Anthony Clavane: Is the reign of the beard finally over?

Leeds-born journalist, author and playwright Anthony Clavane.
Leeds-born journalist, author and playwright Anthony Clavane.
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The nation is on tenterhooks. Tomorrow we will all, finally, be put out of our misery. At 11.45am precisely, millions will tune in to find out the answer to the question on everyone’s lips.

Are beards over?

Never mind who will walk Meghan down the aisle. All eyes will be on Harry’s chin. And if it no longer sprouts any facial hair the pogonophobes will rejoice. They have long been praying for beardedness to fall from favour. If the sixth in line to the throne bows to pressure and shaves off his beard, they will be vindicated. The age of the metropolitan hipster will be over. The clean-shaven will re-inherit the earth.

This could well turn out to be their very own Brexit moment.

According to army rules – having served in Afghanistan, the prince is expected to be kitted out in military regalia – grooms who marry in uniform should be smooth of cheek and chin. More importantly, the Queen does not approve. The last time one’s grandson sported a beard, on his return from Antarctica in December 2013, Her Majesty told him he could only keep it for Christmas.

This column is, normally, a strong advocate of the life-imitates-art maxim. The prince’s beard is, after all, the culmination of a sustained cultural shift that has taken place among millennials. It is the product of an early 21st century trend for face topiary which has seen male musicians, actors and other pop culture figureheads adopt a wide range of styles, from short stubble and goatees to the full Brian Blessed. Some of the silver screen’s biggest icons – Dumbledore, Gandalf, Jack Sparrow – have been unapologetically hairy. More recently, superheroes like Captain America and Black Panther, and last weekend’s Eurovision Vikings from Denmark – supported in an ecstatic pro-beard tweet by Dumbledore’s creator JK Rowling – have shown that the power of facial hair isn’t something to take lightly.

But all that will change tomorrow if Harry goes naked into the chapel. So to speak. Male musicians, actors and other pop culture figureheads will immediately reach for their razors. Those dedicated followers of fashion will have been given the signal that we have reached peak beard. Never underestimate, as Harry’s glamorous, agenda-setting mother proved beyond doubt, the soft power of the Royal family.

Forecasting fashion trends is a notoriously fickle business, but my hunch is that there is one part of the country that will refuse to accept the death of the beard. As eagle-eyed readers will have spotted, I am a bearded Yorkshireman. I am proud that this county is home to the country’s first ever members’ club for facial hair enthusiasts; although I was not able to attend this year’s two-day Yorkshire Beard festival at Scarborough, it was by all accounts a wonderful display of hirsuteness.

I know my history. Or, rather, I’ve watched the television series The Last Kingdom. I know that we Yorkshiremen are descended from hairy barbarians. I well remember the episode where the warrior Ragnar, a Dane sporting the full Blessed, gathered together his followers at Loidis, the name for ancient Leeds.

Clearly, the Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, a godlike genius and proud son of Sheffield, is a direct descendant of Ragnar. I have been listening to his band’s sixth studio album and, to be honest, have found it a tad perplexing. Not half as perplexing, though, as his fans have found his newly-acquired hairiness.

Some of them, mortified that the boyish singer has finally become a man, have even launched a bizarre campaign to “banish the beard”. More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition. “He had the opportunity to age like fine wine,” posted outraged superfan Eabha Lynn. “It all went so dreadfully wrong, however, when he decided to grow a beard.”

To Ms Lynn and others, the erstwhile king of indie rock has lost his godlike status. Even Turner’s mum, who attended the opening of the Monkeys’ pop-up shop in Sheffield, moaned: “He needs a hair cut – and he needs to shave off that beard”.

But to the honest, hairy-chinned men of God’s own county, he’s not a very naughty boy. He’s still the messiah.