Four hands are better than two

A Family Affair: Aesthetic surgeons the Viel twins explain why living and operating alongside one another gives them the cutting edge
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The Independent Culture
Doctors Maurizio and Roberto Viel, both 38, established the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery eight years ago. Born in Rome, they studied medicine in Milan. Maurizio and Roberto are both married and live in the same block of flats in central London. As twins they share every aspect of their work, even operating on patients together.

Roberto

Maurizio and I went to the same medical school. At the time we didn't know that the other one wanted to go into medicine - it was an independent decision. Then we discovered how useful it was to exchange ideas, to discuss things and clarify certain subjects in our mind.

After six years at medical school we found that we had exactly the same interests; so we both went on to study plastic surgery at another hospital. We agreed that plastic surgery gave us some kind of freedom; it was an area where we could deal with improving looks but still stay within a medical field.

I've always been interested in the bond between looks and psychology; the importance of looks for self-esteem and how this affects the patient's relationship towards the world.

After studying we decided to put our strengths together and capitalise on them and so we opened our practice. Often we do operations together which works well, because we have the same training and the same skills. When a patient is on the table, the most important thing she can entrust us with is her body. During the operation we know innately what the other is doing. We just have to look at each other and it's done - if I worked with someone else I wouldn't know their habits. Because we know exactly what the other can do, it cuts the time spent in operating theatre.

Also we can swap ideas and opinions about the case we're operating on. We work as one. It's not the same as working with a friend - you only know a friend to a certain extent whereas we've been together since before we were born. I know I can trust my brother 100 per cent. The patient is also happier knowing there are two surgeons looking after them.

I'm not sure that we're telepathic but certainly when I was younger and we were apart from each other, I could tell if my brother was ill or had a problem. I could feel it. Now we're married we do have our own lives and different friends. Because we work together, we both realise it's important to keep some space.

I got married three years ago and then three months later my brother followed suit. Our wives do have an understanding that twins are much closer than other brothers and sisters.

To find the right partner in this business must be the most difficult thing to do because you have to have the same judgement about things; the same concept of beauty. We both realise that every patient is different from another and we both agree that perfection is impossible. But we try to find the right balance, keeping in mind that nature is the real surgeon. Our attitude is that we can improve and rejuvenate but we can never perform miracles.

Maurizio

By the time we'd finished studying, working together seemed like a natural thing to do. It may sound different to people but operating together is, for me, very reassuring; knowing that my brother is next to me and that I'm not alone. I have more strength when he's with me; I feel we are in a more powerful position - that we can share something immediately.

We do facelifts together, liposuction and breast surgery. If there's two of you in that situation, you're more effective - it's like working with four hands rather than two. Liposuction can take a long time - we can work side by side and take less time. We also know exactly how the other person works; we have the same aesthetic sense. We'll judge with four eyes the re-shaping of a body.

The psychological side interests me a lot - it's always important to listen to the patient. We're here to try and make people feel better about themselves. We can give back confidence and self-esteem - that's a new side of medicine that's only been around for the last 50 or 60 years.

For Italians, how you look is more a way of everyday life. My mother was an opera singer and always cared about her looks and she always wanted me and Roberto to look perfect. I think that definitely influenced our choice of profession.

Roberto recently did my nose for me - I had quite a large nose and now it looks more like his. My brother's also given me injections to reduce the vertical lines between my eyebrows.

I'd say that my brother is the serious side of the practice while I'm more relaxed. He follows the rules more rigidly whereas I find some exceptions to those rules. I feel that both our wives have had to understand that being twins is more than being simply brothers.

In work we're never jealous of one another although there is a positive sibling competitiveness between us. There's a critical moment in adolescence when you compare yourself to your twin brother and don't like something about him - and you fear that you're the same. When I was a teenager I used to compare myself to Roberto but not anymore - you have to realise that you're not the same. That's why a lot of twins don't work together - they want to protect their own sense of identity.

As long as you realise you are different and you retain your own individuality, then you can have the most beautiful corporation between the two of you.

Interviews by Emma Cook

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