Popular British comedy actor Matt Lucas has discussed his extreme hair loss in a pivotal chapter of his new autobiography.
The Little Britain star’s forthcoming memoir is likely to be a must-read for anybody with the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata or any of its related conditions. These include Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis, and it is the latter condition which has affected Lucas from a very young age.
In an extract from his book which is printed in the Guardian, the actor talks about how his early years were blighted by eczema, asthma and hay fever. Though a funny and inquisitive boy, he felt forever side-lined when it came to anything that required physical activity.
As he has previously discussed, it was a holiday to Portugal with his parents and his brother that would ultimately come to shape his childhood. Writing in the Guardian he says: “One day (in Portugal), while we were walking along the street, I got separated from my family. Eventually, I spotted them, on the other side, waving anxiously at me. I stepped off the curb, into the road, and was knocked down by a car. At school I recounted the story to my friends and teachers. I enjoyed the drama of it. My father, coming to my rescue. Me, the survivor.”
However, two years later in 1980 when Lucas was six, his hair started to fall out. During the summer holidays, he lost it all and while initially he wasn’t that concerned about the change largely because he had never much liked his hairstyle anyway he quickly came to find that his total baldness defined him.
“Suddenly, everything and anything else that I was was eclipsed by the fact that I was the little boy in town with absolutely no hair,” writes Lucas. This was a sensation that would linger for the remainder of his youth.
Doctors, he says, came to the conclusion that his dramatic hair fall was a delayed response to the shock of being knocked down in Portugal. They assured the youngster that his hair was likely to grow back soon and indeed it did, albeit much more wispily than before. And then it fell out again.
Lucas’ account of his childhood is a heart-breaking reminder of how hard it must be for any youngster who has to go through childhood feeling different to everyone else. His baldness, he says, was a source of amusement, sympathy and revulsion for everyone. Older children even told him that he had leukaemia and that he would die. There were frequent cries of “Baldy!” or “Slaphead!”.
“I was never allowed to forget for one moment that I was bald,” he says. “If I went swimming or to the cinema or went to the shop or simply walked down the street, adults and children stared at me.”
In an attempt to try and get his hair to grow back Lucas reveals that his family would travel to central London with him to meet specialists on a regular basis. Nothing worked though it seems like the family were happy to try everything, including acupuncture, of which Lucas recalls: “I don’t know anybody who enjoys having needles stuck into them and I was quite relieved when we stopped going.”
Next came the wig incident: obviously keen for their son to “blend in” at high school, his concerned parents suggested that a wig might help. The actor, however, remembers this as a disastrous experiment which was quickly ditched. Not only did a bigger boy yank it off in the playground the first day he wore it, but Lucas quickly found the wig hot and uncomfortable to wear. He also questions the wisdom of trying to hide the person he had come to accept; by the time he was ready for high school he had figured out jokey responses and/or cutting retorts depending on his mood. However, he does admit that in his heart he still wanted to be just like everybody else.
The actor writes that many years later well into adulthood he was talking to a doctor about his hairloss and was told that the car accident might not have been the cause of his Alopecia Universalis. The doctor asked Lucas if he had asthma, eczema, hay fever or allergies to which the comedian replied that he had all of them.
The doctor suggested that Lucas actually had an overactive immune system which was constantly looking for things to battle. He put forward the theory that this was why his body had rejected his hair.
Earlier this month, Lucas appeared on The One Show where his hair loss was openly discussed and the actor talked about how, as a boy, he would often mention Duncan Goodhew when people asked him why he had lost his hair. “People used to say (to Goodhew): ‘Why did your hair fall out?’ And he used to say, ‘I fell out of a tree,’” Lucas said. The actor then added that he would say: “You know Duncan Goodhew fell out of a tree? Well it was my head he landed on. The shock made my hair fall out.”
Presenter Alex Jones then hit Lucas with a surprise by calling in the legendary British swimmer from backstage. It was the first time that the two men had ever met and it was unquestionably an emotional moment for Lucas. “You meant so much for me growing up and you gave me such courage, so thank you very much,” he said, visibly moved.
Unfortunately, science hasn’t moved on much in the field of Alopecia Universalis treatment since Lucas was a boy. Unlike Alopecia Areata treatment, which is commonly overseen by the hair loss experts at Belgravia when people present with the scalp-only patchy version, treatment options for the more extreme forms of autoimmune alopecia remain largely unsatisfactory.
However, significant breakthroughs in the US in particular have opened an important crack in the door in terms of potential future treatment options. The buzzword in the industry is “JAK inhibitors” a collection of existing drugs designed to treat a multitude of conditions that are showing great promise as potential treatments for Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis, too. If long-term safety and efficacy can be proven and, in turn, medical clearance granted, then future generations of young Matt Lucases may one day be spared the rigours of being “the bald child” at school.
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