Feature What can you do if you really do not want your age to show? Alice Haine meets a woman who has made stopping the clock her priority in life.
Plastic fantastic: erasing the signs of middle age
What can you do if you really do not want your age to show? Alice Haine meets a woman who has made stopping the clock her priority in life. Botox, liposuction and a nose job are just a few of the cosmetic procedures she has undergone - and a facelift hasn't been ruled out When Gail Clough looks in the mirror, a bright-eyed face a lot younger than her 44 years stares back. Unlike most women who learn to accept the signs of middle age, Gail is doing everything she can to erase them. But her glowing skin, plump lips and slim figure are not the result of a vigorous exercise plan or a carefully tailored macrobiotic diet. Her youthful image is down to cosmetic treatments, and she has had surgery costing a staggering Dh260,000 (US$70,800) done. Gail, who is British, a DJ and owner of a Dubai comedy club has a passion for plastic surgery. She has undergone 15 procedures, including a nose job, liposuction, Botox, laser skin treatment, hair removal and acid injections. She has even had her own fat injected to get rid of her "Madonna hands" and says she might consider a facelift in the future. While a lot of Gail's treatments have been free thanks to a barter deal through the sideline plastic surgery holiday business she runs, the question remains, why would such a seemingly grounded individual invest so much energy in the way she looks? "It's vanity. I like to look good," she says simply. "I work in the entertainment industry and when I'm DJ-ing or compèring a comedy show, I want to look good up there. If I worked in a laboratory or an office, it would be different. But I don't; I'm up there in front of lots of people and I want to look the part. "I don't lie about my age and there are many aspects of ageing I love, such as the confidence you get once you hit your mid-30s. And I definitely don't want to look younger. I just want people to say, 'Oh, she looks nice'."
When you meet Gail in person, she is not only charming, funny, and extremely down-to-earth, but also very clear about who she is and what she wants out of life. "I wouldn't get nearly as many gigs as a DJ if I looked like a middle-aged housewife," she says. "Beauty isn't the be-all and end- all, but there's no doubt it's a useful tool - it opens more doors for me professionally. I use it to raise my profile and keep the work coming in. We live in difficult times and how you look could give you the edge over someone else." Happily single and with no desire to get married or settle down, Gail comes across as the girl who never wants to grow up. And in a way, she doesn't need to. "When I was younger, I assumed that settling down and having a family was what I would do, but over time I realised that wasn't for me," she explains. "I just love my space. I have great friends, I'm very busy with my work and that's enough." While her quest to keep time at bay is perfectly understandable - after all, nearly every woman yearns to look as good as possible - her desire to keep doing the same things, such as clubbing several times a month, is more unusual for a woman her age. We meet twice, first at Paul Cafe in Mall of the Emirates and again at her apartment in Bur Dubai. It is during our second meeting that a fuller story emerges, perhaps explaining further the reasons behind her decision to go under the knife and have cosmetic treatment so many times. Gail has undergone quite a social transformation during her life, from working-class girl growing up in inner-city Manchester to glamorous Dubai entrepreneur. Her journey to find "a better life" began in her teens when she watched her hard-working parents setting out to work each day. Her father was a bus conductor, her mother worked in a chip shop. Life at home was far removed from the glamour of Dubai. "There wasn't much money. Mum cooked, cleaned and looked after us," says Gail. "She never had any time for herself and she looked dreadful at my age. She was huge, obese, never wore nice clothes or make-up and wouldn't even do her hair. I suppose she was a typical housewife who felt she had no choice in life. Marriage was for ever back then, whereas now women have more options. "They were very caring and I had a very happy childhood but, for my mum particularly, it was a thankless existence and I knew I didn't want that for myself. I was very ambitious." Gail's transformation began when she was 14, with a Saturday job at her local market, where she earned £3.50 (Dh19) a day to sell jumpers. "I'd never had new clothes so I saved up to buy a white shirt and a pair of brown cords from another stall and can still remember the buzz I felt from wearing something new." By 15, Gail was spending her Saturday earnings on make-up and the latest fashions so she would look the part for her all-night dance sessions at a local club. "I just wanted to go out and dance and Mum trusted me because she knew I wouldn't do anything stupid. "I loved the music so much that when I left school I worked for an industrial chemist during the day and a DJ at night.
