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Celebrity surgeon busts the supreme leader

11 October, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Professor Nadey Hakim, right, and his son David being greeted at the airport

I WASN’T really surprised when the international “king” of transplant surgeons, Nadey Hakim rang me to say he had just returned from North Korea where he had delivered his sculpted bronze bust of the country’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un.

Among other things, of course, Professor Hakim, is a very reputable sculptor – his busts include those of Theresa May, David Cameron and the Pope which, extraordinarily enough, he personally delivered to the Vatican a couple of years ago, gaining an audience of several minutes with His Holiness.

Apparently, the Pope insisted it should be kept on display at the Vatican.

I often wonder where these celebrity surgeons, lecturing on the intern­ational medical circuit, triumphantly carrying off impossible operations, get their energy – what drives them?

When Professor Hakim winds down – he specialises in pancreas transplants – he goes upstairs to his studio at his Cricklewood studio and turns to his latest subject. He has been a sculptor for 20 years. Something– he couldn’t explain what – inspired him earlier this year to sculpt the North Korean leader from a news photograph of him pressing the button that sent a rocket off to Japan.

Professor Hakim’s statue of Kim Jong-un, which is believed to be the only ‘head and shoulders’ bust of North Korea’s Supreme Leader

After inviting the North Korean ambassador to his home to take a look at the laughing Kim Jong-un, he nervously wondered how he’d react to a portrayal of the great man. He was so delighted that within weeks Professor Hakim was invited with his son David, who is shortly finishing his course at Dublin medical school, to take the bust to North Korea as well as lecture at the university in the capital Pyongyang.

The journey wasn’t easy – the bust is 50cm high, weighing 44 kilos – and had to be packed in a special plastic container. It broke the luggage rules but somehow the airlines waved it through.

Professor Hakim, a cautious, pragmatic man, not usually given to superlatives, seemed surprisingly swept away with Pyongyang. It wasn’t what he expected. The capital was impeccably clean, he said. The streets seemed to be continually swept, with far more cars than he expected, German and Japanese among them. As for the university he was astonished by its size. “After all the sanctions the country endured it seemed extraordinary that so much could have been built – and it was fascinating to see such a large campus, one of the largest I’ve seen,” he said.

Pyongyang’s skyline

He gave two lectures in his visit of five days at the end of September – his son David also gave a talk on livers which he is specialising in.

As for the bust, Professor Hakim believes it is the only one of the supreme leader – there are paintings and full-size statues of him but no “head and shoulders”.

It is to be kept in the International Friendship Museum along with other gifts given to the dynastic leaders since the 1950s.

And, of course, Professor Hakim has been invited to return soon for the official unveiling ceremony – and no doubt he will take to the lectern again. It is said, among medicos, he is the quickest pancreas transplanter in the profession. He is also a prolific author, publish­ing more than 150 peer-reviewed papers and 21 textbooks in the field of surgery and transplants. Inevitably, various prizes have gone his way.

I’m still puzzled though – I can’t figure out what drives these celebrity surgeons.


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