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If you're simply red it'sall in the genes.

Byline: Hilarie Stelfox

W HEN I was expecting Firstborn people kept asking me whether I wanted a girl or a boy, as if I had - or even desired - some control over the matter.

I said that I really didn't mind, as long as he or she didn't have red hair. It was probably the wrong thing to say. It's not that I dislike red hair. In fact, I love the idea of having a hair colour that stands out from the crowd, fades instead of turning grey and makes one a member of an exclusive club. As a young adult I used to put henna on my hair to turn it auburn. It's just that at school I knew several people who were teased because of their genetically-acquired red hair. Of course, when Firstborn finally arrived, he had a fuzz of ginger hair. It was almost a given. As Secondborn (a blonde) frequently comments, I have the power to jinx things. If I say, "it looks like the weather's going to be nice today" it will inevitably cloud over and bucket down.

By the time Firstborn was a toddler he had masses of auburn curls. Old ladies and women of a certain age would tell him he had beautiful hair and pat him on the head. He developed a bit of a vanity complex about it and would say to me: "I've got nice, lovely 'orbun-brown' hair, haven't I?" We chopped the curls off in time for him to start school to minimise the chances of teasing, but by the time he was five or six the redness had become little more than a hint of 'orbun-brown' and my fears proved to be unfounded.

I started thinking about all this a few days ago when I read about the recent annual Redhead Day held in the Dutch town of Breda, at which 1,400 redheads from more than 50 countries turned up to celebrate their hair colour.

Only 1-2% of the world's population has red hair, although if you live in the North West of Europe your chances of acquiring it are slightly higher, at between 2 to 4%.

In Scotland up to 13% of the population has red hair, but around 40% of the population is thought to carry the recessive gene responsible for the world's rarest natural hair colour.

Irish and Welsh people also have higher incidences of ginger in their populations and as many as 46% of Irish people have the gene.

Those of you who remember Mendelian genetics from your schooldays will know that for a recessive characteristic to emerge it is necessary for both parents to be carriers.

This means that both myself and The Man-in-Charge have the recessive gene, without having red hair ourselves.

I happen to know that my maternal DNA was acquired from the ancestor of the Celtic people because several years ago I took a genetic test with the Oxford Ancestors company run by Professor Brian Sykes (who discovered while conducting research on his own ancestors that he is related to many Huddersfield-born Sykes). It showed that I was a member of what he calls the Clan of Tara, which accounts for less than 10% of modern Europeans, with high concentrations in Ireland and the Western Celtic fringes. The only thing known about 'Tara' is that she lived 17,000 years ago in the North West of Italy among the hills of Tuscany and along the estuary of the river Arno.

Although I had strongly suspected I carried Celtic genes - with my tendency to freckle - it was nevertheless surprisingly gratifying to have proof. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to redheads. In Ancient Egypt red-headed men were sacrificed to Osiris; while in the Middle Ages, redheads were persecuted as witches, werewolves and vampires. During the Spanish Inquisition, people with red hair were rounded up and identified as Jews. Today, attacks on red heads might be more verbal than physical but gingerism is still alive and well. Former Equality minister Harriet Harman, of all people, was forced to apologise to treasury secretary Danny Alexander after calling him a 'ginger rodent'. He said he was proud to be a ginger. And singer Mick Hucknall, whose band was given the title Simply Red, has frequently complained of ginger prejudice.

However, the gingers may have the last laugh as the world's climate changes and Northern weather patterns settle into bad summers and cold winters. People with red hair have lower levels of melanin, which means that while they burn more easily in bright sunlight, they are also more able to manufacture Vitamin D in less sunny climates. Gingers may yet inherit the North.

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* SEE RED: Mick Hucknall
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2012
Words:784
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