Katie Piper on the people of Andover, her journey and a debut live tour
PUBLISHED: 11:27 01 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:27 01 May 2018
Following a horrific acid attack that left her blind in one eye and needing over 250 operations, Andover's Katie Piper has become an inspirational figure. Here she tells Rebecca Fletcher her plans to bear all in her latest tour
Andover-born Katie Piper is a woman of many talents. Cited by music moghul Simon Cowell as ‘one of the most inspirational people’ he’s ever met, not only is she a bestselling international author and successful television presenter for series such as Channel 4’s Bodyshockers and Face to Face, she is also a charity campaigner and influential public speaker. As if that’s not impressive enough, somehow she juggles all this alongside being the mother of Belle, 3, and baby Penelope born earlier this year.
It would be fair to say that the last ten years have not been straightforward for Katie. The victim of an acid attack arranged by her ex-boyfriend in 2008, she was left permanently scarred, blind in one eye and requiring over 250 operations to date. Since then, Katie has made it her mission to speak out, inspiring others by sharing her experiences. Choosing to waive her anonymity following the attack, less than a year later she set up her own charity, The Katie Piper Foundation, to offer a lifeline to other burns and scars sufferers, promoting social inclusion, a sense of wellbeing and the belief that scars do not limit a person’s potential.
Her determination in the face of adversity has resulted in thousands of messages flooding in daily from members of the public who have been inspired by Katie’s road to recovery. It is not hard to understand why. Katie is a woman who radiates positivity. Not wanting to be defined as a victim, she has rebuilt her life with an impressive catalogue of achievements. But, as one might imagine, it hasn’t been easy. There have been dark moments alongside uplifting ones. A sentiment which Katie wishes to convey in her debut theatre tour, Katie Piper: What’s In My Head.
“I wanted to do an open, honest, live tour, all about things that worked for me and things that didn’t – something where I could share coping mechanisms and strategies. Rather than it just being about me talking to a crowd about my journey, which has already been well documented, I wanted it to be more like self-help – something the audience could take home and action in their own lives.”
With an initial thirteen dates around the country, Katie gives an intimate talk explaining how she overcame her battles with anxiety and managed to remain positive despite everything she faced.
“It’s important to give the full picture,” Katie tells me. “The tour isn’t just about someone who got burned in an acid attack; it’s about mental health for everybody. Anxiety, depression, addiction… As anyone on those journeys will know, there are struggles as well as achievements. It’s basically learning how to cope with that.”
However, she is keen to tell me that it’s not all hard hitting – she will be sharing her diaries, photo albums and personal memories as she encourages others to think about striving to become ‘the best version of you.’
“It’s quite humorous too. There are funny bits,” she laughs. “Videos, music and costume changes…it will be quite an entertaining night out as well.”
Katie was keen to open the tour in the Hampshire hometown which holds a special place in her heart.
“When I came out of hospital, I came back to Andover and lived there whilst I was recovering. Because it is a small town, everyone knew what had happened to me, even before it was in the papers. Locals were so kind and understanding, which actually helped me to recover. It holds an extra special memory for me as a result, so I wanted to thank the people of Andover. I love coming back – Mum and Dad have lived here all my life and they really love it too.
“I enjoy showing my children round the places that I used to go. It’s a much slower pace of life than I am used to now that I live in London. We bring our dog Nana with us and we love to go on long walks and end up in the pub for a lovely Sunday roast. It’s a welcome change. Now we’ve got two children, we certainly wouldn’t rule out moving back eventually.”
During her recovery, both positive experiences as well as far more negative ones, made Katie determined to speak candidly about her journey. Her passion for raising awareness of mental health issues has seen her confide in others what she has learned, becoming a voice of both resilience and positive thinking.
“For me, when I finally gained acceptance for myself, I felt I had to get the rest of society to accept me and understand me as I was. The only way I could do that was to create my own platform and speak out,” Katie shares. “Up until the last year or so, the biggest issue has been that mental health has been a subject that very few people talk about. I am hoping that the tour will be cathartic for all those coming.”
Finding love with husband Richard Sutton, becoming a mother against the odds and learning to accept herself have been instrumental in Katie’s healing process. Things which she believes wouldn’t have been achievable without working on her own confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. Love and support from her family has been key too, with mum Diane playing a vital role. A closeness which is reflected in the new project they have been working on together.
Focusing on the ever changing roles of motherhood, their book From Mother to Daughter – The Things I’d Tell My Child, navigates each stage of mother-daughter relationships. From setting a good example when it comes to body image, to helping to raise strong, brave girls, the book is a poignant reminder of the difficult times Katie and Diane have faced together. With diary entries penned by Diane as she nursed Katie in the aftermath of the attack, to the role reversal which saw Katie beside her mother’s hospital bed, four years ago when Diane was diagnosed with cancer.
“We started planning the book together two years ago. Mum had kept diaries for the last ten years and she started sharing them with me. I wanted to write something about real life practical problems that mothers face – what to do if your child goes through trauma, problems that we face with social media and the internet; something more for the modern mother to help them through these issues.’
So how does this remarkable lady feel about being such an inspiration to others?
“Achieving true happiness or being truly confident is actually about taking personal responsibility,” she tells me. “No one can do it for you. I feel proud that I’ve helped others but I am also very inspired by their get up and go, and their journeys.”
There’s certainly something about Katie which compels others to lion-heartedness. Her destiny could have been so different. Instead, she chose to confront her demons, overcoming not only her injuries but people’s perceptions.
Rather than returning to the Katie she was before the accident, she has transformed her life. It’s this and her passion which provide the most inspiration. They say that strength comes from within and chatting to Katie, her warmth, courage and compassion shine through. However, it’s more than that, these traits offer hope to others. It’s been an incredible journey so far and I, for one, can’t wait to see what Katie does next.
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