Tabatha Coffey Opens Up on Her Mother's Death
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
January 10 2012 7:00 AM ET
Tabatha Coffey has shocked and delighted TV viewers since she was voted fan favorite in 2007 on the hairdressing reality series
Shear Genius. After that came her Bravo spin-off,
Tabitha’s Salon Takeover, in which the no-nonsense lesbian entrepreneur helped the owners and staff of failing salons make a turnaround in only a week.
After a grueling year in which
she nursed her mother through cancer and then eventually lost her,
Coffey is back with season 4 of her show, only now it’s retooled and
Tabatha Takes Over,
which premieres tonight at 10 on Bravo, finds the blunt but
captivating business owner taking her brutal honesty and tough love
rehab not just to salons but to a variety of
struggling businesses around the country, from a B&B to a frozen
yogurt joint. Two such ventures are sure-to-be-queer California
businesses she makes over: Ripples, an LGBT dance club in Long Beach,
and Barkingham Palace, a West Hollywood doggy day care.
We caught up with Coffey on
the anniversary of her mother’s death to talk about the new season,
losing her hair, and the superwoman myth.
The Advocate: Tell me about the retooled series.
Tabatha Coffey: We've expanded
Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, so now it's actually going to be called
Tabatha Takes Over, and I'll be taking over not just salons, but other small businesses.
Is that something you suggested to Bravo? How did that come about?
Honestly, I just had great support from fans out
there, and a lot of the people that watch the show are not hairdressers
and don't have anything to do with the industry. People would stop me
all the time — and I know they would tell the Bravo
people as well— and they’d say, “I wish you took over this and I wish
you took over that.” Bravo decided that it might be fun to start taking
over other businesses, and I was open to the idea.
What do you like about this new format?
You know, I'm a hairdresser, but part of what I really
love about the show and really love about what I do is to help people,
help them get their businesses back on track and help them look at
things differently. So for me, I'm really excited
about the challenge of going to other businesses. I really do believe
that business is business and the rules apply to a lot of different
businesses out there.
thing that I love on the show is that you go back and visit six weeks
later to see if they stick with it. But I was reading on your blog, you
have revisited some
of the businesses a year later.
Yeah, you know I really take it seriously. I keep in
contact with a lot of the salon owners and the stylists. I run into them
at hair shows, a lot of them reach out and email me, and we talk and
they tell me what's going on. So I love hearing
how they're doing and I love hearing how they have continued their
success — or even surpassed what they thought they could do to their
business. So it is always so much fun for me. Especially this year
because on tour with the book, I went to one of the cities
that I went to previously and had taken over salons there, and a lot of the
stylists and owners came to my book signings and it was great to see
them and hear their success stories and hear how great they are doing.
What's surprised you the most about doing the show?
I'm always surprised by the resistance to change. I
think change is really hard for all of us and I think it's something
that we resist. I guess I'm always surprised by the resistance because
obviously things aren't working; by the time you
call me in, it's not
working, and to some people I am their last hope because they don't know
what else to do and they need that fresh set of eyes. So the resistance
is always so surprising, because
if someone can show you a better way to do things or a different way of
doing things, and that's going to have benefits and positive changes,
why wouldn't you do it?
Do you think there is a great fear of losing control?
fear of losing control. And I understand that. I think we all can. And
again, I think by the time I'm called in, people really have lost
control and they’ve fallen so out of
control that they really don't know how to get it back — and that's
scary within itself.
You lost your mother a year ago. Has this been a difficult year for you?
It's been an incredibly difficult year. It's definitely been a journey.
Can you tell me a little more about that?
Sure. I think it's such an interesting thing. I took
care of my mother because she was ill. She had cancer, and I wanted to
keep her at home and actually take care of her, which was a journey unto
Was she able to stay with you the entire time during her illness?
I am very proud to say she was able to stay with me
the entire time. I obviously had hospice come in when the time was
right, I needed them to come in because I needed the help. But I'm
really proud of the fact that I was able to keep her
at home and take care of her and the nurse actually told me what
excellent care she was given, which was really my goal. I wanted her to
be at her own house and surrounded her by her own things. That was
really important to me.
That’s really lovely.
It's a gift, for sure. It's a gift to be able to give that to someone, especially a parent or a loved one — it's quite amazing.
How long between when she was diagnosed with cancer until the time she passed away?
We found out through a strange set of circumstances,
as often those things happen; it was around nine months between when we
found out [and her death]. When we found out she already had stage 4
cancer and it had started to spread. So the doctor
recommended doing chemo, if it would work, just to sort of shrink what
they could shrink and give her a better quality of life. But
unfortunately she didn't deal well; she was also 80, so she didn't deal
well with the chemo. It made her incredibly sick and
she had an adverse reaction. I knew that it wasn't going to work, so it
was really just kind of managing and taking care of her the best that
mother has actually been sick this year, so I've been doing a lot of
caretaking for her. And I know it’s really difficult to balance your
regular life with caretaking.
Did this have an affect on
your health and well being?
Oh, absolutely. I know this sounds crazy, but my mother
waited for me to come home. I was actually filming season 3 of the
show when she was ill, and you know, she had up and down days, obviously,
and I had people there taking care of her. But she had more good days than bad days, and it was literally the day I
came home from filming that she collapsed, and within 12 hours she went
from being fine and walking around the house and being able to putter
around and being able to make a sandwich for
herself, to 12 hours later I had a hospital bed in the house and she
never really walked again.
So I know she waited for me,
and I'm really happy she waited for me. I think people don't realize
what an incredible toll it takes on you. Because part of my personality
is, well, I like to do things to a certain standard
and a certain level, and it became really my full-time job taking care
of her and making sure she had everything she needed, whatever that
looked like, whatever that was. And it did take a toll on my health. My
hair started to fall out. Which was stress, not
eating properly, not remembering to take care of myself because I was
so focused on taking care of her. And really just exhaustion. I don't
think people realize how much, between the stress and emotion of what
you're going through and also the physicality
of taking care of someone and making those decisions, it really takes a
toll on your well-being as a caretaker.
It really does become like a second full-time job.
It really does. I would not have changed it for
anything in the world. And as I said, I'm really just so grateful that I
could do it, and I was in a position to step away from my business and
step away from everything and take care of her.
But the physicalness of it and the emotional wear and tear of it is
something that I'm still recovering from, to be honest.
for someone who works in the hair industry, losing your hair must have
been really difficult. Is that something common for women during stress,
to lose their
Oh, yeah, it's really common. It happens with men as
well, but especially with women because we're incredibly hormonal, so it
can happen in a lot of big events in our lives. Stress is a big factor
in it, and a lot of people don't realize what's
going on. I honestly had been so focused on taking care of my mother
that I didn't look in the mirror, so I didn't care what I looked like.
And it wasn't until one day that I literally looked at myself and I
realized I had lost all this hair and it had just
started to fall out. As I started to go through it, I realized the
extent of it and I was freaked out by it. Part of it was that I'm a
hairdresser — I know that appearances are important — and part of it
because I forgot I was a hairdresser for a minute, and
the implications of stress, I was like,
Shit, what am I going to do, what's wrong with me?
What did you do?
I went to the doctor and spoke to them just to make
sure and they said it's absolutely stress and you need to start taking
care of yourself. I think that is a very female trait: We try so hard to
take care of other people that sometimes we
forget to take care of ourselves as well.