Alex Best on the fresh, youthful look she got from an £1,800 beauty treatment at a Co Down clinic
In a revealing interview, Alex Best talks about the cosmetic surgery procedure she has at an NI clinic, life with and without George and her regret at being caught drink driving
It's still a couple of years away but Alex Best is on the countdown to the half century. The former model and the ex-wife of legendary Cregagh-born footballer George Best is 48 in January - and she admits to some mixed feelings about it.
"In a couple of years it's the big five-o, which I'm not looking forward to very much," she confides.
It's one of the reasons why she's back in Northern Ireland highlighting a non-invasive cosmetic procedure available at a clinic in Holywood, Co Down.
She's delighted with the results of the PDO Thread-Lift treatment carried out by consultant maxillofacial surgeon Gerard Smith at Cosmetech, which uses absorbable threads to lift and rejuvenate the face.
"I'd like to grow old gracefully, coming up to 50, but I think everybody needs a little help along the way," she says.
"I had this done a couple of weeks ago and it's absolutely amazing. It's a preventative and non-invasive treatment in which they put in surgical stitches so that the collagen builds around them. They stitch under your jaw bone to give some definition and then the stitches dissolve and the collagen has built around the stitches.
"It's not having a total facelift but it really tightens up the jowls in a non-invasive way."
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Alex particularly liked the fact the procedure didn't involve an op. "The no-surgical facelift at Cosmetech was an instant result without the pain and hassle of surgery - why would anyone go under the knife when this is so good? Also, it only took approximately 45 minutes to give me an instantly fresher and naturally contoured look. In fact, over the past couple of weeks since treatment the results are getting better by the day."
Alex says she was wary about having 'work' done on her face but went ahead - she had two £895 treatments - on the recommendation of a friend.
"You're always sceptical because anything to do with your face is quite a big deal, but my friend had it done and she was really, really pleased with it. Also, it's not a permanent thing. It's like a lunchtime Botox - you could go to work afterwards.
"It didn't hurt me at all because they put numbing cream on and they leave it for a good 45 minutes. It's stitching and then pulling the stitches so they pull up the muscles - the stitching creates a scaffolding and they say the collagen forms round the stitches which keeps you looking youthful. The stitches eventually dissolve.
"It's made a difference and everyone has noticed. I think psychologically it makes you feel a bit better as well."
While Alex has "never had anything major done " she believes "a few tweaks here and there make you feel better in yourself. Since I had it done, it feels a bit tighter, but I didn't have any bruising, I didn't have any scarring and it didn't hurt. You could have it done in your lunch break. The next day I got on my flight back home and it was absolutely fine."
Alex admits that growing older, particularly when you're in the public eye, can be tough. "In a way yes, I feel under pressure to look good, but I think it's more for yourself. When you're coming up to 50 you're a lot more critical of yourself. For my own self-confidence, it makes you feel a bit better if you think that you look good. I think when they're coming up to 50, women do feel a kind of pressure to still look good. For me that's especially true as my appearance is what I've lived off, with modelling and bits and pieces.It's important to take care of how you look."
Alex lives in Surrey now and spent Christmas with her family, followed by a birthday party on Boxing Day. But she says it still feels like coming home when she returns to Northern Ireland and she has fond memories of the stunning house she shared with George in Portavogie.
"It was lovely, very peaceful, with a beautiful beach, and we met the most amazing people there. I still have really good friends there," she says.
"I love coming back to Belfast. I get really excited - it's like a 'coming home' kind of thing."
Alex says her home in Portavogie would have been the perfect spot to spend Christmas and the new year, but in the two years the couple lived there, they never actually spent Christmas in the house as much of the time was taken up with getting it into shape.
"George would have loved it - the house we lived in would have been a fantastic Christmassy house. If I could have picked that house up and moved it anywhere, I would have done," Alex says.
"Mostly we would have had Christmas at my house or my family would have been with us.
"George absolutely adored Christmas - he was like a little kid where Christmas was concerned, with the presents and everything. He was very family-oriented and he was a big kid at Christmas - even the dogs got presents!
"He would have sent as many cards as he could and he counted the cards he got back as well.
"But we spent two years doing the house up and it wasn't in any state to spend Christmas there."
Alex grew up in Surrey, where she's living now, and still lives close to her parents. She says she always wanted to be an air hostess when she was growing up.
"I went to a private school, but it was more or less a sporting school - it wasn't academically challenging," she says.
"After school I did a business studies course which came to be quite useful in later life, having the accountancy and stuff to handle George's affairs.
"Then, at the age of 16, I got spotted on the street by a model agency, so I dropped in and out of that for a while. It was very tough, but it was quite an easy thing to do really. Nowadays I deal with properties, property development and things like that."
The pair first met at the famous Tramp nightclub in London - George's local nightspot - and were introduced by friends. It was love at first sight, Alex says.
"I just fell in love immediately and he said the same to me that night - 'I'm going to marry you'. And when we left for the evening, I said 'Do you want me to write my number down?' and he said 'No, just tell it to me and I'll remember'. And he did - he phoned me the next day."
A year previously, Alex was at Craven Cottage, the guest of a friend who was married to the coach at Fulham FC, and was told she was sitting on the seat normally occupied by George...
"I just had this heartwarming feeling, as if I knew him already - it was really, really strange," she says.
The couple married in 1995 and lived in George's flat in Chelsea. "I was working at Virgin Atlantic at the time and he didn't really want me to do that any more because I was away all the time. So I quit and we got married and I spent those years doing the finances and going around the world with George."
The turbulent years of their 11-year relationship are well documented - the alcoholism, the womanising, the violence and the number of times George came close to death.
