"Extinct within 100 years. High sensitivity to heat- and cold-related pain. Down to two per cent of the population.
With stats like that, if redheads were an animal species, there’d be a conservation group set up, a fund-raising day set aside in which everyone had to wear red wigs, and some kind of cute mascot (possibly a Weasley?) designed to pull in the crowds. As it is, Simon Cheetham, founder of www.redandproud.com, recently told The Guardian newspaper that discrimination against redheads in the UK is getting worse.
“In this politically correct world you can’t say anything about people’s religion or sexuality, but it’s still okay here in Britain to portray redheads in a negative manner,” he said.
And that’s in a part of the world where they’ve got the numbers. After all, some 13 per cent of the world’s redheads live in Scotland, and 40 per cent of the population carries the gene.
I’d like to say I’ve never noticed this discrimination, but the fact is that I’ve even participated in it.
First, the disclaimer, I am a redhead, with a red-haired sister, a red-haired cousin, a red-haired nephew, a red-haired niece, a red-haired uncle – in fact, a whole family tree of Gingas, Carrot Tops, Jaffas and Bloodnuts. All of which affected me only in small ways: an embarrassing lack of suntan in 1980s Australia, a tendency to blush easily, and a fondness for Anne of Green Gables quotes (“People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is.")
I thought I was red and proud. And in 2004, when Amanda Third, a Monash researcher (with red hair), found that redhead women had begun to surpass blondes in the sexiness stakes, well, my crimson pride knew no bounds.
Then I got pregnant.
Suddenly, between researching names (Maximus? Hermes? Ridge (not really)) and buying tiny singlets, I found myself obsessively studying genetics. Why? The prospect of The Red-Haired Son.
My husband and I discussed the possibility of a Tinge of Ginge on our unborn child. He waxed lyrical about the idea of a red-haired girl. When I raised the spectre of a boy named Blue, his response was less enthusiastic: “I’m sure I’ll learn to love him anyway.”
Put red hair on a boy and, somehow, the perception is that he’ll be picked last for sports (probably because mum’s still slathering him in sunscreen), geeky (Richie Cunningham anyone?) and have no luck with the ladies (evidence: the declining redhead population). Of course, rugby international Nick Farr-Jones, director/writer/actor/rich guy Ron Howard and notorious airline passenger Ralph Fiennes might beg to differ.
My initial research into our chances of producing a Rusty was encouragingly negative. According to Jonathan Rees, professor of dermatology at Edinburgh University who, with his colleagues, discovered the gene (MC1R, responsible for melanin production) that creates redheads, if a person has one of several variations of the gene, and if the variation is inherited from both parents, then they are likely to be red haired. So two parents with mutant gene equals red hair.
With my husband’s Dutch ancestry spectacularly redhead-free, things were looking good. I should have stopped there.
Professor Rees goes on to say that if you inherit the variation from just one parent, you have an increased chance of being red haired.
One parent with mutant gene equals very good chance of red hair.
Back to square one.
Taking a leaf from Sherlock Holmes’s Red Headed League (“for the propagation and spread of red-heads as well as for their maintenance”), I became a one-woman Red Haired Male Appreciation Society, tracking down the successful, the smart and the sexy of the red-haired fraternity. From Donald Trump and Kerry Packer, to Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and Jean-Paul Sartre, to David Wenham, that guy from Band of Brothers… even Prince Harry turned out better than we could have ever hoped. Archie Andrews was the red Romeo of Riverdale, Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States, Henry VIII was the original serial monogamiser.
True, redheads don’t often turn up as the heroes of romance novels – though I’m assured by my friends at the Romance Writers of Australia Association that there’s no rule about this – but I did discover a personals website (planetredhead.com) for redheads and those who love them.
If my boy turned out to be a rude red, I was ready. In fact, I was almost disappointed when he was not. Almost.Second time around, I was more relaxed. So much so that when Mr3 showed signs of, um, strawberry in his baby blonde locks, I was able to be philosophical. Red-haired men, I’ve decided, are like pink diamonds: increasingly rare and a fine investment."