Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Interviewed by Sue Leonard.
Published in Woman’s Way Magazine, week ending, 30th July, 2012.
When, in 2008, Katie Piper’s boyfriend, Daniel Lynch, got an accomplice to throw industrial strength acid in her face, having already raped her, he assumed he’d ruined her life. And for a long time, the 24 year old model and TV presenter would have, absolutely agreed.
She lost half her face, as the skin melted away down to the bone. She was blind in one eye. She couldn’t eat, having swallowed some of the acid, and her pain was beyond unendurable. At her lowest, she wrote a note to her mum, saying, ‘kill me.’
Just four years on, though, Katie has turned her life around. Hundreds of operations later, she’s at the stage where her hospital visits can be fitted into her life, rather than the other way round.
“It’s more sporadic than ever,” she says, when we talk in Dublin. “There’s a bit of reconstruction left on my eye and nose, and I have a few oesophagus dilations left to help me eat, but that’s it!”
Struggling to recover, Katie found inordinate strength. In 2009, her TV documentary My Beautiful Face, inspired millions, and Katie has since dedicated her life to helping other ‘survivors’ of burns and scars.
Three years ago she’s set up a Charity, The Katie Piper Foundation, and it’s growing all the time.
“We’ve just expanded a programme of workshops. We give confidence seminars and camouflage make up seminars, and we give out grants for hair transplants, laser treatments, and medical tattooing. We’ve set up a support mentoring scheme too.”
People often stop Katie in the street to tell her how much she has inspired them. She receives hundreds of letters. And when she decided to write a self-help book, based on everything she has learned through her ordeal, she started gathering all the letters and notes together.
“And what surprised me most, is that only a quarter of the people who contacted me had burns or disfigurements. The rest were people with a broad section of problems. I didn’t think those people would identify with me, but I realised it was the none visible scars; like my emotions, like the loss of identity.
“I heard from lots of men who had lost their jobs. That role of provider had changed. The whole family dynamic was different, and, watching the programme they could see that my role as big sister had changed. It’s hard for anyone to adjust to that.”
People ask Katie where her strength came from. And, writing the book, she felt a need to be honest, and to chart all the bad times, as well as the good.
“I’ve got this burning passion to say to people, ‘from the outside I know it looks awful, but there is a way forward. There is a way out of illness and bereavement, but it’s not a smooth ride. And it’s not one you, necessarily, find an end to.”
Things Get Better is an amazing book. Using instances of her own experience, interspersed with the stories of others, Katie gives the reader inspirational tips, exercises, and advice about how to get from Rock bottom, back to a kind of normality. A hugely positive read, it shows how people should think of themselves as a survivor of a situation, rather than a victim. But how did Katie recover?
“I had professional help,” she says. “I went to a psychotherapist for two years. Nobody should ever be embarrassed about that. And I learned to let my friends and family help me. Because for a while, I kept pushing them away.
“I had an amazing doctor, and surgeon. And I also found faith. That gave me hope. Ultimately, though, it’s down to personal responsibility. You can have all this support, but it’s only you that can get you better. It’s easy to wallow and say, ‘why me,’ but you need to move forward.”
Life, today, is good. Katie loves having her independence. She hopes, sometime, to find a loving relationship, but meanwhile, she sees, and appreciates her family like never before.
“I love just being with them,” she says.
She’s recently signed a contract with Channel Four to make more TV programs. So in spite of everything, the media career she aspired to at 24 is now on course.
“There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think, someone wanted to destroy me and everything I had, and now I’ve rebuilt it beyond what they ever imagined. I feel victorious. Someone can scratch the surface, but they can’t destroy the soul.”
Things Get Better by Katie Piper is published by Quercus at €12.99.
© Sue Leonard. 2012.