Apprentice winner Leah Totton launching skincare range
Skilled physician and Apprentice 2013 winner Leah Totton is launching a new skincare range. She tells Una Brankin the secrets behind her success
She's one of the most successful of Lord Sugar's winners on The Apprentice, yet one of the least hard-nosed on the cut-throat series. And although she can talk the business talk like the best of them these days, there's still a softness to Dr Leah Totton, the beguiling blonde from Londonderry who opened a high profile beauty clinic in central London with her £250,000 winnings from the 2013 show.
"It's so exciting to watch the new series again but it's hard to tell the winner at the outset," she says. "To be honest, my whole experience in 2013 was stressful and I'd advise anyone to think long and hard before going on. You can't use your phone to Google in the tasks; you can't just call for help. There's a lot you don't see.
"It's 12 episodes so you're in the house for a few months. I just stayed very focused on the tasks. There is so much footage, it's amazing they way they can edit it all down so well. It's very fair, even if you have to look back and cringe."
Her voice, down the line from London, has lost some of its Derry twang but she still sounds very Northern Irish. Unlike her 2013 runner-up, the brash Luisa Zissman, she has shied away from other reality programmes, preferring to concentrate on her thriving business.
"I wouldn't do Big Brother, although I thought the winner James (Hill), who was on this year's Apprentice, came across very well," she remarks. "I treated it like a job interview - the longest job interview ever, and you're doing it on TV. It was great to do though; it has changed my life.
"I did miss home and my family and my partner at the time but I'm a very focused individual and I just got on with it."
Her boyfriend two years ago was lantern-jawed Celtic footballer Frazer Forster. The pair broke up briefly but rekindled their romance last year. So, is he still on the go?
"No, it's not the same guy - I can't talk about that at the minute," she panics. "Sorry."
At 27, and enjoying being a godmother to a close friend's baby, she does admit to wanting marriage and children in the future.
"I would like to but I'll have to find a husband first," she laughs. "I'm very close to all my family and I think I would like to come back home to send my kids to school when the time comes. I'd love to have a house back home."
In the meantime, it's business all the way. Her clinic, in the Moorsgate business area, has taken off to such an extent she no longer has time for her NHS work, and she has spent the last two years working on a high tech anti-ageing skincare range, set to be launched next year. She had been researching the idea even before The Apprentice.
"Lord Sugar has been telling me to get a move on - he wanted me to bring it out right away after winning, but I'm a total perfectionist and I want to the range to be really effective before I give it my stamp of approval," she admits. "It's a great way of reaching out to places I can't get to yet, especially Ireland. But it's a very lengthy process, testing and packaging and getting the sell-by dates right.
"At the same time, it's very exciting to be able to create cosmeceuticals which can make a real difference. Retinol is the key ingredient - it's medical grade without being so strong to cause irritation."
Her dream is to open a Dr Leah clinic back home.
"I'd love to open in Ireland - I go back a lot and I'm always pitching it to Lord Sugar," she explains. "It will happen when the time is right. I get a lot of people travelling over for treatments like the thread lift, which isn't available in Northern Ireland. We're quite near Liverpool Street station so it's handy for them coming in from the airport."
Eastenders actress Gillian Taylforth, who plays Kathy Beale in the popular series, recently had a thread lift at Dr Leah's clinic. The procedure tightens the jawline and neck, and lasts eighteen months.
"Gillian's a great looking woman - she's in her mid-sixties and looks younger than (screen son) Ian. We get quite a few celebrities because of my profile and they feel confident coming here, but I can't say who they are. Confidentiality is key."
Among the most popular treatments at the Dr Leah clinic are a 'liquid facelift', using filler, and Fraxel laser. Jennifer Aniston and Tori Spelling are both fans of Fraxel, which can leave the skin slightly swollen and blotchy immediately after treatment but works wonder on sun damage, pigmentation and scarring.
"We use new generation Fraxel, iPixel. It's very much to the forefront medically and there isn't as much down time with it - one or two days," Lead explains. "The majority of our clients are corporate and they don't want to be sitting at home with a big beetroot red face. We're getting great results from it, especially with acne scars."
Her own complexion is so even and flawless, it's hard to imagine Leah, who has studied a masters' degree in dermatology, has ever had a skin problem, but she readily admits to open and blocked pores.
"For four years, I thought I had all these blackheads around my nose but they were actually open pores. I treated them with microdermabrasion and laser and the result was phenomenal. Your make-up goes on flawlessly afterwards. I didn't realise how much it was annoying me until then.
"I wear a lot of make-up, and with pollution here and even going out horse-riding, my pores get blocked. I'm very happy to have found the solution. I was quite pink all day after it, but after a few weeks my skin was really glowing.