The cash rolled in from the DJ-ing gigs and, spurred on by her new clubbing friends, Gail, at 17, decided to have a nose job to soften her look. "I had a hooked nose that was too big for my face and, though it didn't bother me, when I saw the work all the other girls had had done, I wanted it done myself. I probably wouldn't have thought about it otherwise. "My parents went mad because, like all parents, they thought I was perfect as I was. But I was determined to do it." To complement her new image, Gail bought a sports car and a three-bedroom house in the centre of Manchester. Eventually her hunger for a glamorous life inspired her to travel and she set off round the world, DJ-ing for five-star hotels in exotic destinations such as Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Shanghai. "I wanted to see the world but I suppose I was escaping my upbringing as well," she says. She eventually settled in Dubai in 1993, working as a resident DJ for a big hotel chain after falling in love with the emirate's sunshine, safety and large British population. Soon after her arrival, Gail's quest to wipe away the years began in earnest. "I was in the bathroom during a gig and I spotted those first tell-tale signs of ageing around the eyes. My Dad's side of the family get these huge sacks under the eyes and I'd inherited them, so they had to go." Although Gail was not happy with the outcome of the under-eye surgery because the surgeon cut away too much fat, it did not deter her from a Botox session six years later. "I was at that stage in your mid-30s when you get the number 11 on your brow and I thought, 'Oh, I don't like that'. I didn't want to look older and I felt that my looks were starting to go, but Botox was amazing. "It takes three days to kick in and on the first day I thought, 'Well that was a waste of time'. The second day was no different but on the third I'd got my looks back and I felt fabulous." Gail stepped up her visits to her favourite plastic surgeon, opting for procedures such as hyaluronic acid injections into her face to plump out her nasal folds, lips and cheeks as well as liposuction on her thighs to boost her confidence even more. She then had her teeth whitened, two caps fitted to enhance her smile as well as several cosmetic skin treatments and plasma injections under her eyes to correct her previous botched operation. Impressed by her youthful image, friends approached her for cosmetic surgery tips, which led to Gail setting up www.dubaisurgery.com, flying out Brits to Dubai for plastic surgery procedures. "I just fell into the business and into the habit of having cosmetic procedures, I suppose," she says. "After getting to know a great surgeon and sending lots of friends to him, we built up a relationship and that's what made me feel confident about starting up the business. And, because I had sent him so many patients, he did the work on me for free." It was Gail's second business. Prior to that she had set up The Laughter Factory, a comedy club that brings British acts to the UAE, and she compères the shows. The business has grown rapidly over the past 12 years, with new comedy acts visiting the Emirates every month and this in turn has meant a greater profile for Gail. "I'm out four or five nights a week, either compèring at comedy shows, DJ-ing at events or going out with friends, so it makes sense that I look good to match that lifestyle." Her last big surgical procedure was in September last year when she had Vaser liposuction on her stomach and thighs and had some of the removed fat injected back into her face, cheeks and hands. Now she says she will take a break from major procedures. "It's shop shut for the time being as Botox will be enough to keep me going, but I won't rule out a facelift later on," she says, laughing.
Most of Gail's cosmetic treatments were carried out after the death of her parents. Both died of cancer in the early Nineties and, while they knew about Gail's nose job and had made every effort to prevent her having the surgery, they died before she completely transformed her look. "It's one of the reasons I'm happy to talk about the work I've had done," she says. "I wouldn't do it if they were still alive. I don't think my younger brother even realises exactly what I've had done because he only sees me every few months. "The other reason I like to speak about my cosmetic procedures is to help women who are thinking about having work done. There are so many people who just want advice, and there are a lot of surgeons out there, so I help people find the right ones. "Some people spend more time buying a pair of shoes than they do finding the right surgeon, yet a bad decision can spoil your looks for life. "There are millions of women like me but because people treat plastic surgery like some deep, dark secret, they feel they have to lie and tell people their youthful looks are down to drinking lots of water and exercising five times a week. That's rubbish. "If I were into extreme sports, which is far more dangerous, no one would bat an eyelid, but because I like changing the way I look, people think you're mad or strange. Yes, it's a ridiculous extravagance if you have other priorities in your life such as a family, but I don't. "It takes until the late 30s for life to make sense and to get the confidence you need - and then your looks go. That's the cheek of Mother Nature. All I've done is stop the ageing process in its tracks so that I can keep on doing the things I love." She is passionate about music and loves dancing, regularly heading out to enjoy Dubai's lively night life and groove the night away. "As well as DJ-ing, I go clubbing twice a month and every year I go to at least two music festivals and regularly head to Ibiza on clubbing holidays. When I'm on the dance floor, I want to blend in. I don't want to stand out because I look like someone's mum, I want to get into the dance tent and dance." Gail, who uses her dance sessions to keep fit, adds: "I hope I'm still clubbing when I'm 65." Even if she only looks 45.