To a very posh hotel, where the clientele are so expensively lean that were they turned into organic mince, they would probably contain less than five per cent fat.
In the bar, the women are taut, pressed, perfect; there is not a hair out of place or a face that could express emotion within 50 yards. Do they know that their god is among them, sitting in a leather banquette over there, drinking an Americano as he is interviewed by a television crew for a documentary about Pippa Middleton’s bottom?
Yes, there he is: Dr Pierre Dukan, the man whose radical weight loss programme has made him the diet deity for body-obsessed women bored with the Atkins, the GI, the South Beach, and so on …
Pippa Middleton doesn’t do the Dukan diet, but her mother does, along with Jennifer Lopez, Penélope Cruz, and three million French women, who kept his weight loss plan to themselves for almost eight years, les vaches. In an interview last year, Pippa expressed disbelief at Carole’s new diet. “It’s so odd, she ate prawns and cottage cheese for lunch yesterday. Just prawns and cottage cheese.”
Dr Dukan himself doesn’t think that the mother of the Duchess of Cambridge needs his diet “but she can ’elp me in spreading my mission of fighting the overweight medical problem in the world.”
He is almost comically French, Dr Dukan – “pleeeease, just call me Pierre” – and has a laugh like a wind-up toy clown. “Pippa, she has zis phycial presence. She is, ahh, ummm, she makes people take a second breath!” A pause. “Ah, I am sorry, my eenglish is not so good.”
Pierre loves women, which is odd given that his diet seems to me a form of body fascism. He is quite fond of champagne, too. And bread! Afficionados of his diet, deprived of carbs, will find this astonishing, but then Pierre, who is 75 kilos (11st 8lb) and 1m 77cm (5ft 9in), only follows his own eating plan “after Chreestmas, or when I ’ave been on vacation”.
I give him some chocolate. He breaks it into little pieces and then proceeds to churn it around in his mouth with a curiosity similar to a baby being given solids for the first time. “Too much fat, I think,” and off goes the clown laugh.
He has noticed that people in Britain are much fatter than they are in France. “Maybe not in ’ere,” he says, motioning across the bar. There is a word he uses to describe the look on the face of someone who is packing an extra 20 kilos: “suffering.” Why do more of us “suffer” here? “Because in France we eat together. You never see a French person eating alone. It ees friendly eating. When you eat with someone you like, or love, you don’t ask too much of the food. You have something else to give you pleasure. You do not seek it in your plate. But French women, they are also obsessed, obsessed with being thin. In France, the culture is very much against zee overweight. To be overweight is like racism.” I think he means that the fat are incredibly prejudiced against.
Obesity may not be the way forward, but is a desperation to be thin a reasonable alternative? “Ah, it depends. Because the French woman ees second in the list of people who leeeve the longest. So maybe this is a correlation.”
Naturally, his diet has not come without controversy. Last month, he sued French nutritionist Dr Jean-Michel Cohen for libel after Dr Cohen said that the Dukan diet could lead to a rise in cholesterol, cardiovascular problems and breast cancer. When asked who benefited from the plan, Dr Cohen answered: “the slimming industry, doctors, pills salesmen, publishers, newspapers … Everyone who has climbed on to the bandwagon of this fantasy.”
Dr Dukan tells me that Dr Cohen was an old friend. “Ten years ago, he was meteoric and then I came to take …” he hunts for the word, “his star. And he was not pleased. But the matter is feenished now. He said that what he spoke to the journalist had maybe not been very well interpreted.”
Even so, does he feel he is feeding the unhealthy obsession many women – and increasingly men – have with their bodies? “Oui,” he says, nodding along. “But my diet ees not for people who are normal. It ees for people who are very, very overweight. I am a doctor, a real doctor. Eef you have too much weight that has become a threat to your ’ealth, I am ’ere to ’elp you. But if you ’ave just a few pounds to lose, it is not my job. I don’t feel well when a woman comes and asks me to lose a few kilos. I tell ’er: go and walk and swim, and eat a little bit less fat and sweet things. That eez enough.”
This seems a little disingenuous given the popularity of his book, sales currently at 7.5 million copies, but I am sure he was surprised when people started taking on what is essentially a medical diet.
Dukan was practising general medicine and neurology for paraplegic children when an adult patient asked him for help losing weight. The man had tried all sorts of starvation diets, but his love of meat meant they were all doomed to failure. It was this that led to Pierre devising the book.
What does Dr Dukan do for pleasure? He is 69 and wearing suede loafers; doesn’t he hanker after an easy life? “No! I work and then I go for a weekend to Spain, perhaps.” He has two children in their twenties; his son works with him and his daughter is at university. “She is perfect, but she says, 'Ah, look at this’,” Dr Dukan mimes pinching invisible fat, “'and I say, 'you are a woman, do you want to be a man?’”.
The biggest revelation of our hour together is that Pierre clearly dislikes thin women. I show him a photo of Christina Hendricks, aka Joan from Mad Men, and he looks as if his eyes might pop out of his head. His glamorous assistant is also spectacularly curvy, which is a relief – I reckoned on him eyeing any bit of spare fat with horror.
Do I need to lose weight, I ask, telling him to be brutally honest. “Maybe a few kilos,” he shrugs. “But if it was for me, I would stay like this. You are a geetar,” he says. A geetar? “Yes!” He sketches out the shape of a guitar in the air. “You have the cheeries. And the bottom. And the meedle. How do you say when you have sand in the bottle? Hourglass! Tell me, are you married?” I shake my head. “Ah. There are three-and-a-half billion men in the world,” he giggles. “You just need one to be ’appy, one who ees pleased with you and your body.”
I ask about his wife, Christine, to whom he has dedicated his books. “Let me tell you,” he says, for a moment very serious. “My wife, she is too sleem. I say to 'er: 'you don’t respect the contract. When I married you, you were a geetar, and now you are …” He waves his arms and then he starts giggling. “Now she is a flute!”
Doing the Dukan
* The Attack phase: to kick-start the diet, you are restricted to protein for one to 10 days. The 72 'high-protein’ foods allowed include lean beef, chicken, and fish without any oil or butter. You must drink 1.5 litres of water, and exercise 20 minutes a day.
* The Cruise phase: alternate one protein day with a day of protein and non-starchy vegetables until you reach your desired weight.
* The Consolidation phase: adding to the protein-only meals, and those with non-starchy vegetables, you may eat two slices of wholemeal toast a day, 40g of cheese, and two servings of starchy foods per week. You can eat two 'celebration’ meals of your choice provided you return to the 'attack’ phase one day every week.
* The Stabilisation phase: eat normally, but just have protein only one day a week.