Newcastle College lecturer Andy Downs sets sights on best beard title win
HE MAY ride a motorcycle and look remarkably like a Hairy Biker, but college art lecturer Andy Downs believes when it comes to beards, his is a cut above the TV cook's whiskery efforts.
In fact Andy, of Hartshill, believes his beard may be the best in Britain and is entering a contest to try to prove it.
After spending months nurturing his bushy creation, the 48-year-old is ready to enter the British Beard and Moustache Championships next month.
Earlier this year, the father-of-three, who works at Newcastle College, saw a television programme which followed beard-clad Americans who entered their facial hair into a worldwide contest.
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Suitably impressed by their dedication, former sandwich shop owner Andy decided to try his hand at growing his own a potentially award-winning beard.
He said: "After I watched a programme called 'Whisker Wars' on ITV I just thought a beard competition is something you can enter without really doing anything.
"I have always had a bit of beard and stubble and just decided to really grow it.
"I first grew a beard when I was about 17 and over the years I have shaved it because of different jobs and things like that."
Since that fateful evening in front of the television Andy has taken the life of a beard wearer seriously and has joined the British Beard Club along with purchasing products to protect his facial hair.
He said: "Men don't tend to talk about personal grooming but I did some research and found some oils that are recommended for beards to keep it in good condition. I also brush it every day."
Andy's beard currently hangs three inches from his chin, and coupled with his shoulder-length hair, it has led to comparisons with Simon King, of the popular BBC show Hairy Bikers.
Andy, who is also a biker, said: "I get a few people saying 'hairy biker' to me and I know it's light-hearted. I don't really think I look like him although there was a couple when I was on a trip to Wales who wanted a photograph with me.
"Other people have said I look like Grizzly Adams."
His beard has drawn attention from curious observers.
"People just want to touch it which is a bit strange at times. I think they want to feel the beard for good luck," he said.
But Alan's life as a beard owner isn't without it's hardships.
He said: "When I go to McDonald's I have to use about six napkins.
"It isn't generally too bad when eating, it's only when I have something wet."
Now Alan, who lives with wife Kerris, aged 45, hopes after five months of growth and care, his creation can scoop the top honour in the natural category at the beard championships on September 15 in Brighton.
He said: "My beard has reached what is known as its 'terminal length', it won't grow any longer now."
Kerris, a customer adviser, said: "When I met him he only had a bit of a beard but I think this one is fabulous."
But Andy admits his big beard may not be a permanent feature. He added: "I like having it at the moment. Would I shave it? If the price was right."