The makeover begins before I even get on the plane.
I’m in a small cubicle wearing nothing but a black paper thong, being sprayed with fake tan by a girl called Sian.
I’m at Heathrow, about to board a flight to New York for a makeover weekend so I may as well start as I mean to go on. At the Virgin Clubhouse, there’s a spa. The treatments are free; they offer massages, manicures, facials and tanning. I opt for that and a collagen eye treatment that will hopefully mean I arrive in New York not looking as if I’ve spent seven hours on an aeroplane.
But actually, it doesn’t matter how rough I look on landing because I am going to New York to be transformed. I have two days of treatments booked with New York’s finest hairdressers, teeth whiteners, spas and dermatologists. By the time I leave, I will be a new woman. At least that’s the plan.
After a rather patchy night’s sleep I head off to my first appointment. I am having my teeth whitened by Dr Peter Theodorou. I’ve had them whitened before; it cost me £600 but when they showed me the before and after pictures I was confused as to which was which. So my hopes are not high as I walk into his office.
Dr Theodorou is your perfect preppy American; he is cute, there is no other word for it. but he has bad news. “If we go through with this, you are not allowed to eat or drink anything that isn’t white for 48 hours,” he explains.
The treatment involves a rubber contraption that clamps your mouth open, making you look like Hannibal Lecter. Then a gel is rubbed into your teeth and goes to work. It is not at all painful, it’s just a bit tedious but Dr Theodorou puts on a DVD for me. So I watch Lost In Translation while years of eating and drinking colourfully are wiped away. I leave with a perfectly white smile.
Next is the hair. At the moment my hair is short, thin and greying. Every time I look in the mirror, it upsets me. So my appointment with Rodolfo Valentin, the New York society hairdresser whose clients include actress Brooke Shields, is the part of my makeover I am most looking forward to.
“Come in with the hair you’ve got, leave with the hair you want,” reads a poster in the lift. Now you’re talking. Less than an hour later, I am transformed. I have a head full of Rodolfo’s famous hair infusions. They are like hair extensions but better. They don’t damage your hair and have a much more natural look. I am mad about them. I walk in looking like Julie Andrews on a bad hair day and leave looking like Eva Longoria. Rodolfo is a genius.
Next, I pop round the corner to Steven Victor’s exclusive practice. This is a man who looks after Sharon Osbourne and Fergie among others. What can he do for me? He suggests my body could do with a bit of help and puts me under a laser.
The Affirm machine makes tiny incisions in my skin in order to encourage collagen production and smooth skin tone, removing traces of sun damage. He treats my neck, décolleté area and hands.
After that, it’s time for my tummy. I have a treatment called Biomesosculpture which involves pouring a syringe full of a substance designed to stimulate collagen production on to my tummy and working it into my skin with a contraption that feels like a mini-vacuum.
The idea is that your skin is tightened. I leave with a very sore-looking neck and décolleté. I take this as a sign that it worked. Dr Victor rubs something called Miracle Serum on to the areas he’s treated. It feels lovely – like a cross between baby oil and silk.
Next up is a spot of lunch at the Waldorf Astoria. I choose the white fish. Then I head to the spa at the Four Seasons hotel for an 80-minute slimming treatment (just in case I have put on any weight over lunch) involving a seaweed wrap and a Vichy shower. This sprays water at you from four shower heads as you lie down. It is one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had; the combination of lying in a couple of inches of water combined with the soft spray of the water all over my body while my face is massaged with a rose oil from Aromatherapy Associates is divine.
But there is one more stop. The Skin Doctor, as Dr Eric Berger is known, suggests a Vibroderm treatment. This takes off dead skin cells, thereby deep cleansing and leaving you with glowing skin, and it is painless.
His assistant moves a small contraption across my face. The device looks like one of those things used to remove dead skin from your feet. I look flushed but very healthy. Next it’s time for the Botox.
“You could use some here, here, here and here,” says Dr Berger pointing to my forehead, the furrows in my brow, my crow’s feet and my mouth. “You have what is known as DAO, depression of angularis oris – your mouth is turned down. I will paralyse the muscles that pull it down.”
