“It was a very, very loud voice that said to me: ‘We have come to take you—you have lost your way.’ I said ‘I know, I understand, I’m really sorry. I’ve just been caught up in it all, and I’ve lost myself. Give me another chance.’”
Take it from Gabriel Georgiou, life as a top-flight hairstylist in Hollywood is as hot as you would imagine it to be: glamorous, intense, and jam-packed with celebrities. In the 1990’s, he made oodles of money and went to the spiciest parties. He worked on the likes of Cate Blanchett and Robert Downey Jr., to name a few, and his ‘dos sauntered down the red carpet and graced the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue. He had everything.
On the surface, Georgiou was wielding a talent that millions looked up to and few could match. But under the surface lived another Georgiou, the one who buried his nose in Buddhist and Taoist books as a teenager, the one who explored orthodox monasteries on Mt. Athos in his native Greece, the one who braved “so much weirdness and trickiness out there,” to find answers to his questions about “life, the universe, people, suffering.”
“Too many questions,” he said in an interview with Magnifissance, “to which no one could give me the answers.” Georgiou would one day find his answers, but not before taking a few left turns down dark alleys.
In the late 80s he answered the call of the bright lights and stepped into the hairstyling industry. He made his way to Hollywood and into the A-list events. Celebrities, art directors and producers noticed Georgiou’s natural talent and, soon, everyone from Drew Barrymore to Keanu Reeves to Jessica Alba wanted his styles. “I succeeded in becoming one of the very busy hair stylists in the industry,” Georgiou says. In his hands, blow-dryers and scissors worked magic. He coaxed manes into the most beautiful looks imaginable with the skill of a wizard. His pay cheques started piling up, he got himself a house in Los Angeles and all the trimmings of a jet-set lifestyle. But, according to Georgiou, something was missing.
“It was all superficiality. I was seeking fame, materialism, wealth. I was indulging myself.” He started doing drugs. “Yes, it was a recreational thing, but it was also to keep me able to deal with all the rubbish around me.” Buying each fancy new thing, hot cars, and attending Hollywood parties didn’t bring him happiness, he said. Happiness trailed farther and farther away.
His downward spiral is not a rare one: with one hand, drugs like meth comfortably filled the hole in his heart while, with the other, it stole him piece by piece. A turning point came during a fashion shoot on location in the British Virgin Islands when he was 32.
“I nearly passed away. On big trips, I would quit drugs ‘cold turkey.’ That, plus the exhaustion, plus a lot of things—I was very, very ill at that point. I’d barely get up to do hair, and the make-up artist would take care of the rest. I was in bed for a few days, and at one point I felt I was going. I was going. I felt I was leaving. There was no fear; I knew I was just leaving the human world. There was this voice. It was three or four dimensions, I don’t know what to call it. It was a very, very loud voice that said to me: ‘We have come to take you—you have lost your way.’ I said ‘I know, I understand, I’m really sorry.’ I genuinely meant it from my heart. ‘I’m very sorry. I know I haven’t found what I’m looking for. I’ve just been caught up in it all, and I’ve lost myself. Give me another chance. Please, give me another chance.’ I sunk back into my body, my eyes opened and I was back. That’s when the change started, and I started trying to clean myself up.”
After that job, he purged everything. He gave away his designer clothes, fabulous furniture, the car. He quit his job and left Los Angeles. “Everyone was shocked at what I was doing. The so-called friends I had? Vanished.”
His family’s home in Brisbane, Australia, became a refuge. “I didn’t want to see another human being,” he says with a light laugh and no trace of self-consciousness. “All I wanted to do was spend time with my family, read books, eat and sleep. I was tired and exhausted and feeling this superficiality that I saw in everybody. I was truly questioning whether there were any good people left.”
Luckily for him, there was at least one good person left and the two crossed paths. She was a makeup artist who listened to his story while they worked together on commercials in Australia, a gentle person who seemed at ease even under pressure. She told Gabriel that she practiced a meditation and spiritual discipline called Falun Dafa (or Falun Gong), and that if he ever wanted to learn, he could find her in the park on most Sunday mornings.
“What I really liked were the three principles of truth, compassion, forbearance—that resonated with me. And the fact that it was free really clicked, because I knew that something good is taught from the heart, and you don’t take money for it. And thirdly, the fact that it was mind and body.”
Once Georgiou took Falun Dafa seriously, his body experienced a sudden jolt. “The second week I tried the exercises. I never felt something so strong, getting rid of such negativity.”
“I said to the practitioners ‘give me the books right now—I need to know what this is, what I’m doing. I need to read everything.’ That was it. I’ve been practicing ever since,” says Georgiou, who quit smoking with almost no effort just five weeks later. With each passing day, he watched as other unhealthy habits and chronic unease fell away.
“I used to have scoliosis which gave me a lot of suffering. During meditation, every time I finished and got up, my back would crack—all the cracks and placements happening. I’ve never had pain ever since. I used to have insomnia. That’s all vanished. I haven’t been to the doctor or taken an aspirin for 11 years.”
He continued to work on his inner self while the exercises worked on his body. He started living by truth, compassion and forbearance, the tenets of Falun Dafa. “My energy levels were sky high. Work became easier. I worked hard and positively—I was happy all the time. I took things lightly, and I laughed easily.” After being disillusioned with the fashion industry, it was Falun Dafa that made him want to enter it again. “Everyone sees a very big change. I’ve actually had someone say ‘I never liked you in the past, but you’re so different now,’ and we’ve become very good friends. I realised that I can be a positive influence in this world of fashion.”
At the Starbucks below the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, I met Georgiou this spring during the Times of India Film Awards. Hours before the red carpet was rolled out, the entrance was packed with tense fans leaning over the railing, waiting for Bollywood’s biggest stars to walk through a wall of security guards and into the lobby.
Our conversation was periodically halted while the crowd voiced their excitement in shrill waves. “I have to go in a few minutes,” he said, observing the star in the middle of this particular wave. A twinkle touched the corner of his eye. “She has the big performance tonight. I’m having trouble with my heat tools, I’ll have to start early.”
Today, Georgiou is an international virtuoso once again, only now he wows Europe and India with his creations. Magazine covers and red carpets are again his canvas, but the stars’ names are Italian, Czech or Indian, and their followers can outnumber Brad and Angelina’s. Georgiou splits his time between Greece and Mumbai, India—the thumping heart of Bollywood—where he works. The new environment has brought new challenges, but he says the principles now dwelling in his heart help him handle anything.
Simultaneously satisfying divas, directors, co-stylists, and his own sky-high standards means Georgiou finds himself in extremely high-pressure situations, knowing that stars’ reputations and tomorrow’s audiences are hanging on this afternoon’s brush strokes.
In front of the Pan Pacific, before he whisks himself upstairs to prepare his star for her big moment, he gives me a kiss-kiss on each cheek. So European! As he presses into the wall of security guards and fans, I yell “Good luck! I hope everything goes smoothly!” He turns briefly and flashes me a beaming look of thanks that says ‘Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ll be fine.’ Then he disappears into the flurry of cameras.