Sharp-eyed viewers leafing through photo albums containing snaps of my earlier life might notice one thing: I am always determinedly facing forwards.
It was a strategy to ensure that my nose was never captured side on for posterity. Because while I didn’t exactly love my nose and its (to my mind) pronounced bump from the front, I felt it was particularly conspicuous in profile.
It wasn’t hideous by any stretch, but nor was it the smooth, pretty nose of most of my female peers.
Not blessed with great self-confidence, my nose became the repository for all my adolescent angst: when I wasn’t swerving cameras, I was cupping it with my hand to conceal it from prying eyes.
I carried on doing that until 2007 when, aged 35, and after years of prevarication, I bought myself a new one.
A £4,000 nose, to be precise, moulded by a surgeon. Not that I advertised my new nose at the time and I’m not the only one who has brazened it out over the years.
Earlier this week, an ex-boyfriend of Carla Bruni, wife of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed she’d had a secret nose job to boost her modelling career before she was famous.
Sharp-eyed viewers leafing through photo albums containing snaps of my earlier life might notice one thing: I am always determinedly facing forwards
But when asked about it in 2014, she denied having gone under the knife, saying: ‘I would do surgery if I was sure it would work, but I’m not sure it does.’
My reaction when a friend quizzed me outright about what I’d done to my nose was to confess to it straight away.
There’s still the view that it’s somehow immoral to spend so much money on something that’s arguably so superficial and, before my nose job, I worried very much about people’s reactions.
While nobody has ever sneered to my face, the judgment is apparent in the comment of every celebrity who airily denies they’d ever have work done to their own faces.
As Carla herself said of those who’ve gone under the knife: ‘They look strange, the women — they don’t look younger.’
Now I don’t know why we’re still so secretive about having cosmetic enhancements.
After all, I can honestly say that for me it was transformative, not just physically, but emotionally, erasing almost overnight years of ingrained self-consciousness.
The capacity for a new nose to change so dramatically how you feel about yourself is the reason I’m also surprised to learn that rhinoplasty, to give the procedure its official surgical title, has gone out of favour.
It was a strategy to ensure that my nose was never captured side on for posterity. Because while I didn’t exactly love my nose and its (to my mind) pronounced bump from the front, I felt it was particularly conspicuous in profile
Year on year, the number of procedures has dropped dramatically, from 4,878 in 2013 to 1,330 in 2021.
Some of that will likely be down to the pandemic but, still, it’s a stark drop. Instead, people are turning to non-surgical alternatives such as filler. Less permanent — most dissolve after around two years — they lessen the possibility of buyer’s remorse.
But I can say there’s certainly no remorse here. In fact, having my nose done was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — although I am glad that I did it at the relatively mature age of 35.
If I had been born 20 years later, subjected to the unforgiving glare of social media, I may not have held out that long.
Of course, the fact is that whatever era you grow up in, it is fairly rare for a young girl not to have some self-consciousness about her looks. And once engrained, it can inform a lot of the way you feel about yourself as an adult, too.
That was certainly the case for me. I loved my time at my Bolton girls’ school but, from early on, I always felt like the proverbial ugly duckling alongside — to my adolescent mind — the supermodel swans who formed some of my contemporaries.
My nose, which seemed to sprout overnight around my 13th birthday, felt like the final blot on an already unimpressive landscape.
If I was in any doubt, then overhearing a boy’s comment about me at a party put the nail in the coffin. ‘She’s got a bit of a nose on her,’ he proclaimed.
It wasn’t hideous by any stretch, but nor was it the smooth, pretty nose of most of my female peers
I would scrutinise my profile, forlornly pondering how much better it would look if the tip was slightly raised and the bump ironed out.
To that end, whenever I was at my school desk or watching television, I’d put my thumb under it and push it up in an endeavour to mould it into something perter.
I studied contemporary celebrities with larger-than-usual noses, trying to work out if they were pretty because or despite of them. Princess Diana, who had a not dissimilar nose which did not stop her being a celebrated beauty, gave me hope.
By my late teens and early 20s, the deployment of make-up and hair dye gave me more confidence, and I usually had a boyfriend on the go, although I assumed they loved me in spite of my nose — not that I ever asked them, because it was the one thing I never talked about.
Yet the general insecurity never went away. In my early 20s and working as a journalist, I got as far as looking up cosmetic surgery clinics in the Yellow Pages but never quite plucked up the courage to call one.
Other than a minor op to remove my wisdom teeth, I’d never gone under the knife, and time and again I reprimanded myself for being preoccupied with something that ultimately was about the way I looked in a world where so many people had much bigger problems.
Not blessed with great self-confidence, my nose became the repository for all my adolescent angst: when I wasn’t swerving cameras, I was cupping it with my hand to conceal it from prying eyes
Now I see the relative inaccessibility of surgery then as a blessing. Today, when images of picture-perfect celebrities beam from every Instagram account, I wonder how much pressure I would have felt under to do something sooner, which might have then led me to consider what other parts of my appearance could be solved with surgery.
