I’ve been pretty spoiled over the years. Having worked as a health and beauty journalist (mainly for the Mail and the Telegraph) for decades I've been pampered every which way. I’ve had all manner of facials in all kinds of fancy spas and top-notch hotels. And, I have to be honest, most of them really weren’t that special. Given the choice between a facial and a massage, I’d generally choose the massage every time. I mean, there’s only so much can be done with a facial, right? You get your skin cleansed and exfoliated, they slap on serum, chuck on a mask (or ‘masque’), maybe zap a few blackheads, massage in a bit of moisturiser…you know the score. Or you get wired up and have currents shoved through your skin or whatever. And yes, often your skin looks a fair bit better but it’s just not…terribly satisfying really.
In fact, the only facial that really rocked my boat over the years was the treatment (no way can I call it a mere facial) I had from Annee de Mamiel. Now, even if I could afford Annee (which, needless to say, I can't) her waiting list is longer than the phone directory. However…oh yes… I have discovered something and someone rather special, right here in Somerset.
I came across Nicki Hughes on Twitter. Then we met for a coffee in Taunton and I liked her. She seemed like a pretty smart businesswoman with a fair dollop of soul (instead of expanding her salon business and becoming effectively a suit, she decided to pull it back and keep herself hands on with a small beauty and therapy centre based at her home in Curry Rivel, near Langport.)
Anyhow, to cut a long story short, she offered me a facial and, looking at myself in the mirror I figured it would probably be a blessing. I expected something nice, something functional and professional. What I didn’t expect was to be blown sideways.
She was raving about Repêchage, a US skincare system that relies heavily on…er…seaweed. Now seaweed is all well and good, and packed with great stuff (vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, antioxidants) but it’s never really rocked my boat. ‘Nooo,’ said Nicki as we sat on the sofa in the rather bijoux treatment centre (oak floors, marble coffee table and delicious graphic paintings from Thailand). ‘You’ll love this. They extract the seaweed in a particular way, cryo-crushing it…’
‘They spin it in a centrifuge. And seaweed is wonderful because it has a very similar molecular structure to that of the skin, so the body absolutely drinks it up.’
Fair enough. Anyhow, she got me to fill in a questionnaire and laughed out loud when my answer to ‘How do you relax?’ was ‘Twitter’. Then she took a good look at my skin and pondered. Turns out Nicki prefers it if people don’t come in wanting a particular facial; she likes to advise and come to an agreement about which would be best. Oh hallelujah! At last! The one thing that really puzzles me is when you go to a spa and are presented with this list of treatments a mile long and are expected to choose. It’s like a surgeon saying, ‘Look, here’s a list of all the ops I do – go on, you pick the procedure.’ You go to an expert because they’re an expert, right? Garn, it’s a no-brainer surely? So she said it was a toss-up between the Four Layer facial which chucks a shedload of moisture back in the skin or the VC5 which is all about firming and toning.
‘Can I have both?’ I said.
‘Nope,’ she said. And so I went for the VC5 because it sounded suitably technical.
Her therapy room is huge, light and airy, and overlooks the garden. Had a brief love-in with Bob the dog (soppy hairy cross between a collie and an arctic wolf) before he wandered back out. Oohed and aahed over Nicki’s singing bowls and insisted on a quick blast - tingles right down the spine. Then stripped off my top layers (many) down to my bra and snuggled under the blankets on the most comfortable couch ever. Why don’t all places have couches that actually hold you without putting your back into spasm?
What happened after that? Ummm… Errr….. Aaaahhhh…. I am usually really really good at remembering all the various stages and steps but not this time. Cos this wasn’t just a facial; this was healing…serious full-on healing combined with a beautiful, assured touch and gentle caring. I tell you, the woman is magic, sheer magic. Most therapists will pop on the mask or whatever and go off, leaving you twiddling your thumbs and listening to the monotonous sub-Enya musak. Nicki never left the table. I had my head massaged, my arms massaged, my neck de-stressed. And at the mask bit, she darn well did Reiki on me. Time just…vanished.
‘That was…just…ummm…wow,’ I said afterwards. Actually I think I just mumbled incoherently. Really, I’d lost the power of speech.
‘Do you do that stuff on everyone?’ I asked. Eventually…I’m editing out a lot of umms and aaahhs here.
‘Yes, but I don’t always talk about it. Some clients don’t really want to know. They just think they’re getting a straightforward facial and that’s fine.
Did my skin look different? Not particularly but then Nicky hadn’t promised any miracles. It felt good though – clean and (it might be wishful thinking but) firmer.
I drove home on auto-pilot, so chilled that even the truck pulling out on me as I was overtaking on the M5 didn’t really faze me. But, once home, I just sort of collapsed into a heap. It felt like someone had taken a whole pile of crap out of me and dumped it in the bin. Try as I might I couldn’t keep awake so I threw myself into the bath (with a handful of Repêchage Sea Spa salts). And then I crawled into bed and…slept. Deeply, blissfully, refreshingly. Woke feeling like a whole new person. And then I looked in the mirror and wow, I looked like a whole new person too. My skin looked clear and almost..glowing. And so so soft.
I know this sounds like a total puff but, believe me, I don’t rave about stuff unless it’s really really good. I’ve got myself into all kinds of trouble with my honesty before but I’m not about to change. If I like something, I say so. If I don’t, I say so (or just keep my mouth shut). But I wholeheartedly recommend Nicki and, if you live within driving distance of Taunton (she’s roughly 15 mins away from the town) I would seriously suggest you get yourself booked in. She doesn’t just do facials either… I’m eyeing up the massage menu and am intrigued by the idea of Theta DNA healing too. Plus you can get all the usual beauty malarkey – waxing, tinting, electrolysis etc. Go on – check it out.
Wayside House, Curry Rivel, Somerset.
Meanwhile I’m checking out the Repêchage range of skincare at home. So far, so good. Find out more (and find a list of local spas/salons using the range) here.