There were good times as well as the bad, Alex says, and she admits it wasn't her first brush with alcoholism. "Alcoholism is an illness. I had people in my family who were alcoholics, including my grandmother, and that stood me in good stead to cope with the illness," she says.
"George was the most lovely, kind person, but with alcohol, they can't help it. It's just very, very difficult."
The couple were together almost 24/7 during their married life, she says: "If he was doing a business trip I'd always be with him - I was a kind of a mom-ager as well!"
While Alex forgave George over and over again, and nursed him through his life-saving liver transplant at King's College Hospital in London in 2002, there came a point when she could no longer stay married to him.
George had vowed never to drink again but hit the headlines just a year after the NHS operation when he went on a binge. It was the final straw for Alex and they divorced in 2004.
"I think, really, after seeing how well and how lovely George was without the drink inside him and having a lovely sober George and then him having the transplant and all of a sudden turning back to drink after... I could forgive him beforehand but once a lifesaving event took place and he was turning back to the old ways, I was 30 and I thought this was going to carry on and carry on," she says.
"I'd got to the age where I wanted to have children and put roots down for myself. I'd spent my 20s looking after a grown man and if you have a transplant and then go back to drinking and womanising, then I can't be a part of it any more. I have to be a bit selfish and think 'This is my future, this is my life as well'.
"I can't be picking up the pieces all the time. But I was always there for him afterwards and he know I'd always be there," Alex says.
But she has fond memories of the times when the alcoholism was at bay, including the months after they moved into the house in Portavogie and began putting their own stamp on it.
"It was absolutely lovely," she says."When we moved there we still had our place in London and we had no furniture to put in the house. So on the first night, we brought lilos with us and we had to go and buy two knives and forks, two tea cups and two spoons. We had no furniture whatsoever and we were going 'Let's go and buy a sofa', then we bought a TV and we bought everything bit by bit.
"It was lovely for George at the time as he had something to concentrate on. He had such good taste, and we went to lots of auctions and antique shops and things and it was kind of our mission to get it looking wonderful.
"I've still got the bits and pieces we bought to this day - lights and things like that. He loved his antiques and I still have little bits of antiques and things, and they are always a reminder of him when I look at them - he's still part of my life."
The couple moved back to London in 2001, finding the distances involved in travelling back and forth too onerous.
"George was ill at the time and was waiting for a transplant," Alex says. "He was working at Sky every Saturday and for him to go to Aldergrove and then Aldergrove to Portavogie, it was becoming a little too much."
Alex looked at relocating to another house in Killinchy but George suggested moving back to Surrey, where he would be close to work and she would be close to her parents.
"He was just shattered working and travelling back and forth… It was easier for him to get to work each day and it just made sense."
Years after George's death, Alex still regularly visits Northern Ireland.
"I'm still in contact with a few of his family, and I see a lot of Calum and his mother, so it's all good," she says.
"I'm now living in Surrey which is very handy - I'm 40 minutes from London but I'm also in the country. I live in a little cottage with my red setter Finn - he's my third. It's always been a red setter and when I lived in my house in Portavogie, I had one called Red.
"I couldn't put him on the plane as he was so hyperactive, so I used to have to drive back to London from Portavogie every single month, driving down to Dublin and crossing at Dun Laoghaire."
Alex has had a few ups and downs of her own in recent months, hitting the headlines after she pleaded guilty to drink driving earlier this year.
She was found to be three times over the limit following a collision near her home and her defence lawyers said she had been shopping when a friend invited her to join her in a pub.
She describes it as the biggest mistake she has ever made.
"It was an awful, huge mistake, and it's not worth it at all," Alex says. "It wasn't intentional - I didn't go out to meet a friend. I was shopping and I bumped into some friends and I was drinking spritzers and didn't realise I was over the limit," she says.
"I tried to get a taxi but it was Grand National Day so I couldn't get one."
She admits she came in for a lot of criticism, especially in light of her background with George - and she says she deserved it.
"It could have been a lot worse I could have killed somebody," she says.
"There's absolutely no excuse for drink driving. It's a serious, serious thing to do - you could wreck a family's life.
"It's not clever and it's my biggest regret, it's the biggest mistake I've ever made." These days, her work as an air hostess is a distant memory.
Now, she has made a career for herself buying properties and doing them up.
"I've always had a knack with property and over the years I've managed to get into a good position where I could buy one outright, use that as a base and go from there," she says.
"It started when I was married to George. I always had the knack of finding a place that would give me an investment. I bought a place in Wimbledon village in 2006 which was really a good investment and that enabled me to have a bit of groundwork to carry it on.
"I'm looking at places in Scotland at the minute. It's all about breaking even, plus a bit extra.
"I find that if you're comfortable with something, you've always got to stick with what you know and I am comfortable with that," Alex adds.
PDO Thread-Lift at Cosmetech, Holywood
This treatment uses absorbable threads to lift and rejuvenate the face, resulting in a fresh and youthful appearance. The Thread-Lift treatment repositions sagging skin to tighten and add definition to the face.
Two one to two hour sessions, four to six weeks apart.
You can see lifting results immediately. Skin rejuvenation and tightening effects start from three to four weeks and continue for up to eight months.
Local anaesthetic and topical numbing cream
Back to work?
You can resume normal activity immediately following the treatment.
There may be sensitivity 24-48 hours post treatment.
Risks and complications?
There's a chance of bruising, swelling and tenderness post treatment.
Who performs the treatment?
The consultant surgeons have a background in head, neck and face reconstructive surgery, plastic surgery and maxillofacial surgery.
- Cosmetech is a consultant surgeon led clinic with two locations - Holywood, Northern Ireland and Chelsea, London. Prices from £595- £2,600