It’s an overcast morning in Johannesburg and we’re in the lounge of The Saxon hotel in Johannesburg where renowned Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr Robert Rey, TV’s Dr 90210, is staying on a whirlwind visit to SA to market his new range of skincare products called Sensual Solutions.
But he hasn’t arrived. Notorious for his lack of punctuality, he’s running two hours late. When he eventually breezes in, all floppy fringe and golden suntan, he’s unapologetic – and dripping charm.
“Hello, you pretty young thing,” he calls out in greeting. His cocky attitude has made him a hit with women on his reality TV show.
That’s easy to believe, considering he has dedicated his life to enhancing women’s beauty. He has more than 11 000 breast-enhancement operations under his belt and has become the master of small-incision cosmetic surgery, leaving “invisible” scars on breasts and tiny cuts on tucked tummies.
He may be entertaining in an hour-long show (Dr 90210 is on DStv’s E! Entertainment channel) but those 60 minutes have ad breaks that tone down his high-voltage eccentricity. Face to face with him you soon learn he’s best enjoyed in small doses.
His show is named after the postal code of the affluent district in LA where he runs his practice. For six seasons cameras followed him and other surgeons around as they contoured bodies.
“I’m not a doctor; I’m an artist,” he says.
His personality may be as flashy as the million-dollar cars he drives but there’s a rags-to-riches tale behind all the glitz.
“I’m the embodiment of the American Dream. I’ve overcome illiteracy and a broken home to become the most famous plastic surgeon in the world.”
He was born Roberto Miguel Rey Jnr and grew up poor in São Paulo, Brazil, the third of four children of an alcoholic father and janitor mother.
When he was 12 Mormon missionaries persuaded his father to let Robert and his siblings travel to America for a better life.
He has proven anything is possible. “I was a no-hope kid growing up in the roughest neighbourhood in Brazil,” he says. “I was a petty thief and was arrested twice but I chose a better path for my life and today I’m living my dreams.”
Next on his to-do list is to become governor of California. “I’ve always wanted to run for office and I have a knack for getting what I want,” he says.
Read more about him in the issue of 3 February 2011.