he decided, on a whim, he’d run a series of Dubai’s long-distance races and Ironman challenges – while wearing the outfit.
Today, Ed’s hair is pushing 16cm and looks… very long.
‘It’s a bit of a nightmare, actually,’ he says. ‘You don’t realise how much effort you have to put into long hair. You have to style it every morning, wash it all the time, and it takes ages to dry. It constantly blows in your face in the wind, and I think it annoys my room-mate when I take so long in the bathroom. This has given me so much respect for what so many girls have to go through every day.
‘Part of me thought that when I got it cut, I might start all over again and just keep growing and donating. But… I dunno. I might have a period of short hair for a bit actually.’
Long hair, however, has been but a minor inconvenience compared to the other part of this personal quest.
Over the last 12 months Ed has raced in the 10km Dubai Desert Road Run; the Ice Warrior Challenge (described as ‘a commando assault course on snow’ and held at Ski Dubai); the Wadi Adventure Race, which covers 10km of land, sand and water in Al Ain; the Reebok Spartan Run (5km, 15 obstacles); and the 5km Big Bubble Run at Dubai Autodrome.
He also nailed the Dubai Marathon. ‘Although in that,’ he says, ‘my knee bucked at around 27km and I ended up crawling the rest of the way. I looked a sorry sight.’
All done, of course, in that onesie.
‘Every single one of the races was tougher than I thought it would be,’ he says. ‘I’m a relatively fit guy. I go to the gym and run a lot, and, when I was younger, I played football for Cheltenham Town FC. But I absolutely underestimated how difficult the outfit would make it all.
‘I mean, have you ever tried running a marathon in Dubai in an insulated, woollen monkey onesie?’
I tell him, reasonably enough, I haven’t.
I can imagine, I say.
‘No,’ he replies. ‘You can’t. You can’t imagine how hot it is. It’s like an oven in there.’
Safe to say, along the way, there’s been sweating, chafing, minor dehydration, blisters, boils and liberal use of talcum powder afterwards. The races that included some aspect of going through water were particularly hard because the suit soaked the liquid up and created a dead weight to carry for the rest of the run.
‘On a couple of occasions the organisers looked at me when I turned up and sort of hinted that I shouldn’t do it in the onesie, but I know my limits and I knew I’d be OK, and I had so many people sponsoring me that I didn’t want to flake out,’ he says. ‘I got called a lunatic a few times by other participants, though. They were probably right.’
It will, though, he says, all be worth it. So far, he’s raised roughly Dh8,000 of his target Dh10,000. That money will be used by the Little Princess Trust to buy more real hair wigs.
The charity itself was started in 2006 by Wendy and Simon Tarplee, parents of a little girl called Hannah, who was diagnosed with a form of kidney cancer and passed away, aged just five, in 2005.
‘Wendy and Simon decided the most fitting way to use all the help that was offered after she lost her battle was to launch a charity dedicated to providing specialist real hair children’s wigs,’ a spokesman for the trust says. ‘Like so many little princesses, Hannah loved her hair and losing it was very traumatic. Now, since its inception, the charity has helped thousands of boys and girls.’
It has also since branched out to helping kids who suffer hair loss due to alopecia. Pop star Jessie J has been one of its biggest supporters, and had her own hair cut to make a wig. Ed’s locks will come off later this month.
‘I can’t imagine how traumatic it must be to lose your hair when you’re so young,’ he says. ‘I personally don’t have any real emotional attachment to mine so, by giving it away, I realised I could make a huge difference to a child’s life. That’s a pretty inspiring thought.’
He thinks for a moment.
‘I’m looking forward to getting it cut now and being able to get up and not have to spend half an hour doing my hair every morning before I leave the house,’ he admits. ‘But more than that, I’m just so happy I can help with something that I feel is so important.’