The Eva Fraser facial exercise system was passed on to her by a woman she met in Munich 20 years ago, also called Eva. "She looked amazing, and she told me she was 76. She had been a ballet dancer, and she had noticed that dancers had great bodies at 40, but that their faces didn't look as good. She thought that there must be some way of doing something for faces too, so she devised the method with a doctor friend in 1932. She had retired, but I begged her and begged her for just one lesson, and after that she offered to train me. We worked together for a year."
As well as training Eva Two in facial exercising, Eva One also gave her some sharp advice: charge a fortune and just work when you want. This, however, was ignored. "For the next two years, I worked a 12-hour day, I was so enthused. Eventually I had to stop, I was so exhausted."
Today, Eva's facial workout salon in Kensington is always busy; she works with three colleagues and charges pounds 352 for the course of five lessons that reveal the secrets of the programme. She gives lectures and talks. And now she has brought out two courses on video, beginners and advanced, at pounds 24.95 each. "I would love everyone to be able to do it, but not everyone can do the journey to the salon. It's expensive in time and money. So now people can do the course using the tapes."
Exercising the facial muscles looks, quite frankly, pretty silly; it involves making a series of tiny movements of brow, jaw and lips, controlling muscles you probably never knew you had. The Kensington salon, the venue for an awful lot of gurning, is a rather elegant space, with pale grey carpets, low lighting, minimalistic flower displays and this lends a general air of calm and seriousness, a comfort when trying to snarl slowly with your lower jaw hooked over your top one. Each facial muscle is exercised separately. Beginners have to practise the exercises every day, but after a few weeks, five minutes every other day is sufficient to maintain the effect. "It becomes like brushing your teeth," says Eva. "You don't think `Oh, I must remember to brush my teeth' - you just do it automatically."
She believes that 20 is not too young to start this kind of thing. "People say `Oh, I'll wait till I'm 40', but why? You don't wait until you're 40 to start exercising, and you could think of this as a gym for faces. If you just let your face sit there it will sag; people think it's the skin but it's the muscles underneath. If you work those you can keep your face in good shape."
She thinks that facial exercising is even more important than toning up bits of you that only your nearest and dearest will see. "Your face always shows, but you can cover your body! In England a lot of women think it is incredibly vain to do this kind of thing but it's certainly no more vain than going to the gym."
Most of her clients are aged between 35 and 55, but some are in their 70s, and there are men as well as women. Some travel from as far afield as the United States and India, and some of the more sceptical ask if they can inspect her for the stitchmarks of plastic surgery, which she submits to good-humouredly. "They ask to look behind my ears, looking for scars. I don't mind. People ask if I've had my eyes done. I have never had surgery."
Even though her job is to keep her clients looking young, Eva is unimpressed by modern pressures to maintain youth at all costs. "Young people are all terrified about getting older," she says. "It all comes from magazines, the pictures and images, and it's tragic. People ring for appointments and say `I'm not young - I'm 40' - it's so sad."
She puts her own youthful aura as much down to enjoying her work as to her looks. "This work is wonderful. I wouldn't get up till midday if I didn't work. What is important is that people realise they are young; 40, 50, even 60 is not old. This makes people feel so much more positive, so here it's not just the face that's lifting but the spirits as well."
Eva Fraser Facial Fitness Centre, The Studio, St Mary Abbots, Vicarage Gate, London W8; 0171-937 6616. Video orderline 0118-959 5515.