Shades of Excellence: Dr Esho wanted to be an artist, now he's making art on famous faces

You may know him as the “Lip Doctor” or for his ability to fix “botched” fillers and more on the E4 show Body Fixers. Dr Esho MD, resident doctor on BBC Morning Live and multi-award-winning founder of ESHO skincare and ESHO MD clinic group, has become a self-made millionaire by the age of 35. Now aged 40, Tijion Esho speaks to Kindred. about his journey to becoming the industry’s leader in non-surgical procedures.

Dr Esho
Dr Esho never expected to become successful this quickly

Drawing and sketching ever since he was a child, Dr Esho knew he wanted to be an artist, however, his father had a different plan for him. He remembers telling his father about his career aspirations, but the idea was quickly shut down. Due to his Nigerian roots and upbringing, arts were not considered a career.

"Dad was like, 'Look, that's not a career, you have five choices,'" he says. "And it was like, either you be a doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant or engineer. Those were my choices and anyone who's had that same upbringing knows that's what's told to them."

Sharing a funny story of his reaction, he remembers being so mad that he ran away from home in an effort to rebel against his parents. "I ran away from home for like, eight hours. Not like people who do it properly. But it was like eight hours and I tried, but then I got hungry and had to come home. It didn't really work and then in the end it just got me in more trouble," he says laughing.

It was upon his return home that now Dr Esho’s life took a different trajectory, with his father arranging a work experience in a hospital for him. It was at that point that "things clicked".

"I was shadowing a surgeon, actually a plastic surgeon at the time," he says. "I saw someone getting all this respect and power I've never seen anyone get before. Everybody, nurses and other doctors were just jumping to attention to this guy. And I thought, 'Wow, I really want to be him'. And then when I was in the theatre and seeing what kind of work they're doing with the sutures and knives - it just looked like art in itself."

Realising that the art he was making with drawings and paintings was what "they were doing on people’s faces and bodies", he found appreciation in the art of plastic surgery. "So for me, then I was like 'I'm not gonna fight against you dad. This way it seems like we can get the best of both worlds'."

So he applied to medical school and got two offers - one in London and one outside of London - deciding to go to Leicester University, "which was a top-three medical school at the time", because he did not want to stay at home.

"I was like hell no. I'm not doing uni staying at home, in this house. Even though I love my parents, I really wanted to experience what uni is like," he says.

"It was funny because when I arrived, I remember thinking, 'Man, everybody's parents are hugging and crying and doing all these things' and my dad was shaking my hand like I was going to war. My mom was like, 'Hug him' and he was like, 'No, no, we don't hug, he has a job to do'. He just shook my hand, patted my shoulder and that was it."

Dr Esho
Dr Esho is renowned for his expertise in aesthetic medicine and an industry leader in the art of non-surgical procedures

Dr Esho, who grew up in Edmonton in North London, a multicultural but deprived area, remembers thinking if he even belongs to medical school. "I was like the only Black person at that time that I saw in the hall," he says. "I came into the house looking left, right, I could not see another Black person. I saw some Asian people, but that was about it.

"I still remember to this day a girl came up to me, we are still friends and she’s actually a plastic consultant herself, and she was just looking at me in my face. So I was like 'You okay?' and she says 'Don’t mind me saying this to you and I know it’s going to sound weird but you are the first Black person I’ve seen in real life'.

"She lived in some small town in Wales somewhere where they were the only Asian family. It was just crazy for her, so it started showing me how segregated other areas were. For me, I have a multicultural upbringing. You know, in our days we had a Jewish Day and a Black day, an Asian Day. We had everything and I was aware of all cultures, and I even benefited from growing up in a deprived area, because it was so multicultural. I was always aware of the differences.

"I then actually looked across the room, and finally there was another black guy and he looked at me and we both look at each other like, 'Oh my God, is this another one'. We kind of gravitated towards each other and we've been best friends since," he says.

"But I remember walking down the med school corridor, and we were looking at the pictures and there were no black people in the graduation photos. Looking at each other, we were thinking, statistically, only one of us is going to make this. And I was like, 'My dad told me I've got to go to war, so it's gotta be me. I cannot fail this'."

The thoughts of only one of them making it are not surprising. Back in 2003, 63 per cent of doctors were white and only four per cent Black. However, the 2021 report that has explored race equality among England’s doctors has found that 42 per cent of medical staff working in the NHS were from a black and minority ethnic background, which shows a rise of around one-fifth since 2017.

Sadly, racism continues in medicine and is experienced both by patients and doctors. Dr Esho recalls a situation during his studies that nearly made him quit in his third year - the first time he experiences racism in medicine.

