Redheads: scientifically stronger than the rest of us

A new history of the redhead asserts their supremacy, or so a redhead told us

Redheads are rare. On average, only 2 per cent of the global population has red hair. Less surprisingly (to us), most natural redheads are found on the west coast of Scotland and in Ireland, although there is what author Jacky Colliss Harvey calls “an intriguing little hotspot” of redheads on the river Volga in Russia.

In her new book, Red: A Natural History of the Redhead, Colliss Harvey (who says her hair colour has been the most defining feature of her life) analyses red hair through the ages: exploring science, religion, politics, feminism and culture.

The author goes into Darwin mode, tracing the redhead gene as it made its way out of Africa (yes really) across the world.

Colliss Harvey also maps the history of the redhead from the 16th century through the ancient world (taking in the ferocious ancient tribe of Thrace, to whom redheads may owe their fearsome reputation), to the mysterious Tarim mummies in China, redheads in medieval Europe and the Renaissance up to Protestant England, where it’s most famous representatives were Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.


Almost uniquely, as Colliss Harvey points out, when it comes to the stereotyping of redheads, women tend to get a better deal. Red-headed women are often portrayed as sexy, fiery-tempered vixens, which may be linked to their ability to produce more Vitamin D – a source of strength.

For the redheaded male, things are more problematic. Historically the association has been either the “savage barbarian or redheaded clown”, with redheads being persecuted and vilified through the ages.

This leads Colliss Harvey to the modern day stigma redheads deal with, a form of bullying that has become known as gingerism. Thankfully it looks like that is changing. Cork has long held an annual Redhead Convention (run by Joleen Cronin), which now attracts international attention and this month London will host it’s inaugural Redhead Day. Redhead actor Damian Lewis (above) is rumoured to be in line to be the next James Bond and if redheads needed a nod of approval from a pop culture icon then it came back in 2012 with Taylor Swift’s pronouncement that she would “do a ginger”.