Arts

Jacko's other doctor reveals The Man Behind the Mask

Co Fermanagh-born cosmetic surgeon Dr Patrick Treacy's memoir Behind the Mask describes him as ‘Michael Jackson's doctor' – but who exactly is the man behind the headline? Jane Hardy attempted to find out

In his book Dr Partrick Treacy tells how he became friends with U2

A NOTED plastic surgeon as well as a dermatologist who treats people with serious illnesses such as melanoma, a more arresting description of Fermanagh native Dr Patrick Treacy is to be found on the front page of his new book: 'Michael Jackson's doctor'.

Treacy, who treated the 'King of Pop' for the skin-pigment condition vitiligo when Jackson and his entourage came to Ireland in 2006, devotes a couple of chapters of his engaging memoir, Behind the Mask, to his encounters with the troubled American and defends his reputation.

He has described Jackson – whom he first met at his Dublin clinic late at night to avoid fuss – as "a man of love, hope and compassion" and tells me of his book: "I wanted to stress the good things about him."

Describing himself as Jackson's doctor may be a commercially sound decision but doesn't the headline tag bother him? Treacy, who runs the Ailesbury clinic in Ballsbridge and who was born in Garrison, says in a friendly voice: "The book deliberately plays down my scientific CV although I have won five major [scientific] awards in the past four years, which I didn't mention.

"To be honest, I tagged the Jackson chapters on at the end. Because of the media interest, it could be a bit like the tail wagging the dog."

He says that when he was in Paris last week receiving his most recent award, he heard that Jackson's long-time physician Dr Arnie Klein – who once claimed to have been the sperm donor for Jackson's children Prince and Paris – had died.

"He'd texted me a few days before, saying 'Michael really loved you and you were the one person he trusted,'" Treacy says.

Well travelled and not exactly shy, the author challenged 'traditional' views on treating Aids at a medical conference in 2001 in South Africa, where he had done a placement as a young doctor. "They were saying it could be cured with sweet potato and ginger and that the retrivoral drugs were unnecessary, even though Nelson Mandela had a son who died of Aids. I wrote a speech on the sheer hypocrisy of it and how crazy it was to let their people die," he says.

He sold Mercedes in Turkey for a while and worked in Baghdad just as Saddam Hussein was starting to throw his dictatorial weight around. He became friends with U2 after catching an early gig in Dublin's Dandelion Market.

Behind the Mask reflects more than headline-grabbing encounters and derring-do, though, as Treacy explains: "My memoir is a love story, really, with a central core about growing up in the Troubles and getting through medical school in Belfast."

He had an idyllic childhood and what sounds like a pretty carefree adolescence. "Believe it or not, before the Troubles Fermanagh was one of the major tourist spots in Ireland. Without knowing it, we were living in a very different world. We were continually surrounded by tourists and it was the 60s, so there were people with guitars and different attitudes around," he says.

He reminisces happily about being 16 and hitching around with German and Norwegian girlfriends. Living a stone's throw from the border, he says that he and his friends would return full of drink, fearful of the RUC but not too worried by gardai.

"We ducked and dived our way home, coming along back roads by Kinlough [in neighbouring Co Leitrim]."

The book's key romance involves a blonde Irish girl, Trish, a nurse whom Treacy met at work and who became the love of his life. He writes affectionately about her blue eyes "that always held such love when they looked into mine".

Fate dealt the couple a tough hand when Treacy accidentally received a syringe full of blood in his leg from a HIV-positive patient and a potentially terminal diagnosis hung over the young medic, an episode he describes as one of the scariest in his career. Psychologically, he needed to escape, so he headed for New Zealand on the understanding that Trish would follow once she'd worked out her contract. For various reasons, however, she never did.

"It remains painful to this day and I still have guilt," he says. "But it was me who walked away."

Before starting on this memoir, Treacy didn't contact the women in his life to ask permission to mention them. Although he abides by the Hippocratic oath and is careful not to identify patients or, in Michael Jackson's case, to detail treatment, the emotional equivalent doesn't seem to apply.

Asked now whether he has a partner, the 50-something replies with a laugh: "Well, I have a 27-year-old girlfriend and there's a 28-year-old Russian ex-girlfriend I met up with and reactivated in Paris, but I don't want to cause an international incident."

Does the mismatch between his two groups of patients, the women with money buying an extension of youth via laser treatment and cosmetic surgery and the patients with skin cancer bother him?

"Oh yes, I have that conflict in my mind all the time. Sometimes the patients in for cosmetic procedures almost trample the others in their eagerness..." But in the clinic he keeps that to himself – behind the mask, presumably.

:: Behind the Mask: The Extraordinary Story of The Irishman Who Became Michael Jackson's Doctor by Dr Patrick Treacy with Frances Kenny, is published by Liberties Press, £12.99.

 

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