"We went to the wards to do these baby checks. And my ward partner, who was white, did the baby check and it was fine. And when I went to do a check on the same baby, the mom kind of just pushed me back and went, 'No, not you,' and I didn't know at the time, it didn't click to me. But I just thought, 'Oh my gosh, maybe she just wanted one person'.

"I was rationalising it. The other reason clicked when I heard her speaking to the senior doctors through a buzzer and she said 'I don't want that black man near my child,' and I just felt like disappearing.

"I went back home and actually cried, you know, I'm not that type of person to do that. But it just hit me in a way, it was a deep cut.

"I remember calling my mom thinking, 'You know what, forget this, forget these people, I don't want to be here,' and I remember my mum saying… Still to this day, I still remember and I tell her about it, I said these words, I've always kept in my head, I'm gonna write them on the wall or picture somewhere.

"She said to me: 'Look, remember I told you this. I brought you into this world. But it's up to you to tell the world when you have arrived. Simple. Always remember that son,' and from then I was even more determined."

Dr Esho
Dr Esho owns the first black doctor-led cosmeceutical brand, ESHO

But both friends made it through in the end, graduating and going on their surgical trainee programs. He mentions his graduation day, when his father hugged him and cried, to which his mother said: "He feels like his job is done, that's why your dad has always been this way."

Sharing how strict his upbringing was, he says there was no in-between. "A, was what was expected, B, your life would end," he says. "When I graduated I didn't expect it. And he just hugged me and was crying and I was like, wow. Our relationship changed and we went from kind of son and father to men, you know, compensating in that way. It was more relaxed."

Explaining how different his surgical training was from what we see on television, he describes the amount of admin work and a lot less time in the theatres.

"The only time that I felt like I was actually using my hands was when I was in my boss's private clinic because he had a non-surgical clinic," he says. "And at that time, non-surgical treatments or aesthetic medicine weren’t that big. It was a supplementary thing to surgery. You know, people had some lasers, botox or fillers, but the main thing people had was surgery."

It was his time helping at the non-surgical clinic that made young Dr Esho consider a career in aesthetic medicine. Told by his boss that times have changed and people want more non-invasive things done, so he could turn this into a living, and in the worst-case scenario, he could always come back.

His father however didn’t have the same understanding of why he would leave his secure NHS to start a private clinic.

"He told me: 'You want your pension and everything and you want to start this clinic with... What is botox? What is fillers?', he didn't know what it was and he was already mad I wasn't a paediatrician because my mom and dad were convinced I'll be a paediatrician."

Negotiating the terms of his new path, they made a deal - if Dr Esho’s new endeavours are sustainable and match his NHS salary, then after a year, they can talk about it again.

"Imagine I'm a grown-ass man at this stage. And I'm still negotiating with my dad."

Dr Esho
You may recognise Dr Esho from the E4 show Body Fixers

Determined to succeed, he worked two jobs - at NHS and his private clinic in Newcastle. "I remember buying this 20 pound bed from Amazon. And I would bring that out, it was in my car booth, and I would use this little space above this hairdresser,” he says.

It was his girlfriend at the time that arranged for the space. "He said we can use the space upstairs if you want. And I was surprised because again, I'm a North London boy. And I'm like, I'm a random black guy, and you're just giving me the key to your upstairs. And you don't know me from Adam, like, you know, Geordies are trusting. So people just trust people here. This is like crazy, but okay."

The clinic was not an immediate success though, with Dr Esho having "odd one or two" patients, the thoughts of his father being right crept into his mind and he knew even though things have started slowly picking up, he would need to find something more sustainable and be more "targeted".

"I got these Vistaprint business cards, thing was crap, so cheap. Still got one today. It was like gold glitter, it was rubbish, but I thought it was the best thing back at that time," he says. "And I remember handing them out at this model event in Newcastle. I went backstage and gave them to all the models, told them I can do this, I can do that. And when they went out on stage I came back in and they were all on the floor, and I was like oh no, so I picked up all my cards because I can't afford not to reuse these. So then I thought, what's the next step?"

Thinking of other ways to gain more traction, he thought "let me design some special invites to the clinic and drop it at the biggest houses I can see" at Darras Hall in Newcastle, which is known as the Millionaire’s road. Unfortunately, he did not hear from anyone.

"I was actually at a point of then going, maybe it's not for me, maybe my dad was right," he says. "And then a lady called up like three months after and said, 'Oh, can I see you guys you know, I got this really nice invite', so she came in, she loved the treatment, told her friends and I started slowly building the clientele."

