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Painting the Town Red

A U.K. festival celebrates a much-maligned minority

Author Hannah Stuart-Leach Illustration Peter Oumanski


MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Beneath a high industrial ceiling at the old Printworks entertainment complex in Manchester, England, a small group of people circle a stage. It’s midmorning, and the assembled are dancing awkwardly to an uncomfortably loud sound system playing songs by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Florence + the Machine. While the casual observer could be forgiven for failing to recognize that all of the music being played here today is performed by people with red hair, it’d be a lot harder to miss the fact that those listening are all gingers too.

The occasion is the U.K.’s first ever Redhead Festival, a day-long shindig for those blessed with a variation in the MC1R gene. (About two percent of the world’s population has it, though the number is much higher in the U.K.)

Soon, the cinnamon-bearded Alan Hayes takes to the stage, twirling his orange cape and getting the “ginger-loving madness” underway. Hayes is known as the King of the Redheads, a title bestowed upon him last year at the Irish Redhead Convention in County Cork. “Little did my dad know when he used to tease me, saying I’d been left out in the rain,” Hayes bellows, “that I would eventually become rusty royalty!”

Attendees represent many shades of ginger-headedness: flame-haired rockers, russet-locked vintage darlings, copper-topped kids. They watch as King Alan announces the day’s events, which include appearances by a redheaded motivational speaker and a redheaded magician.

At the end of the day, the celebrants collect goody bags containing SPF 50 sunscreen and shuffle past a slideshow that flits reassuringly to the quote: “A face without freckles is like a night without stars.”

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