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Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 18:40 GMT
Gingerphobia: Carrot-tops see red

So Frank Dobson's mum told him never to trust someone with red hair.

She is not alone in having a suspicion of redheads, but Mr Dobson must be rueing his public confession. Ginger Media boss Chris Evans took umbrage and doubled his donation to Mr Dobson's arch rival for London mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Evans' chutzpah in flaunting his coloring, naming his media empire after it, is an unabashed fightback for those rubiginously endowed victims of playground taunts.

Carrot-top, Copperknob, Duracell, Ginge, Ginger-whinger... the creative genius expended on abusive nicknames is not, perhaps, the greatest of human achievements.

But it's nothing new. Redheads have not had an easy time historically. Cleopatra reportedly used to add a reddish lustre to her hair with henna, helping along the redheads' reputation for being passionate, to say nothing of being vampish.

But the ancient Egyptians would also, it is said, ritually bury redheaded men alive. The ancient Greeks would consider that their characters were unbalanced, with their humours in the wrong proportions.

Their other reputation, for being moody and impulsive, was enhanced thoughout history by celebrated firebrands. Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Rob Roy. On the continent, there was John the Redhead, known in France as Jean le Roux, duke of Brittany in 1237, who took on the clergy and was excommunicated, but managed to talk his way out of it.

Anatoly Chubais - victim of tradition?
And there is the suspicion they have to deal with. Russia is just one place where there is distrust. The Independent's Phil Reeves reported hostility to the redheaded boss of Russian privatisation Anatoly Chubais, wondering if the traditionaly hostility was at all responsible.

One popular saying there was "A redheaded person is dangerous", he said. One person told him: "If there was a redhead in the village, and something terrible happened, he or she would always be blamed. It's like - well - a tradition, but it lives on."

Suspicions abound. One guide lists both that rubbing red hair will bring you good luck, and also that touching red hair is liable to burn your hands.

Some redheads claim, not completely tongue-in-cheek, that they should be taken seriously as a minority group.

One theory behind the notoriety of redheads is simple - that is it just a symptom of standing out.

It's a theory supported by cognitive scientist Mary Ellen Foster from Edinburgh University, who is herself a redhead. She has launched a website celebrating her kind and extolling their virtues.

Mary Ellen - proud to be ginger
"I wore very thick glasses from when I was a small child - I wasn't taunted, exactly, but it was difficult to blend into the crowd.

"You can't not be noticed, so you tend to just go with it. I tend to be quite sure of what I want and confident enough to tell people. I suppose you could say I'm slightly bossy. I'm not quick to temper, though, and that part of the stereotype bothers me. I'm not the fiery redhead, I'm easy-going."

One redhead, who asked not to be named, said: "I got into lots of fights as a kid. Having the mick taken for your hair colour is the same as if you are tall, short or anything else - you react in your own way. The only thing with ginger is that society says you have a short temper - so sometimes you live up to it."

Women redheads had become more popular, he said, citing Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, but men tended not to be, for example Neil Kinnock.

EU commissioner Neil Kinnock - well red
"I've lost count of the times male characters in films who are odd, psycho, or can't get a date are ginger. Usually they're fat and wear glasses too. Think of Pogo Paterson in Grange Hill," he said.

During Chris Evans' short-lived romance with Ginger Spice Geri Halliwell, many people speculated on what their children might look like.

The Redhead Encyclopedia, a book devoted to the study and celebration of the flame-haired, says that if one parent has red hair, there's a 50% chance the gene will be passed to the children. If one or two parents aren't redheaded but carry the gene, there is a 25% chance of having a ginger child.

And if both parents are redheaded? It can be any colour as long as it's red.

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See also:

22 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Watchdog probes Evans show
21 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Ginger jibe doubles 'Red Ken's' cash
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