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Where now for Simon’s beard?

Friday, 8 September 2017

Where now for Simon’s beard?

Everyone remembers where they were when they first heard the news. For many it was this dramatic announcement on Twitter by David Williams of the HSJ:

BREAKING: Simon Stevens' beard is GONE. GONE. He left it in the Adriatic, we hear.

There followed a wave of disbelief, then denial. The Twittersphere speculated that there would surely be a “refresh” – a brief phase of beardlessness followed by new growth, unveiled just in time for NHS Expo, perhaps.

A sceptic voiced the view of many when she tweeted:

It will be reconfigured, given a slightly different name and expected to perform the same function.

But it was not long before the confirmed sightings of a clean-shaven Stevens were rolling in. As the truth dawned, a period of national mourning began.

A lot changed during the beard’s brief tenure (we reported its appointment almost exactly a year ago). What Sam Jones and her new models of hair team had done for female executives, Simon’s beard promised to do for the men. While there was no official policy, there was an “assumed liberty”. It was now okay to come to work with a goatee or to appear after a week’s leave claiming to have forgotten to shave.

With NHS England chairman Sir Malcolm Grant (well governed moustache) and Simon Stevens (polar explorer beard) united in their tacit approval of facial hair, the service appeared to be on the verge of a grooming renaissance.

The beard soon developed a life of its own. While Stevens himself resisted the lure of Twitter, his beard opened its own account, building an avid following in a few short months. 

So what now? Will we see an about-face in national beard policy or will Simon continue to provide hair-cover for “users”. We’ve entered a period of uncertainty. Chris Hopson’s office is not returning our calls about the future of his trademark designer homeless look. Nor are we entirely convinced by NHS England’s lightly bearded head of communications Simon Enright, who issued an immediate statement to the effect that his face was 100% behind his beard. 

Just as these questions were hanging in the air, and the first bouquets were being laid outside Skipton House, there was a further dramatic development: it emerged that the boss’s beard had not been washed down a drain somewhere in central Europe after all, but had survived and was back in London.

We managed to track it down to a secret location from where we bring you this exclusive interview.

Did Simon give you any warning that he was dropping you from the team?

He's been in Aldi twice looking at products but I thought he just had wandering eyes. I didn't take it seriously. I thought all men do this. Then a suspiciously long shower with lots of lather and I was gone.

Simon appeared quite attached to you. What do you think changed his mind?

The decision was rash – and caused a rash.  I blame Briggs, who demanded cuts.

What was the best thing about working for Simon?

Dodger. The confused looks, the furtive eyes when asked for a plan. Lovely. Known as Baldrick.

And the worst?

The fighting between Willetts and Briggs. Paper cuts, stapler injuries, bumped knees all caused a race to treat and a row over variation.

It’s said that the so-called “smooths” resented your growing influence. Were they briefing against you?

Jim was an issue but mainly there were rows over the Radiohead collection. No Surprises was their song.

There must have been things you saw that shocked you…

The only thing that shocked me was the amount of time it took to charge the NEDs before board meetings. Waking them up was always a challenge. They live on the 5th floor and enjoy the brief trips to the 6th for their 'live TV' appearance. They live on Nik Naks.

You’ve had a very important role. Is there anywhere for you to go from here?

I'm finished with the NHS. I'd like to move into showbiz - Louis Walsh, Jeremy Hunt for example. 

I'm disappointed we didn't see the dream of 'total triage' but I think it will happen. Triaging referrals, operations, prescriptions, histology, bandages. All committees, all clinically led, all in London.

Finally, I have to ask you this: do you feel any animosity towards Simon over the way it ended?

No we were a good team. Like the cabinet, all teams split eventually. Better to have loved and lost…

We had to end the interview at this point as the beard felt unable to continue.

There are those who argue that the beard was becoming bigger than Simon, which was why it had to go. The beard’s supporters say it simply tired of the politics, the squabbling, the endless meetings and was ready to call it a day.

Is this the last we’ll see of Simon’s former beard? It seems unlikely. While there’s nowhere to go but down in the NHS, it’s conceivable the beard could resurface in the world of management consultancy, perhaps as an upgrade for Mark Britnell's small and rather mean-looking effort. Or it could set its sights higher still.

Word reaches us that a beard has been spotted in Threadneedle Street. Meanwhile there are unconfirmed reports that Bank of England governor Mark Carney has been seen coming out of a newsagent’s with a copy of GQ magazine under his arm.

Coincidence? We shall see.

Personal grooming editor: Julian Patterson