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Bouffants, beehives, glitter and glam

Outside, the wind played havoc with your hair; inside Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom, there was enough spray to tame the wildest locks

Outside, the wind played havoc with your hair; inside Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom, there was enough spray to tame the wildest locks

They rose when it was still dark and got to work with their hairspray at 4am. Within hours, Sarah Bissett is transformed into an autumnal vision.

Just after midday she takes to the stage at Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom - her face and body decorated in seasonal green and gold.

Sarah, 17, is wearing what looks like an organza bikini in shades of teal and rust, there are leaves in her hair and ivy twining up her legs from her gold stilettos. Even her lips are a slash of golden glitter.

This is the Aberdeen College Hair and Beauty Festival 2009 - an annual inter-college competition to recognise trainees' creative achievement in the glamour stakes. There are 12 competitive classes - everything from Cover Girl Make-up to Ladies' High Fashion Cut and Colour.

The winners become North East Trainee Hairdresser of the Year and North East Trainee Make-up Artist of the Year. As with any competition, there are strict rules - models must not help the competitor who is styling their hair, each competitor is allowed one socket and must bring a mirror. Ladies with clipboards are keeping everyone in check.

It is the kind of event that makes your jaw drop. Beautiful, willowy girls parade onto the stage - each representing a different season for the Fantasy Make-Up competition.

Outside, it's a bad hair day, with huge waves roaring onto the beach and horizontal driving rain. Some Fantasy entrants are not wearing very much, and braved raw wintry winds as they dashed from cars and buses into the seafront ballroom.

Inside, the dance floor is a sea of activity as the High Fashion competitors twist and spray hair into exotic creations at rows of tables. There are girls with horns and with spikes, straight girls and curly girls and girls with bouffants and beehives.

This isn't girly fun on a Saturday night sleepover with straighteners and facepacks; this is seriously competitive and women here want to win. Some are crafting their classmates' hair; others are battling with mannequin heads which stare icily ahead, feeling no pain.

Competitors are from colleges across Scotland - such as Tammy Carstairs, a 26-year-old mum of three from Elmwood College in Cupar, Fife, who has created Sarah Bissett's autumnal look. Tammy and Sarah are studying Level 2 Beauty and travelled up in the college bus this morning. "We did the hair and everything else before we came up - not the make-up," says Tammy.

The make-up took two hours and Sarah is delighted with the outcome - so are the judges, and a few hours later Tammy is announced the winner in Fantasy Make-Up. She has done well - there are 50-odd entrants, and it looks as if she's not the only one who's been preparing since before dawn.

This is the first time the competition has featured school link pupils who attend college from school to study hairdressing and beauty. Rhian Ivory, 15, from Inverurie Academy in Aberdeenshire, and her friend Emily Simpson, 15, from Banchory Academy, have just finished their competition.

The girls study hairdressing one day a week at Aberdeen College and won through heats for a place in today's First Time Freestyle competition. It's open to Level 1 and school link students, and the girls have found the "hair up" session on mannequins quite challenging.

"I experimented and added to it," says Emily. The girls are eyeing up serious competition a few rows away and think they have spotted likely winners. "It's probably the ones on boxes - it makes them more presentable," she says, pointing out some heads mounted on podiums. Their mannequins look elegant with not a horn or spike in sight, but they are making a mental note to bring boxes next year.

Deborah Fraser, team manager for hair and beauty at Aberdeen College, is delighted to see so many young entrants. "We have now got the Curriculum for Excellence, so it's about them taking responsibility for their own learning. It's about making them confident and developing their social skills and letting them be creative."

At the back of the competition hall, "Winter" shivers in an unseasonally thin vest top and trousers draped with a silver beaded tunic. Lorelei Pryde has silver eyelashes, diamond-jewelled lips and a great mane of dark hair studded with tiny pearls.

She and stylist Donna McSharry are beauty therapists from Elmwood College in Kirkcaldy and travelled on the same bus as "Autumn". "I did the hair on the bus," says Donna, as we admire its frosty sheen.

Upstairs, the hairdressing judges are having a confab over their lunch - their own hairdos are fit for a podium. Agnes Leonard from the National Hairdressers' Federation has a hairdressing salon in Dundee and describes what judges look for.

"If it's a fashion style we will go for shine, lines that are nice or, if it's a fantasy style, we have to look at the overall picture and make sure there aren't any pins hanging out. Obviously, a lot of the young ones are just starting out in competitions, so it's great to see all these mannequin heads," says Mrs Leonard.

Her colleague, Ann Goddard, says: "The enthusiasm is just unbelievable and I always think, if you can catch them at this stage, they can progress. It's not easy for them, they have to have a lot of guts to stand up on that floor and perform."

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