Why the rich and famous are flocking to SA for their nips and tucks
By Lynne Gidish
How about a South African holiday that offers you fantastic accommodation and service, great snapshots scenery, a sensational tan – and an all-new body?
It’s eleven o’clock on a Monday morning and Denise Cassie is clambering up the side of a mountain, hoping to get up close and personal with a herd of elephant. She’s just enjoyed a huge alfresco breakfast and is comfortably seated on a wooden platform overlooking a babbling river. A makeshift kitchen nearby provides five-star cuisine served up on a shovel!
"It’s hard to believe that 36 hours ago I was sitting in Dingy Heathrow Airport!" says the 32 year-old blonde, and here I am now, on safari, realizing on of my dreams."
With the jumbos in clear view less than 30m away, her excitement is tangible. "This is more like it," she smiles, loving every aspect of her walk on the wild side. The weather turns benevolent on cue and she basks in the autumn sunshine while watching the majestic beasts.
Africa has more in store for the bubbly in-house model for a large retail chain. Based at the exclusive Kingfisher Lodge in the private Entabeni Game Reserve, she later enjoys the company of a pride of lion on her evening game drive. "I feel quite emotional," she comments. It’s so lovely, so peaceful; I really don’t want to leave."
Tuesday dawns with yet another treat: game viewing on horseback – a definite holiday highlight – and in total contrast with tomorrow’s destination: the operating theatre at Johannesburg’s Rosebank Clinic at 8-00am!
Yet Cassie views her upcoming surgery – Liposuction on inner and outer thighs and tummy and Perlane on lips – with just a touch of pre-op apprehension. She’s been this route before. She had a Breast Augmentation in August last year and knows that, like her stay at Kingfisher Lodge, it will be absolute comfort, ongoing pampering and guaranteed privacy all the way.
"Privacy in paradise" is how Lorraine Melvill is selling her once-unique concept, and South Africa, to the rest of the world. She was the very first to package the bush and bod experience in South Africa – others have since jumped on the bandwagon, prompting her top trademark the Surgeon & safari name.
Melvill opened the doors of her company in 1999, offering top-class medical facilities, the professional skills of our surgeons, recuperation at five-star hotels and an opportunity to enjoy our beautiful wildlife – and the tourists have been piling in.
Her idea has also captured the imagination of the international media, and Melvill is continually being inundated by requests for interviews by the press.
"People from all walks of life and of all ages, mainly from the UK and America and Europe, are arriving here on a daily basis," she says. "The rich and famous are looking for privacy, while the man in the street is looking for value for money." Which, of course, is one of the primary hooks, by taking advantage of a favorable exchange rate, foreigners are flocking to our shores for the trip of a lifetime.
This trip comprises undergoing a wide range of surgery, usually cosmetic in nature; spending a week or so cocooned in first-rate surroundings while recovering in pampered and cosseted opulence; and enjoying a variety of safari options, either before or after surgery. These options include a train excursion, all for the quoted price of the surgical procedure at home!
"With the dollar as strong as it is, obviously the Americans are at the greatest financial advantage," explains Melvill. "While multiple procedures are the most cost-effective, what we continue to stress is that although price-wise the Surgeon & Safari experience is cheap, there’s nothing seconds-rate about any aspect of it.
"Every one of our clients is blown away by the beauty of our country, the sumptuousness of our hotels (Our clients stay at either the Westcliff in Johannesburg at the Mount Nelson in Cape Town), the magnificence of our bush and, most importantly, the sumptuousness of our hospitals facilities and the skills and professionalism of our surgeons who are amongst the best in the world."
Cassie agrees. "When I wanted my breast enlarged I consulted three London doctors – we’re talking Harley Street specialists. They totally turned me off. They made me feel part of the meat market, that they were butchers simply in it for the money.
"Then I heard about Surgeon & safari. And I met the South Africa specialist in London. I immediately felt such a sense of trust in him that I decided to come here instead. It was such a wonderful experience that I’ve come back for more!