This is not a painless procedure. I can almost hear the needle going in. But then I have a phobia about needles at the best of times and seeing them flying around my face is not a pleasant experience. Once he has finished he takes a step back. “I would LOVE to do your lips,” he says smiling.
“Do what to them?” I ask.
“Fill them out a bit,” he says. “I think with your new big hair it would be a really sexy look.”
I am tempted and then seduced. This is a complicated process as I have to be numbed with a dental anaesthetic beforehand. Then he gets the filler, Restylane, and starts to give me Angelina Jolie lips. I am nervous. The trout-pout look is not a good one. Dr Berger works on my top lip and then runs out of filler. He opens a new phial and gets to work on the bottom one.
“Perfect,” he declares after about 15 minutes of injecting me and hands me a mirror.
“Aaarrrgggghhhhh,” I scream. There is a mad woman looking back at me with lips the size of a small mobile home. I look like one of those people I laugh at in the street. Except that now I can’t laugh because my lips are immobile.
“Don’t worry,” says Dr Berger. “The swelling will go down and, you know, if I didn’t know you I wouldn’t notice you’d had anything done.”
That I just don’t believe. People aren’t born with lips this size. I look like I’ve been punched in the mouth repeatedly. Actually I feel like I’ve been punched in the mouth repeatedly.
Still, the weekend must go on and no trip to New York is complete without a spot of shopping. Bloomingdales is a great place to start; there I find some black skinny jeans from Guess and a white shirt to go with them. One tip is that if you buy a quantity of things in one store that total more than $110 (£55), pay for them individually as you only pay tax on total sales over that amount. Sadly, I didn’t know that until it was too late.
From Bloomingdales, I wander on to Madison Avenue. There I find the pink and very tempting emporium that is Juicy Couture – very trendy. I buy a bag for $350 (£176); slightly insane but it’s pink and has a phone pocket with Hello??? on it, so I can’t resist.
Apart from the low dollar rate, the other great thing about shopping in the States is how friendly the assistants are.
I need to buy some presents or my family will never forgive me. At Brooks Brothers I find boxer shorts for my husband at $23.50 (£12) for a pack of three. What a bargain. I also find a rather dapper red and green stripy jumper for my father-in-law whose birthday is coming up, a snip at $68 (£34). For my three children, I head to FAO Schwartz toy store on Fifth Avenue. I pick up a small New York cab for my son, lovely old-fashioned bike horns for my two girls and furry animals for all three, all for less than £30.
The journey back to London is fairly smooth. I explain to the man sitting next to me on the plane that I am in fact relatively normal and don’t usually look like this. I have a dodgy moment at passport control where the passport officer looks bemusedly between me and then my photo several times before deciding to let me in.
Two days later, the swelling has gone down and I am getting used to the new me. The skin on my body feels smooth. I don’t think my tummy is any tighter but the skin tone on my décolleté is definitely more even. My hair is divine. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to my old look. The Botox has kicked in and my formerly furrowed brow has vanished. I can now smile without my eyes being surrounded by wrinkles. As for the lips, well, I’ve grown rather fond of them.
So was it all worth it? Absolutely. The treatments alone would have cost me twice the amount in London. And I wouldn’t have had the fun of going to New York. I believe I got a better class of treatment than is available here, with the fun of New York and some shopping thrown in. I even saw a real, live movie star (Felicity Huffman) who was attending the premiere of the Lindsay Lohan film next to my hotel.
If I did it again, I might stay for four days instead of two; it was all quite a rush and I would probably book in a relaxing spa treatment at the end of each day – preferably in the hotel I am staying so I don’t have to go far to collapse on my bed before dinner and drinks.
It’s well worth being totally organised before you go. You don’t want to spend valuable shopping and treatment time in New York setting up appointments. And don’t forget to buy an ice-pack for the flight home if you get your lips done. That way you won’t have any problems at passport control.
Helena flew Virgin Atlantic to New York. Prices start at £325. Rooms at The Four Seasons start at $625 a night.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019