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.

Qantas - - CONTENTS -

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

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