"You have to understand that I’m used to the UK’s National health Services, which certainly doesn’t offer the same level of interest, nor I guess, the care. What you get here however, is wonderful.
"I love the never-ending personalized attention and the private chauffeur-driven vehicles. While I expected the hotel to be good, to be quite honest, it’s turned out to be absolutely wicked!"
Like many of the clients who choose to undergo surgery here, another big drawcard from Cassie is the total anonymity that’s always guaranteed. Back home, her family, her boyfriend and a few friends are aware of the real reason for her African safari.
A firm believer that cosmetic surgery is a personal choice (often a contentious issue), she insists that while not unhappy with her body and the aging process, she likes the idea of being able to enhance what she’s already got.
"I work hard and earn good money," she says. "I’ve always had a thing about my thighs – enlarging my boobs was just a bonus. If surgery is going to be a preventative measure to prolong me career, well, why not?"
Joy, a WELL-KNOWN THRITY SOMETHING British politician, also went the anonymous route. She snuck into South Africa on what she described to everyone as "a much-needed holiday"’ underwent nose surgery and returned back home to comments about how well she looked after her break! "Everyone thinks it’s my new hairdo." She smiles, "and I’m happy to leave it at that!"
Likewise Barbara, a 55-year-old America businesswoman whom came here with her partner, told everyone back home she was going on a bush safari. She had a tummy tuck and facelift as well as surgery on her lips and eyelids, while her partner had eyelids surgery. A year later, she maintains that "Africa still looks good on me and people still comment on the fact that I look younger".
Along with the most satisfied clients she’s intending coming back to South Africa this year, not a patient, but to travel the country, as does Cassie.
"I want to bring my nine-year-old daughter Lacey back here with me," she enthuses. "It’s been such an incredible experience. The vastness of Africa, the majesty of the animals, it puts everything in perspective and makes you feel very small. While in the bush, standing on a rock overlooking the sheer drop of the escarpment, I felt on top of the world. But I guess you have to be here to know what I/m talking about, which is why I want to bring my child."
Thursday, 4pm. "A bit bruised and sore but not as badly as I expected." Cassie tells callers she’s no longer in the clinic but is now "At home". This perfectly sums up what; in essence, the whole experience is about, as Melvill’s brainchild has proved.
Aside from her destination to turn our country into the cosmetic surgery Mecca of the world, despite putting South Africa on the map as a holiday destination courtesy of come back clients spreading the word. Melvill has succeeded in creating a haven that reassures comforts and offers peace of mind, no matter how many thousand of kilometers have been traveled to get here.
Thoroughly enjoying being pampered and mollycoddled by the Westcliff staff," Where every one of my wishes is their command!" despite being swollen and encased in a pressure garment, Cassie can definitely see the slimmed-down results. "I’m not expecting miracles," she admits. "The surgeon made it clear that this is not a quick fix weight reduction procedure, it’s more of a contouring thing and I’m happy to have done it."
She plans to spend her recovery time reading and relaxing in the privacy of her room or lazing around the hotel’s pool, and will return home in five days’ time rejuvenated – in every sense of the word, mind, body and soul.
While Nelson Mandela summed it up perfectly when he said: Each time one of us touches the soil of this land we feel a sense of [personal renewal", perhaps it’s Tuula, a New York banking professional. Who should have the last words?
She came here last year for a Breast Lift and reduction, a tummy tuck and liposuction, and admits to returning home with a major body and mindset overhaul.
"My past perception of South Africa was limited to Aids, crime and apartheid, all the negatives. My first view of Johannesburg blew my mind; my very first words were "goodness, it’s a modern city!"
"My whole trip was one of the most powerful experiences of my life because what started as a beauty treatment turned into a soul-searching pilgrimage. I discovered myself during my visits and the effects have been so powerful that they continue to reflect in my life back in USA.