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Vicky Knight was eight when she survived an arson attack - now her burns have landed her a starring role in new movie Dirty God

Vicky Knight sits down with Laura Harding to tell her story

On a mission: Vicky Knight as Jade in new film Dirty God
On a mission: Vicky Knight as Jade in new film Dirty God

I never knew who Freddy Krueger was until somebody called me it. I went home and asked my Mum and she said, 'He's a monster with burns.'"

This is a heartbreaking story, almost painful to hear, but Vicky Knight tells it in a matter-of-fact fashion.

When she was eight, she survived an arson attack at her grandfather's pub in east London.

Two of her young cousins and the man who saved her life all died in the blaze, and the little girl was left with severe burns.

For 15 years, Knight was bullied and tormented and hated looking at herself in the mirror, and she even considered suicide. But it was these scars, along the side of her face and on her left arm and hand, that are the reason she has the starring role in a new film.

In Dirty God, made by Dutch director Sacha Polak, she plays Jade, a young woman who has suffered an acid attack by a vengeful boyfriend.

The film follows her as she attempts to rebuild her life and come to terms with her new appearance.

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"I wasn't an actress before this. I'm a healthcare assistant and I still do shifts as and when I can, so I was nervous.

"There were scenes where I didn't understand why we needed to do close-ups of my scars and the close-up of my left hand.

"I was really conscious of my left hand growing up anyway because it doesn't look very normal, and I actually cried on set.

"But then when I saw the film for the first time I was like, wow. I didn't see myself, I saw Jade."

Knight's fears were grounded in the fact her first on-screen experience was not a good one.

After she made a YouTube video about her burns that went viral, she was approached to make a documentary.

"I agreed to do it because I got bullied a lot in school because of my scars. The things that I had when I was growing up was horrendous - fags in my face, threats to burn my house down, shouting that the wrong person had died, just because of the way I looked.

"So I agreed to do it to try to change that and it completely ruined me. I was completely humiliated by it.

"So when the casting director for Dirty God messaged me on social media and said she would like to interview me for a role, I completely shut it down and said, 'No way, I'm not doing it' because I thought it was something similar to what I'd already done.

Vicky Knight
Vicky Knight

"There was a whole year where I ignored her."

Luckily, Knight eventually relented and the film has dramatically changed her life.

"I was in such a bad place inside my head before we started filming. I was really suicidal, I just didn't want to live with it any more.

"My mum did so much for me growing up as a kid and I don't always want to put my problems on my mum or my family - so I kept it to myself and I was just a mess.

"I hated myself. I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. I wouldn't get out of bed. I was self-neglecting. I had completely hit rock bottom.

"But since I've done this film, I am so proud of the way I look.

"When I saw the film I was just thinking, 'I've cried for 15 years, for what?'

"Now I'm so proud of my scars because they've got me here. They are a piece of art - you can see the patterns in them. It's my own tattoo."

Knight does actually have a handful of tattoos, including memorials for her cousins and the man who saved her.

She proudly shows me a new one she got earlier in the week, just days before her 24th birthday.

"The good thing about having scars is it means tattoos don't hurt," she says with a laugh.

"When I was growing up, I wanted to cover my scars in tattoos and I started to get a sleeve.

"I never thought I could change how I felt. I thought I would be dead in year or two."

But now she is filled with purpose and is on a mission to change the way people with burns and scars are depicted in popular culture.

The British Film Institute recently announced it will no longer fund films in which villains appear with facial scarring as part of a campaign by UK charity Changing Faces - and Knight sees this as a step in the right direction.

"People relate them to being a bad guy.

"Last year, it got me that loads of people were doing burn effects make-up for Halloween and I was thinking, 'Why is this acceptable to go out to a party with burns and call yourself scary?'

"I don't think people realise the effect it has on survivors like myself.

"I had psychotherapy and was diagnosed with PTSD and was on medication for that, but now I'm not on anything.

"It's like I'm a completely different person in terms of accepting myself.

"I had 15 years of crying and then a year recovering, it's crazy.

"My scars are part of me and if people don't like it, see you later," she adds.

Dirty God is in cinemas now

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