Even though I live in New York, I am hopeless at spotting celebrities. Especially when they’re blonde. Kate Winslet, Kate Hudson, Amber Heard, all smile at me from the pages of gossip magazines but I could barely pick them out at a BBQ. My lack of famous sightings is mainly due to poor eyesight, (astigmatism and long sightedness), but also the uniformity of what stacks up as a beautiful blonde. Cascading long hair. Wide eyes. Forehead smooth and wrinkle free. Symmetrical features. Plump, hydrated cheeks and lips. However, a few years ago when I boarded a plane from Miami to New York, I knew instantly I was in the presence of star power.
After a friend’s wedding in Miami, an East Coast winter storm had caused flight chaos. My standby ticket had landed me in the unfamiliar terrain of the first class cabin. As I approached my prized Window Seat 1A, a man was reaching into the overhead to put away his expensive luggage. He had a shock of peroxide-blonde hair and a face that shocked me. For starters it was raw pink. My first thought was that he had been in a fire. But there were no signs of trauma. His complexion was extraordinarily youthful. Combining the softness of a baby’s bum with the smoothness of a perfectly iced cake. Lips were feminine and full, not a single line or wrinkle anywhere. Yet his life creased neck told me he wasn’t a young man. His clothes were as Peter Pan as his face. Sharply cut black leather pants, a military jacket and silver “space age” sneakers. I am rubbish at recognizing brands but I guessed his look owed more to the designers at Bergdorf Goodman than Topman. ‘This guy looks freaky,” I thought, “He has to be famous.”
“Just a fizzy water for me,” he said, settling into the seat next to me as the air steward handed me a glass of champagne. I glanced at his age spotted hand and calculated that while his face trilled twenty-five his hands groaned sixty.
“I don’t drink alcohol,” he explained, turning to look at me, “And I only eat fruits and nuts on planes.”
“I’m Fred,” he said, with a smile shining from eyes whose experience contrasted with his surreally young face.
“Esther,” I said, “Pleased to meet you.” This mystery “celebrity” intrigued me enough to break my rule of never starting conversations on planes.
‘Ah my mother was Esther,” he said with a playful twinkle.
We talked for the whole two and a half hour flight. I learnt he was the celebrity doctor, Dr Frederic Brandt, aka the Barron of Botox or the King of Collagen, the purveyor of Botox and fillers to celebrities and rich people around the world. Madonna, Kelly Ripa and Stephanie Seymour were among his clients. He did have a claim to fame as the man who had pumped the most fillers into his face, (he didn’t tell me this but I Googled it later). What he said, “I just adore injectables. They make people look so fresh and perfect.”
I asked him about my own 40-year old skin. He said, “My dear, you have to stop drinking alcohol if you want to have any hope of elasticity. But I can do fabulous things in my office.” He laughed with an infectious, cheeky yelp.
We talked about his childhood in Jersey and mine in Wales. My sister’s teaching job, his niece’s studies, his parent’s candy store and their early demise. That tearing urge to leave a small town. Our shared love of New York. We discussed modern artists, Gilbert and George and Damien Hurst. Just about exhausting my knowledge of the subject and barely scratching the surface of his. We laughed at my bad boyfriend and his lack of boyfriend. We both loved swimming and he chided me for lapsing on my yoga practice. His mischievous spirit dazzled with the same youthfulness as his face. When we said goodbye, I felt exhilarated that I had spent time with someone so clever, irreverent and fun.
Over the next few weeks I regaled different groups of friends with my “celebrity” plane story. I always started the story by Googling a picture to show them the bizarreness of his over-filled, frozen face. We all celebrated youthful looks but laughed at the ridiculousness of trying to defy the aging process. The conversation inevitably moved onto plastic surgery and injectables. Who’d overdone it? “Jennifer Anniston’s face looks like a pillow,” and, “John Travolta from hunk to horror.” Would you do it? “Yeah if I could afford it.” Or “Would prefer to look old than weird.” The focus of my story was always the freak show and never the fascinating dynamo I met on the plane.
Over a year later, in bout of spring madness, I decided to try colonic irrigation. It turns out my colon was not enthusiastic about the procedure and labeled “stubborn” by Fernando, the professional at the helm.
“It doesn’t help that you’re so gassy,” he reprimanded, as he rubbed my stomach.
“I’m sorry,” I said, hideously embarrassed and willing my rebellious colon to cooperate.
“I have another client who’s as gassy as you,” said Fernando, “He was on the View last week talking about his new skincare range.”
“Dr Brandt?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, with a hesitation, which made me think he regretted breaching colonic patient confidentiality guidelines.
“I met him,” I shrilled, “Sat next to him on a plane from Miami.”
“The guy with the weird face.” he said.
“Yeah that’s him,” I said, “Nice guy but he looks so freaky.”
When I found out that Dr Brandt had committed suicide at his Coconut Grove mansion I was taken aback. It turns out he was a more complicated character than many people knew. The happy-go-lucky exterior was a front for painful depression. This darkness was allegedly deepened by the mean portrayal of him on the Netflix series “Unbreakable Kenny Schmidt.” A cosmetic surgeon who has had so much Botox he can’t pronounce is own name,”Dr Grant.” I know my actions made no difference whatsoever to Dr Brandt’s life and I only met him once so I cannot claim any grief. But I wish that on the occasions I had the opportunity to talk about him, I had not just referred to him as, “the guy with the weird face.” Of course he had chosen to look that way though his unbridled passion for his own products but he was more than a caricature. A whip smart, witty, juggernaut of a man and the only “celebrity” even I couldn’t fail to spot.