Hello, my name’s George and I’m a spray-tan virgin. Blame it on an older sister who tanned her entire way through a terracotta adolescence. Or a boyfriend who has been quoted as saying he’s “less than excited about the ‘Essex’ look”. And bad experiences with mousses and gels leaving me with nothing but orange elbows. So I’d pretty much resigned myself to being pale and interesting forever. Until now. The person who changed my mind? The man they call the Tom Ford of tanning – James Harknett.
So what’s so special about this guy? With a host of A-list clients, and back- to-back appointments at London Fashion Week, James doesn’t just make you look a bit browner. He transforms women with what he calls his “tailored wardrobe of tan”, meaning it’s not one size fits all. More like a high-end foundation for your body, James aims to create “an evened- out, glowy version of you”. I’m sold.
I prepared for my appointment by contacting my sister for advice. She had lots of it. From “Watch out for the hands!” to “You’ll have to sleep completely still afterwards, you know, like a geisha”. So I wasn’t filled with confidence about my upcoming trip to London’s glam W Hotel, where James has residency. A lift ride takes me into the calmest room ever – the curtains are swishy and white. In fact, everything is white (which strikes me as a tad impractical). And there, sitting before me, silver haired and impossibly serene, is the wizard of tan himself.
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As I sip an orange and ginger Recharge shot (so zen), James asks me the big question: “What do you want from your tan?” Well, ideally not to look like a poor man’s Barbie. But also to fill in my bikini marks and look just a little better than my London commuter-worn self. He gets it immediately. Prescribing me a number eight on the Fake Bake tan scale – “Just enough to make people wonder where you went on holiday” – he lets me in on how it all works. Bring on the science. Fake Bake works with the proteins on the upper layers of your skin so you’re left with a tan unique to you, and tones range from six to 16 (16 being the more Strictly Come Dancing end of the scale). This isn’t your local high-street paint job; it’s a bespoke fitting.
And so to begin. It’s clothes off, black paper thong and hairnet on. Normally, the thought of looking like a naked deli worker would have me saying “Hell no”, but, mercifully, James approaches the whole messy business with the pragmatism of your local GP. I trust him instantly. Even his assurances that he’s in no way bothered about seeing my wobbly bits.
I gain another chic accessory – foot-shaped plastic pads stuck to my feet to avoid excess tan clinging to the soles. Now I’m a naked deli worker who walks like a penguin. James lifts the spray bottle with the deftness of Degas, which I guess makes me today’s masterpiece. Mirroring James, I swoop my arm out to the left, and it’s clear why his pre-tanning stint as a dancer was a successful one. James swishes around me spraying a cold, wet breeze of dark liquid and reassures me that the darker “guide” colour will wash away when I shower to reveal my true golden glow. A few final flourishes to contour my stomach and thighs, and after ten minutes we’re done.
He dries me off using warm air through a plastic tube, removing any stickiness. This must be the only situation where it’s fine for a complete stranger to reverse hoover your armpit. We move to the mirror to review his work. Honestly? I’m impressed. I’ve got a light, even tan that makes me look healthier, leaner and reassuringly expensive. Perfect. James seems particularly proud of his work. “Well, no one wants a Lauren Goodger, do they? That girl does like it dark!”
The next morning, I’ve showered as instructed, my sheets are clean and there’s no biscuity smell. The guide colour has washed off to reveal exactly what James promised: a light tan and a more polished me. The girls at InStyle genuinely think I’ve been on a sun-drenched mini break.
So would I do it again? Yes. Post-tan, my skin’s more even, which means I’m wearing less make-up, I’m venturing into shorter skirts to show off my bronzed pins and, a week later, I’ve still got an all-over glow. The boyfriend is so impressed by the results, he’s actually a little jealous. London – 0, Essex – 1. Result.
Fake Bake Spray Tan, from £40, James Harknett at the Away Spa, W Hotel, London W1 (jamesharknett.co.uk)
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