Dr Leah Totton: 'I'm glad to be working as an NHS doctor - it's different from business, but it gives me perspective'
Londonderry's Leah Totton, former winner of TV's The Apprentice, tells Una Brankin why she’s back working in A&E part-time and how her clinic's new face lift treatment is popular with Northern Ireland women.
Anyone who saw Dr Leah Totton in action on the 2013 BBC series of The Apprentice couldn't fail to recall the brains and integrity behind the doll-like beauty of the Londonderry girl.
With her long blonde hair and bright blue eyes - and naturally pouty lips - she may have looked like Barbie on first impressions, but she quickly proved herself to be a formidable competitor, going on to win a £250,000 investment from Sir Alan Sugar for her beauty business.
Three years on, she has two thriving clinics, one in Marylebone in central London, the other in Essex, which yielded a £250,000 profit margin last year.
The business is going so well that Leah has returned to work as an NHS physician, part-time, going back to her roots as a practising doctor who had finished top of her class in medical school when she applied to take part in The Apprentice.
"It broke my heart to leave my work as a physician but it was always my plan to return," she says in her mile-a-minute Derry twang.
"I have been doing quite a bit of locum work on and off this last couple of years.
"The clinics are at a point now that they can manage without me full-time, and I have my sister, Jodie, helping me run them.
"I've a staff of 16 now and I'm there half the week and the other in A&E - I can't say exactly where, for professional reasons.
"I'm really glad to be back in the NHS. Life as a doctor is very different from business, but it has given me perspective and I feel I can use the skills I've learned within the hospital environment."
She admits she found her weekend rota "harrowing and exhausting". She worked 13-hour shifts as one of three doctors overseeing 28 A&E admissions last Sunday night.
"It was a bit challenging but I was part of a great team," she says, fresh from a breakfast meeting in London. "It was my first weekend back and I was thrown in at the deep end. There were patients with heart attacks, high glycaemia; some were deranged."
"I do feel it's a real privilege to be able to practise medicine again," she adds. "The only thing is, I'm working seven days a week now, between the two, so I don't have a weekend, as such."
Not much time to enjoy her new home in central London, then. She won't say if her boyfriend, 2015 Apprentice winner, Mark Wright, has moved in with her, having had the media making a meal out of her past relationship with lantern-jawed Celtic footballer Fraser Forster.
But she brought the tall, dark Aussie Mark to Derry earlier this year for the opening of the new Women's Aid Centre there - she's a patron - and there are some glamorous photos online of them looking loved-up at a recent wedding.
Despite her sharp business acumen, she is a romantic and a bit of a softie at heart, tweeting this week about the elderly couple who died, holding hands, within minutes of each other in a Dakota nursing home, after 63 years and five children together.
Given her hectic career, settling down is not on her agenda at the minute, however. She's so busy, she's had to put her planned skincare range and clinic back home on hold. Isn't her biggest investor a bit miffed?
"Not really - he's actually quite laid-back," she says of Lord Sugar. "And it's my business at the end of the day. He's very supportive and accommodating about my return to the NHS. He understands that."
I can just imagine her itching to reorganise crowded hospitals and make them run more efficiently. She has a keen interest in politics and would make a good health minister in the future. "There's a lot of changes I would make, and I'd love to have a role in doing something about the way the NHS is run," she says. "I do have to take a step back and try not to take over when I'm in A&E, and focus on the clinical aspect. The NHS has fantastic staff but it is over-run; GPs are, too. The system survives on their goodwill."
When she's not attending to emergencies in hospital, Leah specialises in a one-stitch face and neck lift at her clinics, and has been named by the Silhouette Soft non-surgical beauty company as the number one practitioner of the procedure in the UK. It costs £1,500-£2,000 and lasts for 18 months. Leah has plenty of celebrities among her clientele but, like any clinic owner worth her salt, she's too discreet to name-drop.
"I get people coming for the thread lift from all over the world, including Northern Ireland, I'm happy to say," she explains. "This is the treatment I personally perform the most - it only takes 30 minutes to perform, with limited downtime, and results last for 18 months.
"It's really popular, as are our hair transplants, but Botox and fillers are still the most requested treatments."
After winning The Apprentice, Leah met with some sniffy criticism over her apparent espousal of injectables for women of all ages, but she insists she is very selective in who she treats and has earned the tag 'Dr No' for turning away girls who are too young or who have unreasonable expectations.
"For lips, at the minute, we get asked for the Kardashians' look all the time," she explains. "For cheekbones, it's Kate Moss. I see beauty in every face. Margot Robbie, Candice Swanepoel and Heidi Klum are probably three of the most naturally beautiful female faces I can think of. There are other celebrities who can appear puffy, though there can be a multitude of reasons why. One can be the over-use of cosmetic procedures or swelling as a result from a recent procedure. And that pixie look is often due to people having nose jobs to reduce the size of the nose."
She cites House of Cards actress Robin Wright as one of the stars who have got the balance right in terms of Botox.
