Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Katie Piper: 'There's no day off ... people will always want to ask me about the acid attack'

Ahead of her new TV series, Bodyshockers, Katie Piper, who was scarred in an horrific acid attack, tells Susan Griffin why she has sympathy for those who also feel disfigured, even if it may be self-inflicted

Facing the future: after six years of extensive surgery on her injuries Katie Piper is now looking forward to becoming a mum

Katie Piper's a busy bunny at the moment. As well as juggling her charity and media work, she's preparing for the imminent birth of her first child, a daughter – not that she's complaining.

"I definitely feel my life right now is at a high point, compared to the extreme lows," she says, smiling.

And Piper's definitely had her share of extreme lows. It's almost six years since a stranger approached her in the street and threw sulphuric acid in her face, leaving the aspiring model severely scarred and facing endless operations.

The horrendous attack was organised by a man who'd assaulted Piper in a hotel room two weeks prior.

This is public knowledge, because a year later, Piper gave up her right to anonymity to share her story in Channel 4's Cutting Edge documentary, the Bafta-nominated Katie Piper: My Beautiful Face.

Today, she admits the decision to give up her privacy's had both a positive and negative impact.

"It's a majorly positive thing for myself, and I'd like to think also for other people with burns and scars. I'd never moan about it, because I'm really fortunate with all the support I've received and all the positive feedback. That's been amazing," says the petite 30-year-old who lost sight in her left eye during the attack and is still undergoing treatment on scar tissue.

"But there's no day off once you've gone out there and spoken about that," she continues. "It's not like being a famous singer and people come up to talk about your latest single.

"People come up and talk about one of the worst things that's ever happened to me."

Naturally, she has days where she'd prefer not to, but she'd never turn anyone away.

"You don't know whether they've been raped or attacked or have burns under their clothes. You don't know their story, so I think you should always give people the time, because you don't know what it means to them."

Since the initial documentary, Piper's appeared in various programmes, including documentaries Katie: My Beautiful Friends, Katie: The Science Of Seeing Again, and series Hotel GB – all for Channel 4. "They aren't afraid to push the boundaries," she says of the channel. "They're very edgy and it's nice to make stuff that I'm passionate about."

Recalling the moment she saw herself on TV for the first time, she adds: "That was quite hard to watch, because it's like clarification that you're disfigured – there it is in front of you. That was a strange feeling."

Given everything she's been through, the subject matter of her new TV project, Bodyshockers, might seem like a curious choice.

It examines the craze for body modification. Along the way, Piper hears from those hoping to reverse procedures they now regret, and others about to go ahead with major body work. It might be self-inflicted but that's no reason to judge, she says.

"In life, you can't go around saying, 'Well, you chose that so however unhappy you are, that's your fault and you're stuck with it'. I don't think that's a very reasonable way to look at things," she says.

"If it's stopping them doing serious things in life that we all want to do, then we shouldn't be dismissive of that just because they chose it at the beginning."

Piper believes the trend for ever more invasive and permanent modifications stems from the fact that people have to go further to make a statement these days.

"When I was younger, dying your hair red was quite outrageous, but thankfully that washes out," she says, laughing.

In the first episode, My Tattoo Hell, she speaks to one man who returned from Magaluf with an unwanted holiday souvenir.

"He woke up with a tattoo on his forearm that says, 'Barry is a t**t', and he doesn't know who Barry is or why he's a t**t!"

Then there's the Pink fan who had a huge tattoo of the singer done on his back. "It looked like Justin Bieber and he's desperately trying to laser it off."

While those might be humorous tales, "there are people who've done stuff to fit in with a certain crowd. Or they'd wanted a reaction from somebody, or to be a different person, and it's gone on to ruin their self-esteem," explains Piper. One such person is Emily, who appears in episode two, My Piercing Hell.

"She'd stretched her earlobes to 30mm and was walking home from the pub one night when somebody ran up behind her, yanked her earlobes and ripped them in two. It was almost like she'd been left with two bits of bacon hanging down and she had people discriminating against her in the street."

The show isn't about "telling people off," the mum-to-be stresses.

"Emily should be allowed to express herself through her appearance because it's a free world, but what started as body adornment was holding her back, and she wanted to reverse it."

Piper's experienced negative reactions herself.

"I do understand people looking at visible differences, but I don't understand people being rude and asking intrusive questions. We don't do that to somebody in a wheelchair, or I'd hope people wouldn't," she says.

"I think that's why it's important to raise awareness of burns and scars, because some people don't know what it is or understand it, so they may say things that are inappropriate without even realising it."

It's why she set up her charity in 2009, The Katie Piper Foundation, to help people living with burns and scars.

"It's thriving. We've got a team of five people working there full-time and what's really great is the ones who came to us [for support] in the beginning are actually helping as volunteers now."

Of course, something else that's blooming is Piper herself – she's previously talked about how "blessed" she feels, and her joy at finally having a good reason to go to hospital.

"It's very easy to say I want my child to grow up and be this or that, but I think the kind of parent I want to be is somebody who just guides, loves them and supports their children's decisions," she says of becoming a mum.

The pregnancy's meant that her regular treatments have had to take "a bit of a back seat".

"I have a lot of problems with scar tissue forming inside my nose, so I'm still having treatment.

"But now I'm expecting my first child, I can't have operations or anaesthetic and I'm finding it hard to breathe at the moment."

But it's a small sacrifice.

"I'm really enjoying what I'm doing as a career, I'm thrilled the foundation's going from strength to strength and personally in my life, I'm at a point where I didn't know I'd ever be," she says happily.

"I'm really grateful."

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