Empty diary, face masks in public… if you’re considering cosmetic surgery, it’s the perfect opportunity! All you need do is jump the (ever-growing) queue to get an appointment, as Daisy White discovers.
I’ve always wanted a nose job. Let me rephrase that: I’ve always wanted the bump on its bridge that came courtesy of a fracas with a wayward ten-year-old, and the bulbous tip I inherited from my maternal grandmother, to be made more refined and elegant. But how could I ever get it done without my whole world knowing (and judging)? Ordinarily my diary is packed with work events, get-togethers, meetings. How to carve out two weeks for when I would be swollen, bruised and not wanting anyone to see me?
I’ll tell you how: lockdown.
And if I can see the upsides to surgery in lockdown, the benefits for the rich and famous are exponentially increased. In normal circumstances they not only share my day-to-day worries about friends and colleagues seeing them, they also have the paparazzi zoomed in to look for telltale stitches that will be dissected in the tabloids and online. Plus they’re obliged to go to parties and show up on the red carpet, so taking a few weeks out is rarely an option.
All of which is why, in the March lockdown, many of them were begging surgeons to operate. My surgeon contacts have told me of cash bribes and money-can’t-buy opportunities to hang out on private islands; one revealed that a desperate client offered up her Hamptons holiday home to him and his family for the duration of the lockdown if he would do a chin augmentation for her.
Another would-be client was so desperate to fit in a facelift that she told her US surgeon she’d send her private jet to New York to bring him to her in the United Arab Emirates, seemingly unconcerned by either the huge cost or the nonessential travel it would entail. The surgeon, who had ceased his work for the first lockdown period, said she also offered to quadruple his fee; he admits he was ‘almost tempted’.
Dr Maryam Zamani, an oculoplastic surgeon famous for freshening the eyes of London’s elite, says that during the first lockdown she, too, fielded requests from clients asking her to operate on them with a firm no.
Although UK surgeons couldn’t operate in the first lockdown, they kept busy by doing Zoom consultations with potential clients, of whom I was one. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says requests for virtual consultations are up by almost 70 per cent. All the surgeons I spoke to say online appointments have revolutionised the way they work, and that they have never seen such demand.
Then, when surgeries were permitted to reopen and make appointments in July, they were inundated. ‘I could have filled my lists four times over,’ one tells me.
Olivia Falcon, founder of The Editor’s List, a service that connects wealthy people to top cosmetic surgeons, confirms this increase in demand and says her phone has been ‘ringing off the hook with women desperate to have surgery in 2020’. Clients come to her partly because of her expertise and contacts, but also because she specialises in ‘fast-tracking’ (a polite way of saying ‘queue-jumping’). ‘By July I had taken up full-time residence on a park bench in London’s Primrose Hill to do socially distanced consultations,’ she says. ‘I had some pretty famous faces turning up.’
Olivia had to use all her charm and persuasive powers to get her clients on the surgeon’s table ahead of others. She told me of a Hollywood star who had been waiting ten years for the right moment to have a facelift because there had always been TV roles to play and premieres to attend. ‘She was one of the first to book in July,’ says Olivia. The actress promised the surgeon that if he fitted her in she would send all her famous friends to him. He found a way.
In September I spoke to a wealthy former model who lives on the Côte d’Azur. She has her jet on standby for when the call comes from her in-demand surgeon to say he can perform the brow lift she has always wanted. He won’t let her jump the queue, though: ‘I have to wait for a cancellation. I’m always hosting people or committed to dinners, holidays or charity events. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ What about quarantine? ‘I’ll make it work,’ she says with the determination of a woman who always does.
Now we’re back in lockdown, it’s perfect timing for me, too. It’s slightly different this time around because UK cosmetic surgeons are permitted to operate (under strict guidelines). Through a combination of persistence, flexibility (I took a cancellation) and some undignified pleading, I managed to get on the table two days before lockdown 2.0 kicked in. As I write this, four days post op, I look like Tyson Fury after a bar brawl. My head hurts, my face is so swollen I’m virtually unrecognisable. But, thankfully, friends aren’t asking to meet, and delivery drivers don’t mind if I answer the door in a mask.
Masks are a godsend for those wanting to hide surgery scars. Dr Zamani says they’re also brilliant for covering ‘the potential swelling and bruising from injectables and lasers’.
Apart from masks becoming the new normal, there are plenty of other reasons why the famous (and non-famous) want work done now. Francesca White, editor of the Tatler Beauty & Cosmetic Surgery Guide and founder of aesthetics events company The Beauty Triangle, says her socialite readers and clients have had ‘their calendars cleared, they’ve got no events to attend. This time is perfect for under-the-radar recovery.’
For actors and models much is on hold – there is little shooting of films or advertising campaigns – while for the rest of us, a return to the nine to five is a far-off prospect. Eminent surgeon Mr William Townley, lauded for his natural rhinoplasty (aka surgery that makes your nose look like your nose but better), reports clients saying, ‘I need to get this done before I have to go back on set or to the office next spring.’ Working from home means no commute, no need to be seen by colleagues. What about video calls? Dr Zamani laughs: ‘The novelty has worn off. My patients say they just do audio instead of video while they are recuperating.’
Lack of holidays plays a part, too. If you’re having a notoriously arduous-to-recover-from operation such as the ‘mummy makeover’ (tummy tuck, boob job and lipo in one go), you’ve no need to worry about being back on the beach in a bikini with prominent scars, nor do you need to worry about UV light getting to them.
Then there’s the cost – though the pandemic has been financially devastating for so many, there’s another swathe of the population who are saving money on foreign holidays, dinners out, hotel stays and clothes. Mr Townley says that many of his enquiries come from those who have been on furlough so are getting paid, but are not having to work.
And the most 2020 reason? ‘A big factor in the surge in demand is the “Zoom-face effect”,’ says Valentina Petrone, managing director of The Private Clinic group, which provides everything from liposuction to breast augmentation. She says that people are spending so much time looking at their own image on screen that many grow dissatisfied with what they see. With many guys in well-lit rooms suddenly noticing thinning crowns, male hair transplants are up. Rhinoplasty is also on the rise, perhaps because noses look bigger on wide-angle phone and laptop cameras. Wrinkles can appear etched in, and looking down emphasises double chins…
So next time you see a paparazzi snap of a celebrity in dark glasses and a mask, or if a friend won’t answer the door, they just might have had a stitch or tuck. And if they are looking ‘fresher’ in spring? Well, you’ll know why.