My Hair Crush: Jet from ‘Gladiators’

There are two types of people in the world – those who think of Russell Crowe when they hear the word ‘gladiator’, and those who immediately imagine spandex, mullets and giant cotton-bud battles fought 30 feet in the air. Layered’s Alison Rowley, dear reader, is the latter…

“Do you feel the power of the Gladiators?”

On the cusp of adolescence in the mid-’90s, ITV’s Gladiators was my show. I had the lunchbox, the stickers, and (inexplicably) the plastic dining set. Saturday night viewings were compulsory in the Rowley household, and observed with a reverence only equalled by that shown for Arsenal matches scratchily dialled in on the AM radio. For those of you unfamiliar with the TV show – a fresh import from the States back in Day-Glo 1992 – it fell somewhere between gameshow, sport… and high-cut swimsuit-clad pantomime.

Pitting members of the public against a team of lean, mean, athletic machines (the ‘Gladiators’ from the title), it featured larger than life personalities and physical events scaled to match. There was hammed up audience interaction in the vein of WWE, and at the centre of it all were the dozen or so chiselled stars of the show, each of whom went by a nickname that supposedly echoed their individual characteristics and prowess.

“Do you have the will and the skill?”

The most notorious male Gladiator was ‘Wolf’ – a grizzly, prowling, older bodybuilder-type who was cast as the villain of the series. My favourite Gladiator was ‘Panther’, an international bodybuilding champ and hard fighter with a sultry gaze, who strutted into the arena to Janet Jackson and could hold her own against the guys. But this isn’t about her and her ’80s perm and wispy feathered fringe (sorry Panth). For when I wasn’t cheering for the badass gal in lipstick, I was marvelling in silence at hands-free cartwheeling gymnast ‘Jet’.
Jet was always billed as ‘the pretty one’; the boys at school fancied her and the girls who were more into ballet than footie boots wanted to emulate her high kicks and gravity-defying acrobatics. I was fixated on her hair – a free flowing mane in a sea of crimping, crispy curls and badly thought through bleach (Google ‘Lightning from Gladiators’ and weep). It’s no surprise that one of her signature moves, performed as she was introduced to the crowd by legendary Scottish MC and show referee John Anderson, was an exaggerated hair flip.

“Show the stuff you’re made of…”

To me, Jet’s hair was a thing of wonder. With a bald baby brother, a mum who’d already had short hair for a decade before I was born and a parentally enforced pageboy cut atop my own head, seeing long hair – especially long hair that behaved like that – was like stumbling across a unicorn. She spun and it fell perfectly about her shoulders. She took off her helmet, ran her hand through it and, despite being undoubtedly sweaty, it appeared picture perfect. Mesmerising.

From the moment she first appeared on screen, my goal was to have hair that matched Jet’s easy, breezy lengths. Hair that withstood my beloved sports without gluing itself to my scalp. Hair that if you ran for a bus, or say, up a mountain of precariously stacked vinyl and foam cubes (‘Pyramid’, I think that round was called), only took a hand run through its roots to untangle and fall back into artfully tousled place. It wasn’t fancy like the high-maintenance ‘Rachel’, it wasn’t particularly trendy like Gwen Stefani’s pastel-grunge, but it had elements of Cindy’s glam swoosh and real world relatability.

“Ready or not, let the challenge begin!”

So, in time, I grew out my blunt fringe. I gradually coaxed my hair past my shoulders. I had long layers cut in. More than 20 years later, I still haven’t managed to capture the consistently perfect amount of volume Jet’s hair always seemed to have (probably a carefully balanced mix of sweat, ’80s era hairspray and her goddamn unicorn magic), but every so often, I catch myself running my hands backwards through my hair out of habit. “Are you a Gladiator?”, the theme tune in my head screams over painfully ’80s guitar licks. No… but I’m not giving up yet.