Norwich plastic surgeon Rozina Ali: ‘A happy person will always look good’

Rozina Ali is one of the country's top surgeons specialising in breast, reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. Reporter DAVID BALE went to meet her.

Top plastic surgeon Rozina Ali can always spot her own work.

'Surgeons are creative people, and we're all very distinctive,' she said.

She likens her work to fine art, in that once you know the basics, you can begin to elaborate.

But she said she never gets complacent about surgery.

'You get comfortable and familiar with what you do and you learn tips, tricks and short cuts, but I also have enormous respect for nature. There's no fooling biology.'

She has particularly strong feelings about aesthetics as well as function and how each surgical outcome should exactly suit each patient.

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I asked her if she ever looked at celebrities and thought they had had bad plastic surgery, or that they needed some work doing, but she said she doesn't want to ever look at people that way.

'Some people look odd, just because that's the way they are, not because they've had plastic surgery,' she said.

'Lots of people I know, including friends or family might ask for advice or treatments, but I always tell them to come along to my office. I don't like to mix professional with personal. I enjoy formal boundaries.'

On being asked directly, she was startled but said she was fine with the way she looked.

'I'm happy with it. I'm perfectly happy having dark hair, being dark-skinned, having dark eyes. I'm not particularly tall or buxom, but I'm fit and healthy.

'I believe in people optimising themselves. The way you look is about your lifestyle, your outlook, the balance in your days.

'If you are a happy person and have a good outlook, you will look good. If you are discontented it invariably shows on your face.

'You have to have a balance in your life. The ultimate luxury is to have people feel comfortable in their own skins.

'The three main things are contentment, fulfilment and joy - if you can find that in your life, that's the ultimate balance.

'True beauty is about happiness and health, which are very much the attributes that are admired in the Far East. In the West we tend to pursue externals and superficials, at the expense of internals. Often in my consultations, the best I can offer is to empower people and tell them what they need to inspire them.'

Millions of people will have seen Dr Ali on BBC2's Horizon series 'The Truth about Looking Young' last month. On the programme she left the operating theatre behind for the frontiers of skin science and asked if it is possible to make your skin look younger without surgery.

Feedback from the show has been very positive.

She has been based at the Norfolk and Norwich University hospital for exactly five years now.

She's a full-time plastic surgery consultant, specialising in micro-vascular reconstructive surgery, which involves moving tissue from one part of the body, such as the legs, stomach and bottom, to another, ie. disconnecting tissue from its blood supply then reconnecting it in a different place.

She performs 'perforator' flap surgery, which has only been on the radar for about 10 years and she's been in it on from the start. She was one of only three people from the UK to attend the inaugural world society of reconstructive microsurgery conference in 2001.

She can not say how many operations she does on average in a week, as it varies.

She did one operation that lasted 10 hours one day last week, while others are far simpler and she may perform up to six cases in a day.

Raised in Liverpool, she still has some traces of a Scouse accent, which appears, she says, when she's feeling too relaxed. When she was 16 she moved to London, and before coming to Norwich, she did fellowships around the world including Belgium and Taiwan, learning her trade.

She loves Norwich and the area, even though she said she was very much a city girl at heart.

'I love the peace and serenity here. I still slow down when I see rabbits. I like greenery and the visual beauty. It does not cost a penny to look at beautiful things.

'I love natural beauty and beautiful art. In my house I have pieces by Damien Hirst, Anthony Benjamin, Maxine Angus and Hugh Brandon-Cox. I like collecting beautiful works of art. I was in New York last summer and I was befriended by Rene Ricard, an eccentric and gifted artist who was one of Andy Warhol's contemporaries.'

She knew that she wanted to be a surgeon from an early age, although no-one in her working class family was a doctor.

She's a fanatical Liverpool supporter. 'King Kenny should never have gone,' she said. 'Being a football fan is like belonging to a tribe.'

In her spare time she enjoys gardening, and makes time to smell the roses every day. She also loves keeping fit... jogging and roller-skating around the local streets and parks. She loves travel, especially to the Far East and South America.

'I love the Far East - the humidity, the air. I have been skiing in Japan. I like being a stranger in a foreign land.'

Just hours after we met at the Sainsbury Centre at the UEA, which is one of her favourite places, she was due to be performing surgery. Although not worried about it, she recognises just how important each operation is to the patient and treats everyone as she would want to be treated - with honesty and with warmth.