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Joanna Rowsell, who suffers from alopecia, on why she refused to wear a wig to accept her gold medal Joanna Rowsell still can’t quite believe she is the proud owner of her own gold medal. ‘It is a bit surreal,’ she says. ‘And it’s going to be pretty hard to top.’ Equally difficult for her to take in, however, is her overnight transformation into inspirational role model. After roaring to Olympic victory in the women’s cycling track event, 23-year-old Joanna removed her helmet to reveal she is almost totally bald — the result of the alopecia she has suffered for 13 years — and chose to ascend the Olympic podium, watched by a worldwide audience of 17 million, to collect her medal without her wig. Hair loss condition: Olympic cycling heroine Joanna Rowsell has suffered from alopecia for 13 years Role model: Joanna is still taking in her Olympic win with Dani King (above left) and Laura Trott pre bonded hairThere have, of course, been many moving and inspiring moments during London 2012. But Joanna’s simple choice sent a powerful message in these achingly image-conscious times — one that Joanna was acutely aware of. ‘On one level it was a case of “this is just me”. I get off my bike, take my helmet off and that’s who I am,’ she says. ‘I did know it would be making a statement — I just didn’t anticipate the size of the reaction.’ All over the world, commentators praised her courage, while her website was inundated with messages from fellow alopecia sufferers thanking her for making such a positive statement. ‘I’ve had tweets and emails from all over the world from people telling me how much it has helped,’ she says. ‘One mum wrote to say her daughter had developed alopecia and was worrying so much about it, but that now she had seen me she felt more confident about the future. HAIR LOSS:

Alopecia areata — the most common form of alopecia — affects one in 100 people ‘Stories like that make me realise it was worthwhile.’ It should be said at this point that, in the flesh, Rowsell is enormously pretty. Fresh-faced and lean, she has luminous blue-green eyes and an impish smile. Arriving for our interview in a pair of skintight jeans showcasing an enviable pair of legs  — ‘Well, I do work hard for them’ she grins — she is delighted by the prospect of a photoshoot in an assortment of pretty dresses. ‘I’m in a tracksuit a lot of the time, but I love wearing really girlie stuff when I have a chance to dress up. If I’m shopping, I’ll always navigate towards a pink flowery dress or something like that. Friends will sigh and say: “Oh, Jo, that’s so you.” ‘I think people can make assumptions when you have hair loss, but I like to look nice and feminine as much as the next person.’ Olympic champions: The cycling trio in action during London 2012 remy hair extensionsAlopecia occurs when the immune system becomes confused and attacks the body’s own hair follicles, causing the hair to fall out in patches that can eventually spread to the entire head. Joanna, who grew up in Cheam, Surrey, was diagnosed aged ten when her thick auburn hair started to disappear. One eyebrow went, then the other, then the hair from her scalp in big chunks along with her eyelashes. She was, she admits, bewildered. ‘At that age you don’t really understand. I remember crying and saying to Mum and Dad: “Why is this happening to me?” It was so upsetting.’ Countless visits to doctors and specialists with her parents, bank worker Roger and school accounts manager Amanda, both 52, all ended with the same message: the condition was incurable. By the time Joanna went to secondary school, she was completely bald save for a few tufts. It must have been agonising: adolescence is hard enough without the added burden of a physical condition that sets you apart. ‘I went to an all-girls school and I was very accepted, I was never bullied or teased,’ she says. ‘But I did feel self-conscious. I’d wear a hat to go the shops to try to stop people staring. It didn’t make me angry — I understood I looked different — but it wasn’t easy. Inspirational: Joanna says she has about ten wigs and changes them according to her mood ‘I used to tell myself it was temporary, it would grow back, even though months, then years, went by and nothing changed. In some ways my way of dealing with it was not to deal with it, to pretend it was a phase.’ On reflection, she admits that she hid herself away. ‘I didn’t do all the normal teenage stuff. I didn’t bother with clothes or make-up because I didn’t want to focus on my appearance. I threw myself into my studies. My teachers used to tell me I would burn out as I worked so hard. But, to me, working hard stopped me worrying about the future.’ Then there was the cycling: at 15, Joanna was scouted by the British Cycling talent team when they visited her school in Sutton, Surrey. At the time she had little interest in cycling but, after clocking her incredibly fast time in a school trial, the scouts felt she had raw talent and she started to train. ‘It was nice to find something else I was good at, that I could focus on,’ she says. ‘I started to put all my energy into that, too.’ Then, at the age of 16, the thing she had longed for happened: her hair started to grow back. Within a few months it fell to below her ears. ‘I was thrilled,’ she says. ‘It came out of nowhere, and the only thing I could think of was that doing sport had helped. But it changed everything. It was so nice to leave the house and feel normal.’

