After four operations in six years, costing pounds 8,000, Damian, a 29-year-
old editor and publisher of hair and beauty magazines, is happy with the way he looks and happy to talk about it. Not many are so forthcoming. We can only assume Carlos the Jackal wouldn't have wanted to tell the world about the liposuction he was rumoured to be awaiting, when French agents whipped the anaesthetised terrorist off an operating table in Khartoum before his fat was slurped out. When the former Wham] singer Andrew Ridgeley had a nose job a few years ago he went as far as telling the Sun that the huge bandage across his face was because of damage caused by a champagne bottle being smashed over his schnozz. The new, improved version sadly did little to sustain his career.
Most of the growing number of ordinary men who are putting themselves under the knife in the name of self-improvement are just as reticent, well aware of the stigma still attached to men fussing over their looks, let alone going under the knife. A forthcoming survey to be published in men's magazine FHM has found that 58 per cent of women would think their partner was 'completely mad' if he had cosmetic surgery.
But a few, like Damian Hockney and Graham Johnson, a 33-year-old with a contract cleaning business in the Isle of Man, take the view that honesty is the best form of de-stigmatisation. Graham was 18-
and-a-half stone and couldn't get rid of it, despite constant swimming and workouts at the gym. So he had 4.5 litres of fat removed from his upper chest, and middle and lower stomach area - all at once and all under local anaesthetic.
'I was wide awake,' he says blithely. 'I thought 'I've seen it come, I'll see it go.' It was quite horrible to watch but I really wanted to. It was a pinky, fleshy colour with lots of blood and stuff mixed in. It came out down this tube and then into a container.' Didn't it hurt? 'Nah, after the op I walked back to the ward, I had four kids waiting downstairs and we carried on the holiday. We went to Blackpool, though I couldn't do any of the big rides as I was a bit tender. The corset was uncomfortable for a fortnight, but that's it.'
Graham admits that 'I had a pair of boobs that were really getting me down.' Imperfections such as feminine breasts (gynaecomastia to the doctors), bat ears, a huge or bumpy nose are cited by those in the cosmetic surgery industry as causes of genuine depression that can be cured for a few thousand quid or even less. 'It can just make someone feel a bit better about themselves,' is the industry line. Fair enough, perhaps. But Damian, who later mentions he has also had the lines between the bottom of his nose and the top of his mouth filled out with fat, is a good-looking chap with a nice job and a nice girlfriend (very nice in fact - she paid for all his operations), so why does he bother?
'I've have always been happy with myself,' he says. 'My real life is my work, and I'm chairman of my residents' association, but this is just something I am keen on. A lot of people think if you have surgery you are unhappy; that's not the case with me. Image matters to me. It matters to a lot more men nowadays.'
He has a point. The fitness and health care industries for men have burgeoned in the past few years, as have advertisements for boxer shorts and aftershaves, giving males a body beautiful to aim for. As Mike Soutar, editor of FHM, one of six (at the latest count) mens' glossies, comments: 'There are more and more images of men for men to look at, in much the same way female images have been pushed for years.
'In 10 years magazines like ours will probably be doing diets for men. It's all so mainstream now and it wasn't a couple of years ago.'
Furthermore, the role of image in politics reached its apogee with Tony Blair's election as Labour leader. As one Labour MP said, when asked why Robin Cook couldn't get the job: 'Because plastic surgery has yet to advance that far.'
Damian Hockney went to Guy's Nuffield House, the private wing of the world-renowned hospital, with odour-free, carpeted corridors lined with pastel prints and potted plants. The patient care co-ordinator, Sue Fox, is there to guide nervous first- timers. 'I'm auntie really,' she beams. 'The men especially need their hand held, and usually come with their wife or girlfriend.' She estimates that two out of 10 inquiries are now from men, compared to one in 50 a few years ago. Every year in Britain 40,000 men and women have some form of cosmetic surgery.
'It's true men take more interest in their appearance nowadays. I mean, you didn't wash until a couple of years ago, did you?' she chirps. 'I also think there's a lot of pressure on older men in the work place, competition is hot and they need to look as young as they can for as long as they can.' Most of her customers are aged 35 to 45.
Suellen Edgar, who performs a similar role at the Sheffield branch of the Transform chain of clinics, one of the biggest operators in the industry, says nose jobs are always popular (costing anything from pounds 1,800 to pounds 2,700). For men who look like the FA Cup, operations pinning the ears are becoming popular too - 'what with current trends for short hair it isn't easy to hide sticky-out ears' - at a cost of pounds 1,200 to pounds 1,300. Men are also going for facelifts, 'if the jawbone isn't not quite as forceful as it used to be and the neck's a bit jowly.'
Neither Guy's nor Transform perform penis enlargements, despite the grand claims made for a truly knee-knotting technique developed by a Chinaman called Dr Long. This involves extracting what may be 'hidden' of the penis inside the pelvis by cutting the dorsal ligament, letting what's inside drop out, dividing the ligament and . . . it really is too horrible to go on. Common problems include changing the 'angle of the dangle' from 45 degrees to 60 degrees and an inward growth of pubic hair. Are there no lengths men won't go to? Most British cosmetic surgeons remain unconvinced of the efficacy of either method.
They are however more sanguine about hair transplants they perform, which remain probably the most popular cosmetic treatment for men. Nigel Pain ('actually none of the operations hurt much') is pleased with the three grafts he has had at Transform's Cheshire clinic. And with the nose job and the eyes job. What were the problems? 'I was completely bald, I'd tried a spray for about a year and there was only a slight growth. After three grafts, I'm three quarters covered. And my nose stuck out, I really, really hated it but now it gently slopes, it's superb, first class. And my eyes had hoods on the upper lids, so I had those tightened. They look great.'
Whatever the reasons for spending pounds 8,000 - much of it saved up in coins in a brandy bottle - Nigel, 41 and single, still lives at home with his mother. There was a mixed reaction at the Sainsbury's in Tamworth where Nigel is cold provisions manager. 'Some said great, you should do whatever makes you happy, some I could see thought it was strange. But I like a reaction, whatever it is. Some people think it is messing with nature, but I think things don't have to be the way they are.'
Both surgeons and patients answered the 'tampering with nature' accusation with an assertion along the lines of 'cosmetic surgery isn't much different from changing your hairstyle'. As for the dangers - mainly bad swelling or scarring - one former patient countered, 'more people die in plane crashes annually than have problems with cosmetic surgery'.
Things can go wrong, though. One man ended up with scars all over his chest after several botched lipo operations; another was left with one ear pointing forwards and one pinned back, another had his nose enlarged instead of shrunk.
There is no shortage of cosmetic cowboys, and Tony Erian, a cosmetic surgeon with 17 years experience who works at Guy's Nuffield and has his own Harley Street practice, stresses patients should ask about a surgeon's record, ask to see before and after pictures, even talk to former patients. 'There should be full consultation. Often unhappiness arises because patient and surgeon didn't understand each other. We do turn people away if the deformity is not that bad or they are very unhappy with themselves, in which case they won't be happy after surgery and should receive counselling.
'There are cosmetic junkies, they can never be content even with a perfectly good new nose. People should be doing it basically because of vanity, and should be aware it is not going to make them better or cleverer people. But there is a need for it in society. I know I help people.'