Meet the Peter Pan of Walton-on-Thames

Male vanity has come out of the closet, with the help of men's magazines and make-up pour homme. And then there's James.

I manoeuvre myself into the passenger seat of the blue Mercedes sports convertible that is waiting for me when I arrive at Hersham station, Walton-on-Thames. A slender hand grabs the mighty gear-stick, which is topped with a silver plaque embossed with the initials JH in flamboyant scrawl. Local businessman James Harrington is at the wheel.

With acceleration of 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds, it is not even a two-minute drive from the station to James's air pistol factory around the corner. There's time for one eye-popping, heart-stopping right turn into oncoming traffic and I see my life, and James's bespoke blue blazer with its Paloma Picasso red lining, flashing before me. We pull into the factory concourse and park behind James's fat blue Rolls-Royce.

In the window "A Very Warm Welcome to You, Miss G Fox, from Magda Works" flashes across a digital screen. Inside the factory, the stairs leading up to James's flat are underlit and trimmed in peacock blue. James tackles them two at a time. We stop in front of a door, also painted peacock blue and illuminated with a string of lights like a movie star's dressing room, and I catch my breath. A plaque on the door reads: "Marriages performed by the captain are valid only for the duration of the voyage."

We enter a simply furnished living room crammed with musical instruments, including a Bechstein baby grand. Only now does James pause for breath.

Who would believe that James is 83 years old? And then there's his face. Taut jawline. No sagging turkey chin. No red, puffy cheeks. Just barely creased alabaster. His eyes, however, hide behind dark glasses.

The secret to his youthful complexion? Certainly not the open heart surgery he had five years ago, nor the seven-day weeks he has worked for the past 40 years, nor the din of machines which clink and whirr on the shop floor beneath his small flat seven days a week. No, it is a simple face-lift performed five months ago that has turned James Harrington into the Peter Pan of Walton-on-Thames.

"I have a chiropodist who comes here once every five weeks. I don't know what brought the subject up but she said, `My friend had cosmetic surgery'. She told me where and I said, `Well, I've nothing to lose, perhaps I'll have a go at that myself'."

One week later James checked into the National Hospital for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in Worcestershire. And he had never considered plastic surgery before then? "Never."

At the world's biggest hospital devoted exclusively to plastic surgery, 4,300 "procedures" are performed each year. Men represent just 14 to 18 per cent of surgeries and most of those (500 a year) are nose jobs, while 40 to 50 face-lifts are performed each year. The average age for a man to have a face-lift is 45 and male octogenarians are a rarity, not least because they have a one-year life expectancy and slim chances of bouncing back after a general anaesthetic.

Taking an interest in their looks like never before, men of all ages now want to be beautiful, inside and out. Witness the magazines Men's Health and XL and the fact that sales of GQ and Esquire, Meccas for male grooming, are bigger than ever. Older men may take Reader's Digest rather than Esquire but there is a new climate in which men feel comfortable spending time and money on their appearance. And now James. Male vanity is officially in.

Since James was "very fit", according to the hospital, and was not seeking surgery as a short-term cure to long-term unhappiness, the surgeons agreed to go ahead.

"I was on the slab and I said to the surgeon, now a friend of mine, and the anaesthetist, `Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you're both fit.' `Oh yes,' they said. `Carry on then,' I said. Then they stuck in the needle and that was it. The face-lift was very quick."

James has perfected the spivvy English gent and "happy bachelor" image. The fast cars and bespoke blazers, the gadgets and gimmicks, come with the territory. But as for indulging one's facial appearance - that is more Beverly Hills than Walton-on-Thames, surely? Is James not a jot embarrassed?

"Embarrassed? No, not at all. I feel delighted. That's why I paid a lot of money to have it done." £3,450 to be precise. "Every person, no matter what sex, would like to feel they are a little younger than they really are. That's what I had in mind so I had it done and here I am in front of you."

Surely he was frightened by the prospect of having a knife slicing through his cheeks, the possibility that it might all go horribly wrong, leaving bruising around the neck, a puffy face, facial growth sprouting up behind the ear, possible nerve damage, bleeding blood vessels? Then again, a man who takes himself sky-diving for his 83rd birthday and still co-pilots private planes, maybe not.

"Fear is a warning that something is going to go wrong. At my age, if things go wrong it's too bad. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, is my motto."

The evening of his operation James had dinner in the clinic witha group of women. The only male patient, he was clearly excited by this new world of the cutting and pinning, stapling and sucking of flesh.

"I sat down with five women who had had this done and that done and everything else done and they were all talking about it, quite openly. I was really amazed. They all seemed very happy that they had had their operations.

"There was a girl, 26 years of age, who'd already had two operations on her face and was having her eyelids done. Ooh, I said," and he shakes his head. "`You're beautiful,' I said, `without having all this performance'." What, then, would he say if someone commented that he was equally distinguished- looking before the operation. "I would say, I wish to look more distinguished."

After a quick tour of the factory we climb back into the Merc and speed off for lunch. We arrive at the restaurant and the waiters swarm around James like bees around honey. They have just spotted the Merc's gold-plated twin exhaust pipes. They are very, very impressed and tell him so. James's face lights up with that now familiar look of delight. Halfway through the meal James presents me with a spinning top, which performs a high- pitched tune as he sets it in motion on my side plate.

I ask him if he is planning any more plastic surgery. "No," he says somewhat uncertainly. "No I don't think so, not at the moment." Why not? "I think I look just about right as I am," he says, without hesitation, throwing his head back in laughter.

"My friends say they are really amazed at my looks in comparison to what they were. So I'm pleased it was done. It definitely has made a difference."

On the way back from lunch James stops at the entrance to his golf club. "Your turn," he says and before I know it I am driving my dream motor down a leafy drive, fortified by a boozy lunch and the knowledge that this man is frightened of nothing. Then I hit the brakes with heart-stopping suddenness. James doesn't even flinch.

They say you're as young as you feel. If a cut and a stitch do an unstoppable octogenarian make, I'm next on the waiting list. Face-lifts quite clearly work wonders.

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