Did you watch TV drama The Crown last night? No doubt, you marvelled at the acting and the exquisite costumes and hairstyles as Olivia Colman, 45, and Helena Bonham Carter, 53, took over the roles of Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret respectively.
What you may not have seen was the equally skilful work that went into making the actresses’ skin appear at least a decade younger than their real ages. After all, when the series starts in 1964, the royal sisters are in their mid-to-late-30s and famously porcelain of complexion.
How did Colman and Bonham Carter turn back the clock so effectively?
Olivia Colman, 43, pictured with Lord Gavin McLeod-Valentine, who was tasked with making her skin look a decade younger for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown
Enter the flamboyantly named Lord Gavin McLeod-Valentine, director of studio services for skincare brand Intraceuticals and facialist to the A-list, who joined the team behind the series weeks before filming began. (Yes, he really is a Lord; his father is a Marquess and he grew up in Aberdeenshire.)
Lord Gavin is known in the business as the saviour of women of a certain age — clients include Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon and Lauren Hutton — and The Crown’s producers brought him in specially to design a treatment package for their two leading ladies.
His secret weapon is the Intraceuticals Oxygen Facial, where a nozzle-like device delivers a very pure form of oxygen to ‘blow’ ultra lightweight particles of skin-plumping hyaluronic acid deep into the dermis. ‘This stacks the skin with hydration, leaving it radiant, supple and rejuvenated,’ says Lord Gavin.
Indeed, hydration is the fundamental key to anti-ageing skincare, he argues. ‘You can fill, fry or freeze the face, but if you don’t have hydration in your skin, you’re not going to look younger.’
It was on Bonham Carter’s recommendation that he joined The Crown. ‘In 2018, I went to Helena’s beguiling little cottage to give her a facial before the Baftas. And I noticed around the house a plethora of books about Princess Margaret.’
The Lord also used the same treatment for Helena Bonham Carter, 53, for her part as Margaret in the third series of The Crown. (Pictured: Her and Queen mother actress Marion Bailey in an episode of the new series)
He told her about meeting Princess Margaret several times as a teenager when he worked at high-end jewellers Garrard in London. ‘I told her that at first I mistook the Princess for Elizabeth Taylor, and that she had been incredibly grand but also naughty and rule-breaking.’
Lord Gavin and Helena hit it off and worked on other events. Then, out of the blue, he got a call from The Crown’s head of hair and make-up, Cate Hall, requesting his services.
His treatments were tailored precisely to each actress. Before filming began, he gave Colman the peptide-packed Intraceuticals serum Retouch Lift to give her ‘a more articulated eyebrow’, plus the Collagen + Booster serum.
‘In real life, Olivia’s a tiny, itty-bitty skinny girl,’ says Lord Gavin. ‘She’s slightly depleted in her fat pads because she’s so svelte, so to give a youthful impression you want to puff that face up to get her cheruby.’
He reminds me that people don’t necessarily know what the Queen looked like as a very much younger woman, which made it easier for actress Claire Foy, who played her in the Netflix show’s seasons one and two.
‘But Olivia is playing a Queen that the majority of us will recognise, so there was a lot of pressure to get it right.’
For Helena, ‘because she tends to go grey when she gets tired’, he used the Booster Anti-Oxidant product, which is rich in fruit extracts and vitamin C and ‘gives vitality to the skin’.
‘It’s all about softening, blurring, hydrating the skin: that ultimately creates the biggest change on camera,’ he says. ‘When you have an actress of a certain age who is trying to give all her emotional resources to a role, but in her mind she’s thinking: “Where’s the light? Where’s the camera?”, she’s distracted.
Olivia Colman as the Queen with Tobias Menzies, who plays Philip, in the new series
‘But when you remove the fear and set them free, you get these incredible acting performances.’
These days actresses are so scrutinised, he says — and the ‘misogynistic double standard’ of expecting women to look ageless, while judging them for getting cosmetic work done, drives him up the wall.
Movie stars don’t have the downtime to look their best, he argues, and at the same time A-listers are moving away from the ‘done’ look involving fillers and Botox, preferring something less invasive instead.
‘They are travelling like dogs. When I get to them, they need to look like they can have a camera close to their face. I spend a lot of time removing fatigue from their skin.’ He tells the story of being in a lift with a very famous client, riding up to the penthouse, and a fellow passenger said: ‘Aren’t you so-and-so? What happened? You look like s**t!’
‘The overwhelming pressure these clients feel to look otherworldly-perfect is huge. So I have to ground them, and also amplify their energy, so they can become who the public expects them to be.’
Gavin grew up in ‘a very traditional family’. His twin brother went into banking, but he was ‘the black sheep’ and ended up working with the great fashion eccentric Isabella Blow, and later for various beauty houses.
He also suffered from terrible acne and tried every brutal skin-stripping treatment until Madonna’s former make-up artist, Gina Brooke, gave him Intraceuticals products. (Madonna was an early adopter of the oxygen facial). A month later his skin was clear. Gavin became an evangelist for the brand and persuaded the CEO to give him a job. His first assignment was to give actress Halle Berry a facial before her first Met Gala in New York. ‘She was incredibly charming and pretty but after months of filming her skin was grey and flat.’ He focused on ‘re-articulating the shape of her cheeks and bringing the brow up so it wasn’t so heavy’ — and his signature facial was born.
You can see why celebs love him. Part therapist, part aesthetician, he’s funny and whip-smart. But it’s not just A-listers who can access his talents.
Inspired by the skincare formulations he was using on The Crown, Intraceuticals has created the Retouch facial for Epilium & Skin salons in the UK (£75, epilium.co.uk). It combines serums made of micro-weights of hyaluronic acid and peptides with vigorous rhythmic massage.
He learned the latter technique from an 87-year-old Japanese woman who gave massages to geishas ‘to make their faces more contoured for a Western client’.
Dear reader, I tried it and nearly fell off the treatment bed in pain. But the next day I looked amazing.