LAGUNA BEACH — When it comes to those mysterious British royals, no one knows what's going on inside — or on top of — their heads better than the ultimate confidant.
"The media would say, 'If you want to find out anything, just ask the hairdresser,'" said Richard Dalton, stylist to the late Princess Diana.
But it was mums the word with Dalton, who says he never spilled a single royal secret in his 12 years dressing Di's famous golden locks.
Today, Dalton lives in Dana Point and works as a consultant and wigmaker at Charles' Wigs in Laguna Beach. Like much of the world, he was taken with the news that Diana's son, Prince William, had become engaged to longtime sweetheart Kate Middleton.
After all, it was Dalton who gave William and his brother, Prince Harry, their first haircuts.
Knowing William when he was a "kind and wonderful boy," Dalton said the prince would guide Middleton through the ins and outs of royal living.
"I just hope she doesn't try to be a Princess Diana," Dalton said. "She's cool in her own right, but she'll never be a Diana."
Middleton will, of course, be carrying a bit of the late princess of Wales with her every day. William gave Middleton his mother's sapphire and diamond ring.
"Every day it was on the dressing table as I was doing her hair," said Dalton, who declined to give his age. "The ring was a wonderful gesture on William's part, and Diana would have loved it."
A Scot, Dalton won a competition for a free apprenticeship with Vidal Sassoon in London at age 17, moving there from Edinburgh.
In the late 1970s, at an upscale salon on London's Bond Street, he met then-Diana Spencer and was invited to become one of her personal hairdressers.
While Dalton originally worked with a team of assistants, he became Diana's sole hairdresser after her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. From then on, he traveled with the British Royal Family and, at any hour, found himself perfecting the world's most closely watched tresses for the cameras.
"Whatever I did to her hair became front-page news," Dalton said, still perplexed by the media scrutiny he termed obsessive. "We had to be very careful. When she wanted to cut her hair short before traveling to Africa, we had to do it one-fourth of an inch at a time over several weeks."
Dalton left Diana's employ and England in 1991.
"It's a daunting experience to be in such a fish bowl," he said.
In that very media glare, Diana, boyfriend Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul died in a high-speed 1997 car crash after being chased by photographers.
Other notable clients have sat Dalton's chair. They include Sophia Lauren and singer Katy Perry.
Then there are the everyday women of coastal Orange County.
"He treats his clients like royalty," said Doreen Quaglietta-Hughes, a customer from Huntington Harbour. "I go into another world with Richard; who else has known duchesses and princesses? Each week the time just goes by too quickly."
Quaglietta-Hughes goes to Charles' Wigs to have her hair shampooed and set.
"He's my treasure, and someday the world is going to steal him," she said. "But, he's so good, it's what he deserves, rather than being hidden here in Laguna."
The high-esteem is shared by just about everyone who comes in, whether or not they are Dalton's client, said shop owner and stylist Marsha Carroll. She purchased the business from local icon Charles Thompson in 2006 and turned the 40-year-old wig shop into a full-service salon.
"The guy is so talented," Carroll said. "He's just magic with the way he works, whether it's hair on a head or a wig."
Dalton does not plan to return to England to make an effort to meet with the Royal family. And he is continuing to hold onto Diana's confidences, at least when it comes to reporters.
"I have my memories of the princess," he said. "But, I would love to meet William again and talk with him. I'm sure he has questions about his mother."