People who make Monaco: Johan Vertongen
Johan Vertongen is Business Development Director of Royal Doctors. He's also one of only a handful of osteopaths skilled in Poyet's method of sacro-cranial osteopathy, and - in his spare time - a composer of Vangelis-inspired electronic music. Which, we wondered, gave him the greatest satisfaction?
"I've been an osteopath for more than twenty years and it still gives me a kick helping people. My greatest satisfaction is when people stop me on the street saying that their pain has gone after seeing me in the practice! Similarly with Royal Doctors, knowing you can help patients from anywhere in the world by getting them a second medical opinion from - or be treated by - a top doctor. And as far as the music goes, of course it's a personal boost when people listen to your music and tell you they like it - that always inspires me to do more."
You've written music for several high-end clients in Monaco, including Daniele de Winter, and also for TV Studio Beyond, as well as collaborating with other singer songwriters, notably in New York. Can you tell us something about the process of writing, from inspiration to publication?
"I work to commission, but I don't write in the style of any particular composer - you either like it or you don't! Mostly I work during the late evening or even during the night as I need to give the music my complete attention. I put my headset on, sit behind my Mac and start from scratch, using Garageband, Logic Pro and Studio as my tools. My inspiration comes mostly from my location - for example 'Dubai Nights' was written at 4am in the morning on a visit there. It's a very 'loungey' song that instantly puts you in a relaxed mood. At the moment I'm working on a piece that's being remixed in London by Joel Evenden, and I'm due to work with music producer Simon Climie (Climie Fischer), Eric Clapton's producer. He's keen on my dance tracks in particular. It normally takes me about there to four hours to compose a song, although it can be months before a song is good enough to be released."
Your album, Escape from Yalta, is the soundtrack for a potential ballet collaboration. Can you tell us something about the project - its genesis, and a brief idea of the story? When might it be performed, and is there a chance it may premiere in Monaco?
"Yes, it's a very nice story. I got the job through my work as an osteopath. One of my Monaco patients is the Russian author Tofik Achmedov, whose daughter was a professional ballerina in Monaco. A couple of years ago he came to me with a story he'd written. He gave me carte blanche
to write a ballet score for it and of course I accepted. It took me four weeks to write nine songs for the three acts - about 45 minutes of music.
"The story is about a little girl, Masha, living in Yalta in the the 1920s, whose family are fleeing the Bolsheviks. As she runs to catch the boat that will take her to Nice, and freedom, she drops her doll. The boat sails, the soldiers come too late, and in the end can only shoot at the doll, foating in the water. Arriving in Nice, Masha has a dream in which her aunts (who have been killed in Yalta) encourage her to fulfil her dream to become a ballerina. They tell her she is a real princess and that her dream will come true if one day she can dance before the Prince of Monaco. Masha does become a professional dancer and on the day of her first performance at the Ballet of Monte Carlo, the doll that she lost so many years before in Yalta is miraculously returned to her.
"Writing a score for a ballet is a fantastic experience, and the author and I hope that one day a dance company will pick up the idea. It's an expensive and long-term task, but you never know..."
When did you come to live in Monaco, and what is it about Monaco that attracted you in the first place? What is your favourite aspect of living here?
"I came to the south of France in 1999 where I lived for two years in Cannes after selling my practice in Belgium. I was the former physiotherapist of the first team of Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht and I'd also worked for the Royal palace in Brussels. In 2001 I started working at the Princess Grace Hospital and a year later a physiotherapist asked me to join his private practice in the Rue Grimaldi - quite a stroke of luck, as in Monaco only two therapists are allowed in
each individual practice.
"It's a fantastic country to live in as it feels like a village. It's safe (socially and physically) and the weather is mostly very nice in comparison with our weather in Belgium. The other advantage for me is that it's only a couple of hours' flight to major cities in Europe, or six hours from Dubai. You know, Monaco is also very international: since the first day I arrived, ten years ago, I've made so many good friends of all nationalities - Flemish, Dutch , German, English, you name it. And all within 2.5 square kilometres!"
You're originally from Belgium, where Royal Doctors has its headquarters. Can you tell us something about the philosophy of RD? Why would it be of benefit to people living in Monaco who may have alternative medical arrangements?
"Royal Doctors Int. is a real success story. Started in 2005 by Joris Vanvinckenroye, it’s our mission to connect people to the best care in the world. We send patient files to specialised doctors for a second opinion, no matter where they are located, because we know that the doctors in our network can provide a best-in-class medical opinion. This doesn’t mean we lack confidence in local doctors. But research does show a great need for second opinions by specialists in severe cases. Even in a connected world, patients find it very difficult to track down and make contact with the right doctor for their case. If the patient wants to be treated by this doctor we will make the appointment and be sure that the invoice is 20 to 35% lower and will skip the waiting list as well!
"By providing the right diagnosis and treatment we've saved many lives - and you don't have to be rich to be a member of our organisation as group members of large communities - for example health insurance companies, self-insured companies and even governments - will pay sometimes less then €12 a year for all our services.
RD also runs an important philantropic programme called The Bridge. It's a charity that focuses on the weakest groups in our society who may have little or no access to healthcare. For every 50,000 patients, we promise to perform surgery or therapy for a child that needs it, but can’t afford it. We prepare a room for him or her and the entire family and get the best doctor to work on the problem. This way, we hope to give them a chance for a better life.
If people want to know more about Royal doctors they can email Johan direct on email@example.com.
Many thanks to Odile at the Hôtel Métropole, where the pictures were taken.
Interview by Alex Went / Photos by Naneen Rossi