4 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 78

No life

I've gone too far

Toby Young

Aa grubbing, freelance hack, there are few stories I consider beneath me. I've trawled the singles bars of New York wear- ing a wig to see if having hair made me any more attractive to the opposite sex. I've spent a night in the notorious Voyeur Dorm, an all-girl college dormitory in Florida in which your every move is broad- cast live on the Internet. I've even embarked on a whistle-stop tour of New York's hard-core dyke scene dressed as a woman in an attempt to pick up a lipstick lesbian. Forget about Kosovo. That was the most dangerous journalistic assignment of the Nineties.

However, when I agreed to have Botox injected into my face for the Evening Stan- dard, I think I may have gone too far. Botox — or Botulinum Toxin, to give it its full name — is a form of poison that caus- es temporary muscle paralysis. If a small amount is injected into your fore- head it paralyses the frown muscles, there- by eliminating your frown lines. In Beverly Hills it's long been a fashionable alterna- tive to cosmetic surgery, though it's only just catching on on this side of the Atlantic.

The actual injections weren't too painful. Admittedly, there were five of them, but the whole experience was no worse than your average root canal. The effects aren't too bad, either, provided you don't mind being unable to frown. It has its disadvan- tages — if I think someone's talking rub- bish I now have to say, 'You're talking rubbish,' whereas before I just had to knit my brow — but I quite like being wrinkle- free. It's as if someone's taken a steam iron and pressed it to my forehead. No, the rea- son I should never have consented to Botox treatment is because of the harm it's done to my reputation.

Typically, when it comes to writing up a piece like this, you can't very well say that the only reason you performed the stunt in question was because a newspaper asked you to. You have to pretend it was for another motive altogether. Consequently, in the piece I wrote for the Evening Stan- dard I said the reason I'd had the Botox treatment was because I was anxious about being 11 years older than my fiancée. I linked it to the fact that I'd just turned 37 and claimed I was worried about getting a bit long in the tooth. Naturally, I assumed that any of my friends reading the piece would know that this was just a cover story and the real reason I'd done it was because I was a shameless hack willing to do just about anything for a story.

Unfortunately, everyone's taken me at my word. My best friend, Sean Langan, told me he thought it was 'pathetic' that I'd finally succumbed to 'plastic surgery'. An ex-girlfriend took me to one side at a party and explained that women didn't care about things like frown lines. 'The one quality women despise above any other in men is vanity,' she said, staring dubiously at my forehead. My fiancée's older brother called her in a state of shock, saying he thought 'this whole Botox thing' was 'weird'. I couldn't have done more damage to my reputation if I'd written a piece about having had a penis enlarge- ment.

People's reactions started getting stranger and stranger. Sebastian Shake- speare, the editor of the Standard's 'Lon- doner's Diary', called up to ask whether `the rumour' was true.

`What rumour?' I asked.

`That you've had a brain haemorrhage following your Botox injections,' he said.

I explained that while Botox had yet to be approved by America's Food and Drug Administration it really wasn't all that dangerous. I don't think he believed me.

Perhaps the most unwelcome response of all is that I've been deluged with requests from all sorts of quacks inviting me to try out various miracle cures and report on their effects. For instance, on Monday I received a fax via the Evening Standard ask- ing if I'd be interested in road-testing a `hair restoration' product. I called up the public relations company concerned and was told that 'the results' were 'quite amaz- ing', not to say 'miraculous'. 'This product is going to revolutionise men's lives every- where,' enthused the PR agent. Would I like to try it?

Well, naturally, I put myself down for a three-month trial. However, before you jump to the conclusion that I'm genuinely worried about going bald, can I stress that this experiment is purely for journalistic purposes? And don't even think about frowning.