Monday 24 October 2016

'Michael Jackson was very vulnerable and people took advantage of him. We bonded'

Cosmetic doctor to the stars Patrick Treacy tells about his travels, his famous clients and his tell-all book

Dr Patrick Treacy
Dr Patrick Treacy
Dr Patrick Treacy
Dr Patrick Treacy
Dr Patrick Treacy with Jay Z in New York
Dr Patrick Treacy with Bono
Michael Jackson

Before we sit down to chat in his office, Dr Patrick Treacy takes me on a tour of the Ailesbury Clinic, the south Dublin cosmetic clinic he founded in 2002.

The walls are a veritable shrine to Dr Treacy's colourful life of adventure and achievement. Michael Douglas, Michael Jackson, Jay-Z and Bono are just a few of the famous faces that peer back at us. The museum-like walls even include the confidentiality contract Michael Jackson's 'people' had Dr Treacy sign ahead of treating the global superstar, who he later befriended and became quite close to.

As I sit in the waiting room, attempting to guess what those around me are here for - a hair transplant here, a lip-boosting filler there - I can hear U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album filtering out into the reception area every time Dr Treacy's door is opened. He is a long-standing U2 fan, I soon learn. He even appeared in their first music video.


Dr Treacy has had an interesting life, so interesting in fact that, at times, it would seem a little fantastical if there wasn't photographic evidence to back up his remarkable adventures.

His humanitarian work has brought him to Africa, Haiti (where there is a street named after him) and Monrovia; his medical work has brought him to New Zealand, Australia (where he worked as a flying doctor for a time) and Baghdad, to name just a few of the many far-flung destinations.

The passport stamps and high-profile friends he gained along the way are now the subject of a book, Behind the Mask, which has been billed by Amazon as "part travelogue, part thriller, part celebrity tell-all".

He laughs when I suggest that his life to date sounds like a Hollywood plot line. For as long as he can remember, this adventurous spirit has simply been a part of his make up.

"I grew up in west Fermanagh and I suppose it was a rural and idyllic setting until the Troubles kicked off. That changed everyone's life," he tells me. "To go to Queen's University in Belfast during those years when all of the tit-for-tat murders were happening and some students were being killed, it was tough. I got attacked in that period as well. I got my leg broken.

"In retrospect, it might have been the best thing that ever happened to me because it almost brought things to a conclusion. When something like that happens to you, something catastrophic, it gives you time for a rethink."


A short time after this attack, Dr Treacy transferred to the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin to finish his studies in medicine. However, during Margaret Thatcher's tenure, his college grant was revoked.

"At that time, the North was a lot richer than the South, so not a lot of people came this direction. Dublin was very poor in the late 70s and early 80s, but it was a good poor, if you know what I mean," he smiles.

"The bars were always full. You had Paul Cleary and The Blades for instance and you had U2 starting off. They played in the Dandelion Market, which was next door to the Royal College of Surgeons. We got to know each other quite well. Robbie Fox had the Pink Elephant then and all of the bands like Def Leppard would be hanging out there.

"I was in the Royal College of Surgeons, which was very expensive, when my grant was pulled and I was just left hanging. I had nothing, so I took a year off college to try and make a bit of money."

Dr Treacy admits, with a grin, that he raised the necessary funds to finish medical school by smuggling cars from Germany to Turkey.

"I can look back on it now with fun, but at the time it was difficult enough," he says.

He eventually obtained his medical degree but his life took an unexpected turn in 1987. While working in a hospital in Dublin, a needle he had used to draw blood from a patient with HIV jabbed him in the leg. This was the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and fear both within the medical field and the wider public was at fever pitch. Dr Treacy was forced to undergo blood test after blood test to determine if he had contracted what was then considered a deadly disease.

"That was horrendous," he remembers. "This was when there was no cure at all and the thinking was if you even kissed someone with HIV you were going to die. I was very lucky that it did not convert."


Overwhelmed by the incident, Dr Treacy left Ireland - and his beloved girlfriend Trish - for New Zealand. It was to be the first of many international posts over the next decade.

"I would have always had a fascination with travel and would have read widely," he explains.

"I lived with the Marsh Arabs in Iraq for a period, then when I was in Australia, I took a job with the Aboriginals, and when I was in Zimbabwe, I lived with a tribe there for a while.

"I was lucky that I was always intelligent enough not to get too far off the beaten track where I couldn't get back again.

"I also spent some time travelling in Africa and working with HIV patients because I suppose I sort of felt for them, and it was some of the articles I wrote on that which Michael Jackson came across," he explains.

On his return to Ireland, Treacy set up the Ailesbury Clinic, where he has worked at the cutting-edge of the relatively new field of cosmetic dermatology and championed treatments like Botox. His work in this area has brought many stars to his door over the years, not least the King of Pop.

"I think we bonded on a couple of different levels, including humanitarianism and Africa, and also because I had treated a lot of celebrities, so I wouldn't have been particularly star-struck," he explains.

"Michael was very vulnerable and I think a lot of people took advantage of him. He did suffer from vitiligo, that's not unknown at this stage, and he did have black and white skin, so he didn't particularly want to just become a white man by taking the pigment out of his skin. The thing was, if he didn't do that he would have been pie-balled, which the rest of his body was.

"I treated him for a number of years. He was here six or seven times and he was due to come here a few days after he died."

The cosmetic doctor, who has higher qualifications in dermatology, laser technology and skin resurfacing, has been at the forefront of many new techniques in the world of aesthetic medicine.

However, he feels that in Ireland a sense of snobbery still exists around this area within the medical field.

"This field of medicine didn't exist before a couple of people like myself invented it, and believe it or not, some of the techniques we use now in the world started in this building. A lot of the world would recognise that in a way that Ireland wouldn't. I spend my life now being invited to lecture around the world," he adds.

"Ireland is a funny place like that - you get a lot of dermatologists who are very conservative here, whereas in America and Australia, a lot of dermatologists embrace the whole aesthetic end of it.

"I was a flying doctor in the past and certainly, you get a personal reward for going out to a road traffic accident, bringing somebody back because you know if you don't do that those patients may never be treated, but aesthetic medicine can be a bit like that as well," he explains.

"You can treat a patient's face - particularly someone who has cancer or HIV - and there is a dignity and a self-respect they get back for themselves; they will often cry because there is an immediate result and that is wonderful to see."

Perhaps the facial aesthetic industry isn't given the credit it deserves here because the market has become saturated with everyone from dentists to nurses administering Botox injections and fillers.

Dr Treacy takes the point. It is one of the many reasons he has strongly welcomed promises of an increase in the regulation of the industry. It is time, he believes, to rid the area of the "bottom-feeders" out there who are "taking advantage of people" and often "diluting down Botox".

"I have been calling for an increase in the regulations for years and they are bringing it in at last. Scotland brought it in just a few weeks ago and we have been promised it is on the way here. I think everyone would like to see more regulation," he adds.

Behind the Mask also covers Dr Treacy's experience of a love lost. Trish, the one who got away, is mentioned in some detail and the author is not sure, as yet, how she might feel should she read the book a couple of decades later.

So, did love, marriage and all that jazz escape him despite all of his adventures since?

"It did escape me, yes," he laughs. "There were lots of different girlfriends, but that initial one Trish would still affect my thinking; so writing the book in a way was cathartic, because for years I didn't even want to approach that loss."

'Behind the Mask' by Dr Patrick Treacy is available on Amazon now

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