Then, cruelly, it started to fall out again. ‘In the summer I had a full head of hair and by Christmas it was pretty much all gone,’ she says. ‘That was horrible. I’d had a glimpse of what life was like with hair, and now I had to go back. My heart would sink when I saw another clump coming out. ‘I went over and over something I might have done differently that had changed it, but, of course, there wasn’t anything.’ She went through that process again three years ago, when her hair again grew back in patches, although this time only for a month. After the previous cycle of hope followed by disappointment, it must have been another crushing blow. ‘I felt differently this time,’ she says. ‘There was a sense of “I don’t want to go back to where I was”. That’s when I started to look into having a wig.’ perruques cheveux naturelsIt was something she’d avoided before, confessing today that on some level it scared her. ‘I can’t really explain it, but I just didn’t want to. Maybe doing it would mean properly confronting the fact that I had lost my hair. There is still part of me that is in the process of accepting it. It’s weird to think about being in my 50s and still in the same situation.’ Winning smile: Joanna has become a role model for girls with alopecia This time, though, she was determined. She enlisted the help of a friend, and together they went to Selfridges in London for a wig trying-on session. ‘I wouldn’t have gone without her, but after I got over the fear I realised it could be liberating. That, suddenly, I could be in control and I could have hair whenever I wanted, look however I wanted.’ She emerged from the shop with two wigs: one dark brown and straight with a fringe for daytime, and a dark curly one for evenings. ‘I bought another one, a blonde bob,’ she says. ‘I loved it. It felt like a new me. I remember trying on all these different clothes and just really enjoying it. I felt more feminine. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long.’ Interestingly though, not everyone felt the same. ‘I wouldn’t say some people were negative, but for close friends and family it was almost as if they had to get to know a new person and some of them found that weird.’ Among them was her boyfriend Dan, now 25, a fellow cyclist with whom she lives in Manchester. The pair met through cycling when Joanna was 18 and were friends before they became a couple three years ago. ‘He had mixed feelings about the wigs, and still does,’ she says. ‘He doesn’t mind them, but, in all honesty, he prefers me without. To him, that’s the girl he fell in love with,’ she says. Today she has about ten wigs, all different, and she changes them according to her mood, although she currently gravitates towards a light brown one during the day. ‘I don’t treat them very well,’ she laughs. ‘They’re not made of real hair, as that would require higher maintenance and need more care. My wigs get shoved in bags a lot. I don’t fuss over them.’ Her natural eyebrows and eyelashes, meanwhile, come and go. ‘At the moment I’ve got a few eyelashes on the bottom lid,’ she says. ‘I’ll wake up and think: “Oooh, some have appeared!” ’ She seems entirely without vanity, although looking after herself is part of her job. ‘I love the feeling when I’ve done a hard training session that I’ve really pushed my body.’ Standing on the podium was, unsurprisingly, her finest hour, although she confesses to some initial reluctance at the notion of becoming a sort of poster girl for alopecia after her appearance alongside team mates — and friends — Laura Trott and Dani King. ‘I suppose I didn’t want to be known as the girl with alopecia,’ she says. ‘There’s part of me that thinks: “I’m not ill, there’s nothing wrong with me.” Most of the time I don’t think about it.’ For all that, she has sent a powerful message about self-image. I tell her that one female commentator who has suffered from female pattern baldness and been dogged by insecurity wrote this week of how she wished there had been a Rowsell when she was growing up. ‘If I had been fortunate enough when I was younger to see a girl like Rowsell ride that race and then proudly accept her medal without her wig, I am sure I would have felt completely different about it all,’ she wrote. Joanna is clearly moved. ‘That’s lovely,’ she says. ‘If I can make a difference to young girls with the same issue then that’s a responsibility. If they can look at me and think it’s not the end of the world and they can still do what they want to do, that’s pretty amazing.’ As, it must be said, is Joanna.

