Finding Zen under one of the world's busiest cities
In an exclusive spa below London’s busy streets, experts use their fivestar skills to transform the weary. Kendall Hill gets pumped for it.
THERAPIST ADELE SCOTT is midway through fitting some sort of mask to my face when she pauses to enquire, “You don’t have to go on TV after this, do you?” I assure her I have no television commitments this afternoon in London. She sighs her relief. “Oh, good. It’s just that I had this lady two weeks ago who did and it’s really not recommended after this treatment.”
This is no ordinary facial. I spend most of it blindsided by science, technology and a peculiar technique where collagen serum is urged into my skin by Ms Scott’s willing fingertips. At my age and stage of facial degeneration, I’m willing to submit to anything that might help as I recline on a treatment table in the subterranean spa at Bulgari Hotel London (bulgarihotels.com) in Knightsbridge.
So when my therapist, a 20-year veteran in the field of human maintenance, says she’ll need to steam my face then perform a series of “extractions” – beauty-speak for squeezing my pores – before the expensive stuff starts, I surrender to it. Tears of gratitude and pain flood my blinkered eyes as she tries valiantly to reverse years of grooming neglect.
There’s a machine, an “anti-ageing transdermal skin system”, that uses microcurrents to stimulate my skin in much the same way, I imagine, as a defibrillator tries to revive a dead heart. Ms Scott warns the electrical current will cause some tingling and heat but “we will work within your comfort level”. The end result will be to speed up collagen production, restoring some elasticity, she says.
I know nothing about beauty except there’s no gain without pain so I keep urging her to amp up the power – within the bounds of British regulatory codes – for maximum youthening. The sensation is like someone drawing a vibrating crayon hard against your face and, hopefully, drawing me a new, fresher-looking one.
When my skin is suitably primed, Ms Scott does the fingertip collagen routine, applies an ampoule of skinwhitening serum to even out pigmentation then begins fitting the collagen mask.
“Lips open or closed?” she asks. I have no idea so I ask her to explain the difference. “Some people want the pumped-up-lips look,” she says. I don’t. I opt for open.
Several more lotions and lavishments later, Ms Scott brandishes a mirror so I can assess the aftermath of 90 minutes of extreme face work. It’s true the lighting is low and the bed is angled so gravity can flatter me but I truly feel I’m looking at a man transformed. My skin is... what? Plumped? Traumatised from the machine work and extractions? I can’t quite pinpoint it but certainly the major fault lines seem subdued and I like what I see.
Ms Scott – or Great Scott, as I now think of her – and her Swiss Perfection Cellular Hydrating Rejuvenation
facial are the high point of a decadent day at this spa. It begins with a visit to the Workshop gym for my first-ever personal training session. My taskmaster is Artur Zolkiewicz, a Polish model who used to walk for Vivienne Westwood. With eyes like a calf and biceps like legs of lamb, he makes me feel very plain indeed.
Zolkiewicz starts with some tests from the gym’s signature Framework Assessment, which, he says, “takes the guesswork out so we can tailor the program”. We’re doing a pared-back version: no genetic analysis, no food-intolerance tests, just basic stuff like squats. Apparently, my squat is no good. “But I think maybe you don’t really know what a squat is,” he says politely.
We proceed to exercises. I do stretching things with elastic, jog on a machine and drag a piece of heavy equipment along the floor like a feeble ox. There are also push-ups, which I can actually do – but, again, my model trainer has qualms about technique. “Your chest, not your nose, should be first to touch the floor.”
My reward for surviving this ordeal is a protein shake that tastes like chocolate, vanilla and toothpaste. I leave most of it in the changing rooms and spend an hour nibbling a Niçoise-style wrap beside the 25-metre pool, a Neo-Roman confection of fluted columns, green and gold mosaics and curtained lounges.
After Ms Scott’s remarkable facial, I’m escorted upstairs to Sukru Inci, the hotel’s resident Turkish hairdresser. The Turks, as anyone who’s familiar with international grooming knows, are world champions at coiffuring. Or you could ask comedian and author David Walliams, who is one of Inci’s regulars. Other clients fly in from Dubai and New York just to have their locks tended to by him. You only need witness his intense focus, the way he seemingly attends to every individual strand, to understand why he’s so sought after. He is Sukru Scissorhands.
I’m very happy with my haircut but there’s more to come. A shave is out of the question after my expensive (£650; about $1160) facial but Inci tweaks my eyebrows, trims my nose hairs then exorcises my ear hairs with a flaming wad of cottonwool on a steel rod. His wood-panelled salon reeks of smouldering human. “That’s not a good smell,” he concedes as he sets to massaging a lemony cologne into my head and neck. The full Turkish.
The sincerest compliment I can give the Bulgari Spa is that, if I could, I’d treat myself here at least twice a year. Perhaps even quarterly. The confidence boost is totally worth the expense. The protein shake I can live without.
(Clockwise from right) Bulgari Hotel London in Knightsbridge; its onsite spa has a 25-metre pool and 11 treatment rooms