Don's Diary

August 8, 1997


After feverish weeks supervising project students, invigilating and script-marking, I come to work hopeful of uninterrupted weeks in the research lab. This is what brought me to Bradford from New York: there's a world-class team here studying skin and hair issues. In the Big Apple, I was working on a hair-loss disease, alopecia areata, and why it attacked pigmented hairs rather than white ones. There must be something in the pigment-producing cells, or melanocytes, which cause them to be targeted by this presumptive auto-immune disorder. The dormant cells retain all the machinery to produce pigment: we've got as far as kick-starting that process in the test-tube.


Sean, my MSc project student, shows some encouraging results and I really appreciate the chance for more relaxed and in-depth discussion. I hear the Sunday Times has inquired about the department's hair pigmentation research. As I'm there at the time I return the reporter's call. We carefully go through my published results and I explain how the dormant melanocytes were reactivated in the test-tube. Some day - years down the line - it just might be possible to find a way of making this happen in the scalp. The journalist, Steve, will let me know tomorrow if the story will run.


Steve calls: he'll run with it on Sunday. He dispatches a photographer to the lab. After some rather unconvincing theatrical shots of me holding the scalp of a reluctant grey-haired colleague, it's a wrap. My media debut awaits.


Back to the lab to complete yesterday's unfinished chores.


Awoken by a very early call. A Yorkshire TV woman has read the article and wants me back in the lab for an interview later that day. Buy the Sunday Times, impressed to see the well-written piece as page lead. Dammit, they've left out my photo. At the university I hear Sky News also want an interview. Both interviews go well and I am fascinated by the mysteries of TV. Get a call from the Daily Mail, a piece will appear tomorrow - finally I have a reason to buy that paper. Return home to Leeds and catch the YTV broadcast. Not too bad, I reckon. I wonder what Sky will be like. Call my family in Ireland who send out a Tobin Clan Alert to record the piece.


Feeding frenzy starts in earnest. Have I hit the J-spot of middle-aged and greying journalists perhaps? Five live radio interviews via the university's ISDN link and I'm beginning to sound a little too scripted. Two local papers, the Yorkshire Post and Telegraph & Argus, call. German TV will take the Sky News piece. An enjoyable chat with the Canadian Press Service follows. Feeling reasonably chilled-out, until NBC suggests a satellite link-up from Leeds. Get tarted up and head to BBC Leeds. I stare into a black screen and try not to look shifty by focusing on a white dot in the centre of the screen. The NBC anchorwoman introduces me as a British scientist. I tell her I'm an Irish scientist working in Britain. Then it's on to a brief description of the research. As before, however, the questions are mainly "when will your product be available?" Tuesday

Do live interview from my bed at 7 am with BBC Greater Manchester. Head to work. BBC TV Look North is there for taped interview to go out tonight. A colleague says she has seen me on MBC TV, in Arabic - all becoming quite surreal. Then back to ISDN link for interview with four more regional BBC radio stations. Wonder what ISDN stands for. Take a call from Hairdressers' Journal whose main concern is effect on hair-tinting business. University photographer takes some head shots. Take train to London for a live TV interview on BBC World TV. I take my laptop along as I'm falling behind with other commitments. Arrive at BBC, taken to make-up and then under bright lights for a light-hearted interview with David Jessel. Paid expenses and a little more besides. Return to Leeds and realise I've left my filofax in a telephone booth at King's Cross Station. Talk to family in Ireland, now also pretty excited by my 15 minutes of fame.


Ask a friend in Australia to send on "clipping of hair-piece" he read in the Courier. Beginning to feel that life may be returning to normal. Have telephone interview with charming Isabel from El Pais that will now take the story around the Spanish-speaking world. Then back to ISDN studio for two more radio interviews followed by telephone chat with the Ottawa Citizen. Check the press cuttings: dismayed by one claiming I have cured greying and baldness!


Two interviews with Irish media, otherwise back to normality. Check mirror: I look a little greyer today.

Desmond Tobin is a lecturer in the department of biomedical sciences at the University of Bradford.

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