With starring roles in Suicide Squad, Wolf of Wall Street and The Legend of Tarzan, Margot Robbie has Hollywood well and truly under her spell. And now a new generation of up-and-coming Australian soap stars are trying to emulate the success of the ex-Neighbours actress. Olympia Valance, Mavournee Hazel and Lilly Van Der Meer - all of whom are causing a stir on Neighbours, are trying to follow in their role model's footsteps. Scroll down for video Role model: Neighbours star Olympia Valance (left) is trying to emulate the success of Margot Robbie (right) Lilly, who plays Xanthe Canning on the show, has even been touted as the new Margot thanks, in part, to her upbringing in the same Gold Coast neighbourhood. The 16-year-old has previously told the Courier Mail how she has been spurred on by the blonde beauty's success. 'I love watching all her films, and it's so encouraging to see how well she has done,' she said. perruques cheveuxRising star: Lilly Van Der Meer (pictured) has also expressed an interest in moving to LA Sister act: Olympia (left), whose is blessed with the same incredible looks as her older sister Holly Candy (nee Valance), is also making waves on the popular soap 'I love where I am right now. Neighbours is so amazing and I ­always wanted to be a part of a show like this.' Olympia, whose is blessed with the same incredible looks as her older sister Holly Candy (nee Valance), is also making waves on the popular soap. The brunette beauty has already been scouted by the same Hollywood agents that look after Chris and Liam Hemsworth. She has not ruled out a move to Tinseltown and all eyes will be on the 23-year-old when her contract runs out early next year. Making waves: Olympia has already been scouted by the same Hollywood agents that look after Chris and Liam Hemsworth Popular: With starring roles in Suicide Squad (pictured), Wolf of Wall Street and The Legend of Tarzan, Margot Robbie has Hollywood well and truly under her spell Olympia, who plays Paige Smith on the show, has previously told Sydney Morning Herald how she would 'love' to try something different and star in a movie. 'LA might be down the line,' she said. Mavournee has also spoken about how she strives to match Margot's work ethic on the Neighbours set. She told news.com.au: 'Margot's work ethic (on Neighbours) was impeccable. She always arrived on set knowing her lines. 'Being where Margot has been I'm trying to replicate that.' Talent: Mavournee Hazel has also spoken about how she strives to match Margot's work ethic on the Neighbours set

She's been enjoying a picturesque holiday in Italy with her family. And Beyonce looked stylish as she was spotted in Lipari, Sicily with husband Jay Z and their adorable daughter Blue Ivy on Friday. Rocking a black one-piece swimsuit, the 34-year-old superstar enjoyed the sights and sounds of the beautiful island with her nearest and dearest. Scroll down for video Fun in the sun! Beyonce looked stylish as she was spotted in Lipari, Sicily with husband Jay Z and their adorable daughter Blue Ivy lace front wigsShowing off her sizzling hot body, her strapless monokini accentuated her ample cleavage and featured a patterned string planel across her midriff with pretty gold beading. Adding a splash of colour, she donned a chunky turquoise statement necklace and accessorised with hoop earrings. Covering her face with a large sunhat, she looked every inch the stylish star. Sizzling! Rocking a black one-piece swimsuit, the 34-year-old superstar enjoyed the sights and sounds of the beautiful island Effortless glamour: Covering her pretty face with metallic shades, she wore her trademark golden tresses in beach curls Yummy mummy: Showing off her sizzling hot body, her strapless monokini accentuated her ample cleavage and featured a patterned string planel across her midriff with pretty gold beading And covering her pretty face with metallic shades, she wore her trademark golden tresses in beach curls. Adding a cover-up to her ensemble, she rocked a semi-sheer dark blue kaftan. Opting for casual footwear, the Run The World hitmaker wore low black sandals. La Dolce Vita! Adding a splash of colour, she donned a chunky turquoise statement necklace and accessorised with hoop earrings

Mini-me: Little Blue Ivy was also in tow, looking cute in a burgundy summer dress Adorable: Wearing her hair in cute bows, the four-year-old tot donned pretty designer sandals with metallic wings Family affair: 46-year-old music mogul Jay looked casual in a white T-shirt and shorts, as they explored the island with a group of friends Precious cargo: Doting dad Jay and a pal helped Blue Ivy onto a boat I got you babe: Jay then turned his attentions to his stunning wife, making sure she got onto the boat safely Little Blue Ivy was also in tow, looking cute in a burgundy summer dress. cosplay wigsWearing her hair in cute bows, she donned pretty designer sandals with metallic wings. The four-year-old tot held on to dad Jay Z's hand as they boarded a boat. VIP treatment: Bey held out her hand as she negotiated the jump from the shore Leggy: The music superstar showed off her long legs as she climbed aboard Mini me: Beyonce kept close to her daughter all day, holding her hand in the sunshine Group outing: Beyonce and Jay have been joined by some friends in Italy The 46-year-old music mogul looked casual in a white T-shirt and shorts, as they explored the island with a group of friends. The pop star and her family were enjoying some down time after wrapping up the European leg of her Formation World Tour. Beyoncé's tour heads back to the US next month, as she continues to promote her latest album Lemonade. The need for speed: Beyonce later showed off her action girl side as she hit a jet ski VIP on board! The star got some pointers before whizzing off Giving her a run for her money: Jay also hopped on a jet ski for a ride across the waves