"I don't think I need Botox and fillers at the minute but I wouldn't rule them out in five or six years," she adds. "It's all's about subtlety now. My motto is 'less is more'. I get called 'Dr No' for turning away as many as I treat, and patients appreciate that I'll only give them what they need.
"My whole ethos is moving away from invasive treatments to ones with no down-time and no general anaesthetics. That pillow cheeked and wind tunnel look of the Nineties is out. It's all about subtle enhancement now and looking fresh and well rested."
She shares an apartment in London with her sister Jodie (23), a former dental nurse who now runs the Dr Leah clinic as front-of-house manager.
"She's looking after the software changeover, which is a bit of a headache at the minute, She's very dependable and I trust her completely. We get on very well; we're quite similar and enjoy the same things, although she's more laid-back than me.
"We were both home for dad's 53rd birthday recently; he and mum are going well. My brother Dale is in his last year of school; he's techie and wants to do IT. We're all close and I love getting home."
Away from the beauty world, Leah is a committed supporter of Women's Aid and Foyle Hospice charities. A close family friend died last year in the hospice, which Leah visited for a 30th anniversary fundraising event three weeks ago.
"She was only in her late thirties; she had a long battle with leukaemia and went down very quickly in the last few days," she recalls. "They looked after her very well - the care was exemplary and they were very supportive of the whole family. The hospice has been very close to my heart since then. It's a great organisation and it's a great pleasure for me to lend them a hand.
"I also support Women's Aid - it is very much about empowering women. I used to see women who had been victims of domestic abuse all the time in A&E. I hope to become a patron of theirs soon. The stigma is still there but it should be stopped and women supported more."
On her recent visit to the Foyle Hospice, Leah met former BBC and UTV presenter Sarah Travers, who was on a public speaking engagement. The two hit it off well.
"I was very impressed by Sarah - she has a fantastic presenting talent," says Leah. "I love her idea of empowering young women and bringing presentation skills to schools. When I arrived in England, the people I came into contact with - especially in The Apprentice - were more confident at public speaking and putting themselves forward. It's not that I wasn't able but if you did that back home (in Northern Ireland), it's like, 'who do you think you are?'"
After her Apprentice win in 2013, Leah told me she'd like to go into politics in Northern Ireland one day.
"I still would," she asserts. "Growing up in the province, I was very politically aware and I have very poignant memories of the Good Friday Agreement. I still follow the political situation closely.
"I couldn't say what party I'd align with or if I'd run as an Independent. That's all way down the line."
Her own health is always on the agenda now too - gone are the days when this doctor used to forget to eat, leaving her blood sugar levels dangerously low. "I am pretty health conscious now - I used to be so busy, I'd skip meals and get hyperglycaemic. I cook a lot more now in the evenings and get more cardiovascular exercise. I swim a lot but it's hard to keep up the horse riding in central London."
Her next trip home with be on December 12, for her grandfather Derek Jones's 80th birthday and aunt Helena's 50th. Then it's back again for Christmas with the family.
"I can't wait; I've the flights booked. I like London and I feel so lucky to have my clinic doing so well here, but Derry will always be home."
Dr Leah Totton’s Top 10 beauty tips
I try out of all the Dr Leah products before they go to market so at the minute I am using the new Dr Leah Gentle Cleanser. Before formulating my own products I used Obagi cleaner, which is a medical-based brand. I cleanse in the morning and at night.
I use Dermaquest BHA cleanser which contains AHAs to remove dead skin, I use this three times a week in place of my normal evening cleanser.
Depending on what my concern is at the time I tend to use one of the Dermaquest
serums — when I got back from holiday
earlier in the year despite wearing high factor SPF I had some pigmentation on my face from sun damage so I used the Dermaquest skinbrite serum to remove the pigment and give my skin a flawless appearance.
4. Eye cream
As the first key product to the Dr Leah treatment at home range is an eye serum, I have tried just about every eye cream on the market. At the minute I am using our own but ESPA 24 hour eye serum and Hollywood Eye Magic are good.
Again, I use simple medical moisturisers such as “dermal cream” which cost several pounds from any chemist. I tend not to overspend on big brand-name moisturisers, I prefer medical-based simple products which do not contain fragrance. I apply factor 50 SPF separately.
I use a factor 50 sunscreen as my primer —Heliocare 360 (£35) gives factor 50 UVA/ UVB protection and free radical protection.
7. BB/CC creams
Jane Iredale BB cream is my foundation of choice.
Benefit concealer for blemishes I wish to conceal, although as a skin doctor I tend to be more inclined to treat the problem as oppose to conceal it.
9. Blusher and bronzer
I wear a cream blusher by Mac and Benefit Hoola Bronzer.
10. Highlighter/facial contouring
I’m a big fan of Benefit’s High Beam with a bronzer to contour.