"The 'wind tunnel facelift' look of the Nineties is becoming a distant memory with more and more people seeking natural-looking results - which is why we are seeing older celebs getting it right. Robin Wright admits to using Botox sparingly, to keep her look as natural as possible, and other celebs such as Heidi Klum and Helen Mirren have achieved the right balance of looking good without overuse of surgical cosmetic procedures.
"Personally, I think some lines around the eyes, or 'crow's feet' actually add character to a face and, unless they are very deep, these are normally fine to live with. The frown line between the eyes is rarely attractive and not only ages the face but can make someone appear angry.
"That is easily treated with Botox, and a skilled Botox doctor can inject in a way that you get the eyebrows to lift slightly at the same time, which will help heavy eyelids. The lines which run between the corners of the mouth downwards (marionette lines) can downturn your smile and make you look sad - that can be easily treated with dermal filler."
With no holidays on the horizon, Leah's looking forward to her best friend's upcoming wedding in Donegal. Future business plans include a chain of six beauty clinics, with one in Northern Ireland and, possibly, in Dublin.
Named recently by the online FreeOfficeFinder app as one of the top ten best entrepreneurs under 30 in the UK, she's perplexed by the Brexit vote and the possible implications for business. "To tell you the truth, I was shocked by the vote," she states. "I didn't expect it at all but we're going to have to make the best of the situation. I haven't seen any repercussions yet but it could make business a little harder to do, down the line.
"But I get great work satisfaction from what I do, both in the NHS and the clinics. I'm very lucky and I'll never take that for granted."
Dr Leah's top five beauty secrets
1. Wear SPF 50 - SPF should be applied every day, whether the sun is shining or not, due to the sun's ever-present damaging UVA rays. UVA can penetrate deep into the dermal layers of the skin, causing destruction of its support structure, and also generating free radical damage. Wear a minimum of SPF 30-50 and look out for sunscreens which also contain antioxidants such as vitamins C and E to enhance your photo protection. My top pick is Heliocare SPF 50.
2. Exfoliate - on average we shed around 40,000 dead skin cells an hour which can lead to rough, flaky and uneven skin tone and breakouts. Exfoliation helps to remove dulling debris from the skin's surface and brings healthy moisture-filled cells to the surface, leaving skin looking fresh and glowing. This also allows for proper absorption of active ingredients you may put on the skin, such as serums.
3. Hydrate inside and out - drink plenty of water as higher temperatures can lead to internal dehydration, which in turn can result in headaches and dizzy spells. And if skin is dehydrated it can feel tight and look dull. I recommend using topical serums or boosters containing moisture-binding ingredients (known as humectants) such as hyaluronic acid, honey and Sodium PCA.
4. Look after your lips - Dermaquest Stem Cell 3D Lip Enhancer with firming Maxi-Lip peptide and botanical stem cells helps to repair and prevent DNA damage. Instantly plumping and hydrating and magnifies your lip's natural colour.
5. Wash make-up brushes - brushes collect bacteria, oil and dead skin cells, particularly if used throughout the day rather than on freshly cleansed skin. This can cause blackheads, blemishes and breakouts. Excess dead skin cells and old make-up on brushes will also dull your complexion and make application more difficult. The new make-up brush cleaner from Tom Pellereau is great.
Visit www.drleah.co.uk for more information on treatments
Healthy skin starts with a good diet
Dr Leah owes her glowing complexion as much to her healthy diet as her beauty treatments. She says:
* Healthy foods can help to reduce inflammation and, by avoiding certain foods, help reduce the likelihood of breakouts. Vitamin C is a super antioxidant, which means it gives our skin super protection and is great for fighting against ageing. It is also essential for a healthy immune system, radiant skin and healing of skin problems such as breakouts. Look out for foods such as bell peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwis, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peas and papayas that are all high in Vitamin C.
* Another supplement to stock up on is selenium, which is an essential mineral and antioxidant that, when combined with Vitamin E, is considered one of the best ingredients for anti-ageing. This micronutrient is also great for sun damage and age spots. A great source of this powerful ingredient is Brazil nuts but, if you have a nut allergy or a dislike of nuts, shellfish, eggs, tomato and broccoli are also a good source of selenium.
* Also, increase your intake of Omega-3 and 6 as these essential fatty acids (EFA), are something which our body cannot produce on its own accord, and can only be obtained through diet. EFAs are particularly good for people who suffer from inflammatory skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, due to its potent anti-itch and anti-inflammatory effects.
Other benefits include supporting healthy cell turnover, so people with acne may also benefit from a diet rich in Omega 3 as an overactive cell turnover can be a major contributory factor to persistent spots. These fats are especially abundant in cold-water fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies and black cod, among others.
* Consider taking zinc - it is calming, soothing and great for healing, and also acts as an astringent which helps in the treatment of acne, among many other overall health benefits.
Zinc rich foods include poultry, lean red meat, nuts, seeds and shellfish.