Andy Bodle thought being a redhead would keep him a virgin forever, until Boris Becker won the 1985 Wimbledon and gave gingers a second chance.
“Along with the 97% of women who can see, I have never been a fan of red-headed men.” —Chelsea Handler, US comedian
“In order to join Darwin Dating, you have to agree that you don’t suffer from … red hair.” —DarwinDating.com, “exclusive” dating website
In 2011, a Dutch sperm bank started turning away donors with red hair.
I was never much of a tennis fan. This was partly because I had the hand-eye coordination of one person’s hand and another person’s eye, but mainly because I found it unbearably dull. The action was repetitive, the players were charisma vacuums, and the home and away strips were virtually indistinguishable.
In 1985, though, Wimbledon caught my imagination, for one reason: Boris Becker. “Boom Boom” was 17, came from a country that had never won the tournament, and was unseeded. But the main reason I liked him was because he was ginger.
My red hair had been the bane of my life. It wasn’t just the endless taunts of “Duracell” and “coppernob”; auburn locks marked you out as inferior as surely as a Nazi triangle. There were no black or disabled kids at school to take the heat off; gingernuts, along with fatties, were the lowest of the low.
Until that point, there had been precious few role models for us strawberry blondes. Steve Davis, Mick Hucknall, Jim Davidson—not exactly an inspiring roll call. Now, for the first time, we had someone dynamic, exciting and reasonably good-looking to identify with.
So when Boris raised his hands in triumph after serving out the match, I, and carrot-tops across the land, did the same. Here at last was a public figure we could point to and say, “Look! Red hair doesn’t have to be a handicap!”
The trickle-down effect was almost immediate. The following Monday at school, as I was hanging around near the fifth-form common room, a short, pretty, dark-haired girl approached me.
“You look like Boris Becker,” she said. “Will you go out with me?”
Never mind that I was a full six inches shorter than Boris, markedly less athletic, and couldn’t hit a beach ball with an empty suitcase; similar hair colouring, for this young woman, was enough.
I’d never noticed her before, for one reason: she was older than me. According to the unwritten rules, boys could ask out girls in their own year, and girls who were one, or in exceptional cases two, years their junior. But fifth-form girls? They were so far off limits, you had to lower your gaze when they flounced past. Yet here was one of them, openly propositioning me. It was as if someone had, without asking me, gone off and designed by computer my very own Weird Science-style older-woman sex robot.
Julie was more Kylie than Kelly Le Brock, but that just meant more sex per square inch. Fifth-formers were allowed a looser interpretation of the school uniform rules, and Julie’s was the loosest of all. Suffice to say she did not dress to please those who believe that clothes should add mystery to the female form.
Nonetheless, it seemed improper to make a decision based on such scant information. I asked Julie if I could give her my answer at the end of break, then sprinted around the school pumping all available sources for anything they might know about this beautiful stranger.
Well, according to popular opinion, she was neither a spaz, a benny or a joey. She wasn’t notoriously horrible, either, so it probably wasn’t a trick. And rumour had it that she had given Ian Taylor a blowjob after the last end-of-term disco. That was settled, then.
The next day, by the school gates at lunchtime, I met my new girlfriend for the first time. We said hi, then she made me smoke my first cigarette. Once I’d stopped coughing, she grabbed and kissed me.
The kiss was wet and passionate, but somehow more controlled than the ones I’d had before. It was a grown-up kiss. After a couple of minutes, without breaking lip contact, she took my hands from her shoulders and placed them squarely on her bum.
When the bell rang, Julie raised her eyebrow saucily and grabbed me between the legs. “Just you wait till I get you somewhere private,” she said. I had to carry my Arsenal bag in front of my crotch for the rest of the day.
The next day, Patrick arrived. Patrick was my pen friend, and he was staying for a fortnight. Like my hero, Boris, he was from West Germany; like Boris, he was well over six feet tall. Unlike Boris, he was a total fucking moron.
Patrick wore violent dayglo colours that managed to clash with everything, especially his badly dyed hair. His face, which might under normal circumstances have passed for handsome, was permanently contorted in an idiotic grin. And his idea of sophisticated humour was to make fart noises with his mouth.
I tried meeting Julie with him once; he smoked all her cigarettes and spent the whole time giggling. For our next rendezvous—another snatched kiss and fevered grope—I managed to shake him off, but that night he blabbed to my parents that I’d abandoned him, earning me a bollocking and a stern warning not to let him out of my sight again.
Since I couldn’t really see Julie as long as the Gangling Oaf was around, I reluctantly decided to postpone my sexual awakening until he’d gone. They were the longest 10 days of my life.
When we got back from taking Patrick to the airport, I scrambled for the phone. Was my Julie there? She was—but she was no longer mine. Two days previously, she’d started going out with Liam Kendall, who looked a bit like Ayrton Senna.
The following year, on the return leg of the exchange, I went to stay with Patrick’s family in Cologne. He ignored me for the entire fortnight, which he spent shagging Martine, his new girlfriend. I was still a virgin.
Twenty-four years later, my friend Jenny, a part-time “gossip scout” for one of the national dailies, got me invited to a star-spangled bash at a swanky hotel in Covent Garden. Among the luminaries in attendance were David Cameron, Tess Daly and David Walliams. Jenny and I were strategising in the lobby when Boris Becker barged through the revolving door.
Jen, being a bit of a fan, marched shamelessly up to him and demanded an autograph. As she was rifling through her bag for a pen, I tried to fill the awkward silence. “You know, Boris,” I said, “my first girlfriend asked me out because she thought I looked like you.”
Boris peered down as if the six inches between us were six miles, and snorted.
In 2004, biologists at Williams College, Massachusetts, made a startling discovery. By examining mitochondrial DNA and a section of the Y chromosome, they calculated that the average human being has twice as many female ancestors as male ones.
At first sight, this seems impossible. After all, everyone has one father and one mother. The catch, as the biologists realised, is that some people have children by more than one partner. If you trace your way back up your family tree, at some point, names start appearing two, three, or even more times. And it just so happens that most of those names are male.
Take the most famous polygamist of all time, Genghis Khan. As head of an immense and powerful empire, Genghis kept a harem of thousands of women, and probably raped many thousands more. As a result, it is estimated that up to 16 million people alive today can claim him as an ancestor. Other prodigious historical males include a ninth-century Welsh nobleman called Gwilym of Many Conquests, who is reckoned to have 7 million descendants alive today; and Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fourth-century Irish king, who can count 3 million great-great-etc-grandkids in the British Isles alone.
Because there are roughly equal numbers of men and women, if these men are making so many babies—and each woman, remember, can only give birth a few times in her lifetime—then quite a few other men must be making none at all. (Meanwhile, most women are reproducing, although many are having to share a husband.) In technical terms, males have a much higher variance in reproductive success than females.
We don’t know how much of this variance is down to aggressive males killing their rivals and how much is down to women selecting certain men and leaving others in the cold. But whichever way you cut it, at least half of the men who have ever lived did not reproduce.
Things have evened out a little in the modern era. According to research cited by the American Association of University Professors, 87% of women will have at least one child during their lifetimes; the figure for men is 81%.
This previously appeared on Womanology.