The "big boost" however happened, when one of her friends, "a very famous person on TV" contacted Dr Esho, asking if she can come and see him.

"I was really nervous because I was treating only everyday people and I had this small space but it wasn't anything special. And I was like, 'This big celeb’s gonna come and think I'm supposed to have this special clinic', so I remember getting my girlfriend at the time to pretend to be my receptionist for the evening. Buying all this Fiji water to try and make it look all extra and then this lady came in. I did the treatment she loved it and went home."

The following morning, he woke up to a "mad amount of missed calls", thinking something really bad happened. He says: "I looked at my Instagram and I just gained like 3-4000 followers from nowhere and I saw I’ve been tagged in a photo by this lady saying: 'I went to see this guy, he was amazing. Go see him.'

"All the emails were like Daily Mail and others, asking who are you, what treatments do you do, can you give comments on you know who? And I was like, this is mental!

"From then, people would come, and not just normal people, but celebrities and I quickly got on this kind of celeb speed dial," he says. "You know I was getting a call from someone on this show or someone on that show. My number was just getting passed around."

With his clinic’s unexpected yet roaring success, Dr Esho went back to his father saying: "I’ve done what you said, matched my thing, surpassed it even and then he reluctantly said okay, this is where we go and we kind of never looked back since."

After that, he opened his first formal clinic at that time. "Looking back then, that was like 2013, and now we've got three clinics, one in the north of England, one in the south, one in Dubai, a product line, TV shows, it’s crazy. I didn't even think it would come to this level of where we are now."

While he did not think he would come to where he is now, he mentions how his friends always believed in him. "My mates always say to me: 'We always knew T was gonna do something, like he's different. He's always had these big grand visions of what he wanted and what to do,' and they’re right," he says. "I knew I wanted to do something big, but I didn't know when it would happen, and how.

"I actually don't think I thought what I am doing now, I would have achieved now, at this time. You know, 10 years from now, maybe, but not at this moment in time. I didn't envisage that. So the speed and the trajectory of it has been nothing I would've imagined."

Dr Esho
Dr Esho is passionate about diversity, and helped with the formation of the black aesthetics advisory board, as well as working with Allergan on improving diversity and understanding the black patient as an ongoing focus

When asked about his biggest success to this day, he finds the question hard to answer as there have been many moments. He, however, reminisces about when he appeared on the cover of The Times magazine in 2017, which was "the one that was everywhere" and he was not even aware it is going to happen.

He has experienced the media part of his profession, but he says: "No one that I knew had done something like that, even the famous people I knew haven’t."

When the photographer shared his vision for the shoot with Dr Esho of a model laying across his table, his reaction was: "No, no, no, no, no, no. One my missus, in what world she got me wanting this, two GMC. Are you okay? Like I'm not gonna lose my license."

They in the end negotiated for the model to only sit on the table, but Dr Esho was left with thoughts of "what type of photo is this for a piece". That piece went from a page to three to eventually seven.

"My friend Sophia, who works in PR, she was like 'T, if something is seven pages, it's got to be on the cover.'

"And then I was in Monaco, giving a talk. In the morning, early morning, I got a screenshot sent. And they were from Sophie, she said, 'You are the front cover of the Times magazine!' and I was like 'Huh?' and I'm looking at this magazine and my phone is going mental. Like my mom's seeing it, my mum screaming at me why I didn't tell her. I didn't even know."

With the community in his heart, he has also worked within his community as a mentor for underprivileged black youths and with UCL on developing and improving access to the black doctors of tomorrow.

"I think for a community type of thing, it was the biggest thing to me, because so many other black guys or women that were going to be doctors or different things in medical professions, were like, 'Man, seeing that (…) it gave me energy, drive, you know'. And even the next-door neighbour’s little son was like, 'I want to be a doctor, like Doctor Esho', and so little things like that, that was a big moment."

ESHO products
Dr Esho has taken his pioneering new techniques and methods in lip augmentation to another level - creating a collection of four hero lip products

And the second biggest moment? He says: "It has to be the product line, doing it now and doing it on my own after what happened with DECIEM, which was no fault of anyone's as Brandon, unfortunately, had a mental breakdown.

"It was a poor redemption moment for me to be able to kind of pick myself up from that, do it the way I want to do and on our own. We only launched in May, in eight months, eight awards, eight sellouts. We're in FeelUnique, QVC, we’re about to go into ASOS, LookFantastic, Sephora. Like it's just mad, it's mad. Surreal, to be honest."