Unmasking Dr Treacy - Michael Jackson's former doctor
Dr Patrick Treacy is best known as Michael Jackson's former doctor but, he tells how his life was replete with heartbreak and drama long before he met Wacko
Dr Patrick Treacy is a little torn, you sense. On the one hand the renowned dermatologist is most famous for being Michael Jackson's sometime doctor; the legendary singer's name duly appears on the cover of his new book.
But Patrick also doesn't want to be overshadowed by Wacko either and, within a few minutes of our interview beginning, his discourse is littered with references to how his story is "much more than just Michael Jackson", and how the media "milked" Jackson's foibles to death. I promise that we'll get to the Fermanagh-born medic's intriguing life story which spans Troubles-era Belfast and Saddam-era Iraq but since Treacy is also, according to his own website, "honorary ambassador of the Michael Jackson Legacy Foundation" and hardly seems to give an interview without mentioning him it feels a little remiss not to deal with the King Of Pop first.
Treacy's contact with Jackson came through a go-between who reached out to the dermatologist while the singer was staying in Ireland during 2006. The book is full of jaw-dropping anecdotes of the surreal encounters that followed, with Jackson, seemingly gripped by some whimsical kleptomania, helping himself to some of the clinic's products and at one point passing the phone to Treacy with none other than Nelson Mandela on the other end of the line. It's a fascinating story but given the fact that Jackson did, by Treacy's own admission, suffer from a kind of dysmorphia, and given that most people would feel that Jackson's look stopped making sense years before he died, I wonder if any part of him hesitated in conducting more procedures on the singer's face? "How many surgeries did he have? He certainly had a dimple put in his chin, whether it looked cosmetically pleasing or not is another matter," Treacy responds. "If you look at his progression, I would have thought when his face went white and he did the They Don't Really Care About Us video in Brazil (in 1996), I think he looked his best." He adds: "I'm not a plastic surgeon, I did only cosmetic dermatology on him."
Given that he refers to Jackson in the book as "a modern-day Jesus Christ", I wonder if he feels he had total medical objectivity when dealing with the singer? "I think medical objectivity is the word. Here is someone who had a cult following, like Jesus Christ did. Here is someone who saw the world through the eyes of children, like Jesus Christ did.
"Here is someone who was a humanitarian, like Jesus Christ and who was sacrificed on the altar of life, like Jesus Christ."
Unlike Jesus Christ, however, there was the taint of child abuse accusations hanging over Jackson and, while Treacy makes clear that he felt these were entirely unfounded, (and perpetuated by "low-life media") they were "at the back of my mind" when he advised the singer against visiting burns victims in Crumlin hospital for fear of the avalanche of media that would follow him to his Westmeath retreat.
Treacy refers to a conversation in the book in which Jackson expresses his fear of dying "another penniless black man" and he - Treacy - responds that there's not much danger of that happening, since Jackson, he feels, is "fit as a fiddle." So, can we say that other than the drugs he had taken Jackson would have survived in good health?
"There was suspicion he was suffering from lung disease, I saw no evidence of that," Treacy responds. "His haematological status was normal. I never knew he had a problem with insomnia. I think his mother and family afterwards were ill-advised.
"He never asked me for sleeping tablets and he wouldn't have got them anywhere else. We used propophyl (the drug that killed Jackson) with Michael and he did recognise it so he had used it before. He said he would never use it without an anaesthetist."
Given the singer's huge concerns about privacy did he have any qualms about giving so much detail about his medical examinations and consultations in the book? "I did a number of procedures on him and none of them are mentioned at all. These are just … anecdotal stories."
By this point Dr Treacy is reminding me that "the last Independent journalist who interviewed me made it all about Michael Jackson and you were the only ones who did", and in fairness his book does fairly rollick along long before you get to Wacko so we briskly move onto to his own early life. Treacy grew up in west Fermanagh, an "idyllic" setting until the Troubles began.
Dr Patrick Treacy pictured at his clinic in Dublin
He was head prefect in his school and he was never bullied, he insists (although curiously his book does say "I was subject to … cruel bullying") but adds that,"certainly some of the priests enjoyed inflicting corporal punishment."
He was Young Scientist of the Year and set his heart on becoming a doctor. At Queens the threat of violence was always present however - "bombs were the order of the day" - and following threats he was badly beaten up and his leg broken.
At his mother's urging he transferred to Dublin which, during that period, was poorer than Belfast but had a lively music scene. "It was a great time for youth in the city. You had to be known to get into certain places in Leeson Street. You had U2 starting out then as well, they played in the Dandelion Market which was next door to the Royal College of Surgeons (which he attended).
"I embraced Dublin; it felt so cosmopolitan whereas Belfast felt like a small-minded town. It did baffle me that nobody seemed interested in the problems in the North."
After his grant was cut off by the Thatcher administration he raised the money for university by smuggling cars from Germany to Turkey.
He eventually got his medical degree but his life took a cruel twist in 1987. While working in a hospital in Dublin, a needle he had used to draw blood from a patient with HIV jabbed him in the leg. This came at the nadir of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the fear within medical circles and amongst the general public was palpable. Dr Treacy was forced to undergo blood test after blood test to determine if he had contracted what was then considered a fatal disease. "I had to have a lump cut out of my leg", he recalls. "Ireland was a different country then, very backward."
Deeply upset by the incident, Dr Treacy left Ireland for the south tip of New Zealand with his then girlfriend. It was to be the first of many international posts over the next decade. He lived with the Marsh Arabs in Saddam' Hussein's Iraq where the law dictated that he would have to be tested for HIV - luckily he had never seroconverted.
He tried to do a story in the region for the Fermanagh Herald and was caught by the Iraqi army and thrown into jail. After five days he was released and flew to Copenhagen, and from then to Dublin and from there to the West.
He would go on to set up the Ailesbury Clinic, where he has worked at the cutting-edge of the relatively new field of cosmetic dermatology and been a notable advocate of treatments like Botox and an outspoken critic of the lack of regulation in the field. And in case you think Wacko was his only A-List connection the website for the clinic features pictures of Treacy with the likes of Bono, Jay-Z and Ted Turner. It's another figure that looms large in the book however.
He says that one of the primary themes of the book is love lost and the breakdown of his relationship with his old girlfriend, Trish. "I did carry with me some sense of what could have been.
"When I went to write it down I cleared myself of her and the memories. It (lost love) comes to you at night in your dreams. The book has been therapeutic to me."
Has it left him open to new love now? "Very possibly", he responds smiling. "I'm not involved with anyone at present, but at least I sleep easier at night."
'Behind the Mask' by Dr Patrick Treacy is available on Amazon now
Sunday Indo Living