So for a decade or so I tried to accept my nose, bump and all, albeit still in a hand-cupping, camera-swerving kind of way.
But then in my mid-30s, by then co-habiting with my future husband Duncan, a friend of mine took the plunge and had a ‘nose job’.
Her nose wasn’t a honking great hooter either, but she had always hated it — and now she didn’t.
I realised if I was ever going to do something, the time was now, especially since my friend had paved the way with her meticulous research into the best ‘nose doctors’ in town.
For probably the only time in my life this will ever happen, I asked for the name of her surgeon.
And so it was that shortly afterwards, in January 2007, I sat in a Harley Street clinic while that same surgeon talked through my options.
I carried on doing that until 2007 when, aged 35, and after years of prevarication, I bought myself a new one
The operation, under anaesthetic, would be between 90 minutes and two hours long and involved breaking my nose, remoulding it and setting it in a plaster case which would be removed a week later. There would be facial bruising, the extent of which would really boil down to luck.
One hour later and £4,000 worse off — the sum placed on a credit card which took many months to pay off — I left with my surgery date fixed for the start of February.
At that point only Duncan knew of my intentions, his take being that he didn’t think I needed it, loved me as I was but would support me if I was set on it.
In fact, two weeks before my surgery he proposed, effectively asking my ‘old nose’ to marry him.
I also confided in my two best friends and my mum, about whose reaction I was particularly anxious, worrying she might see it as the start of some mad mid-life surgery spree.
I promised her this was a one-off and, in fact, aside from telling me not to mention it to my father on the basis that it would only upset him, she said she knew where I was coming from.
‘I actually think it probably would look better without the bump,’ she said.
Nonetheless, there’s no question I felt embarrassed to be going under the knife — in part because after a lifetime of trying to detract attention from my nose, actively discussing it was anathema to me, and also because I worried that people might think me horribly shallow.
So instead of coming clean, I told friends and colleagues in the run-up to the scheduled op that I was having a small knee operation and would be out of circulation for a week or two.
I could only pray my absence wouldn’t be more permanent: what if something went wrong under the anaesthetic? I would literally be dying for vanity. The night before surgery I didn’t sleep a wink.
A £4,000 nose, to be precise, moulded by a surgeon. Not that I advertised my new nose at the time and I’m not the only one who has brazened it out over the years
Happily, all went well. The aftermath was not unbearably sore and my bruising was on the lighter side.
Seven days on, I went to have the plaster removed. While still slightly swollen, I could see my nose was a straighter, neater version than the one that had preceded it. I was thrilled.
The big challenge now was integrating my new nose into society. My initial plan was to brazen it out, particularly as my surgeon had said that most people wouldn’t notice.
‘What you have to remember,’ he told me, ‘is that while you are fixated on your nose, other people aren’t.’ His prediction turned out to be spot on. Among those who never spotted my transformation was my dad, who went to his grave three years ago never knowing I’d remoulded my nose.
However, it was not the same for an eagle-eyed friend I met for a drink nine days after my op, my one remaining bruise covered with heavy make-up.
I could tell she was scrutinising me. ‘Have you done something with your nose?’ she finally asked me, one hour in. I told her indeed I had.
Having been secretive about my surgery previously, I found I was less bothered about telling people after the event. If anything, it was easier than wondering whether people were ruminating about it behind my back.
The fact was it didn’t bother me any more: the surgery may have taken two hours, but its legacy was instant.
On the night I was meeting that friend, I arrived at the bar slightly earlier and automatically cupped my hand round my nose as I perched on the bar stool.
It hit me like a thunderbolt. ‘I don’t need to do that any more,’ I thought.
I didn’t think my surgery suddenly made me beautiful — it would take more than a new nose for that — but I had spent so much mental energy on my nose over the years and suddenly all that was gone.
No more trying to hide it, and no need, as the years went on, to dread the rise of smart phones and photos taken at any occasion.
While I’m no longer secretive about my cosmetic intervention, it’s not to say that I haven’t wrestled with a degree of ethical discomfort about having non-essential surgery.
The advent of the more ‘temporary’ modern nose jobs has led me to wonder whether that could have been an acceptable ‘halfway house’, a gateway to a slightly improved profile which might have led me in time to accept my nose as it was.
Those feelings have been enhanced since I gave birth to my daughter Connie nearly nine years ago.
In a world where girls seem to be judged ever more ferociously on how they look, I am working hard to try to instil in her a confidence rooted in a more profound place than what she sees reflected in the mirror.
It’s not easy to square that with my own decision to change something on my face, even if it has undeniably made me much happier, which is at odds with my determined parenting message about the fact that it’s ‘what’s inside’ that counts.
Carla Bruni also has a daughter, Giulia, now about 11 and so a similar formative age.
Perhaps like me, Carla has had a similar dilemma?
To date, I haven’t told Connie what I’ve done, but when I think the time is right — and it’s not far off — I will be as honest as possible about my insecurities, but also about whether I should have tackled them differently.
I remain heartily glad I bought myself a new nose, but I will be equally thrilled if she thinks I should have left it alone.