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'She's just amazing' - Katie Piper praises Northern Ireland woman and burns survivor Melanie


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Melanie Grimsley and Brian Higgins

Melanie Grimsley and Brian Higgins

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Melanie Grimsley with children William (left) and Leo

Melanie Grimsley with children William (left) and Leo

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Katie Piper

Katie Piper

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Melanie Grimsley

Melanie Grimsley

Melanie Grimsley and Brian Higgins

STRICTLY Come Dancing star Katie Piper has paid tribute to Co Fermanagh burns survivor Melanie Grimsley, who she has helped through her charity.

The presenter and model set up her Katie Piper Foundation after she was the victim of an acid attack by an ex-boyfriend in 2008 and has since sought to help others who have suffered from burns.

Melanie was just two when she was severely burned in a car fire in April 1988 which killed her older sister in Enniskillen, and left her needing many operations through her childhood.

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Melanie Grimsley

Melanie Grimsley

Melanie Grimsley

But, just like Katie, Melanie (34) is happily married with two kids and has shown great courage and strength to build a life for herself despite everything she has gone through.

Katie told Sunday Life: "Our rehabilitation service - a centre and virtual service and hair restoration - are open to adult survivors of burns from Northern Ireland.

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Katie Piper

Katie Piper

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Katie Piper

"We've helped many people from Northern Ireland over the years, including Melanie Grimsley, who is a mother of two from Fermanagh.

"She does amazing work with survivors of burns and the practical help we give her is through hair restoration needed after surviving a fire as a child. Now her hair is part of her confidence, not a barrier to it."

The 36-year-old has now started the third series of her podcast Katie Piper's Extraordinary People, with recent guests including Celebrity SAS joint winner Locksmith, Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith and ex-EastEnders actress and I'm A Celebrity winner Jacqueline Jossa (inset right).

She said: "Because I'd talked so openly about my adversity and trauma, I found myself in a position where people were contacting me all the time.

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Melanie Grimsley with children William (left) and Leo

Melanie Grimsley with children William (left) and Leo

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Melanie Grimsley with children William (left) and Leo

"And there are two separate camps. There'd be the camp of, 'This happened to me, I overcame it, I want to tell you my amazing story.'

"And then there'd be the other camp of people that were in an absolutely dark place, had given up and everything felt so hopeless.

"I just wanted to put those two people together and connect them to help one another.

"A lot of podcasts have celebrity guests and I thought I don't want it to be just celebrities promoting projects, I want it to also be people that nobody's heard of and who are doing these amazing things.

"And I think we are seeing now with the NHS workers, our refuse workers, our couriers - these are normal people doing absolutely unnormal, crazy things to save people's lives and we don't hear anything about them.

"And actually the tide is changing, the appetite is changing, people more than ever now are searching for good stories, searching for real role models and inspiration, which I think is really positive.

"The people that have been on the podcast that are celebrities, that's a by-product, the story is what did you go through, how did you overcome it?

"And I think Jacqueline was really open in that she became famous at a young age and she was doing her job as an actress, but because the internet was around, people were commenting on her weight, her appearance.

"And she was like a 13-year-old teenager and people were calling her fat on Twitter and she went through all that and having to go on telly every week knowing that people were critiquing her when it wasn't really relevant what she was doing.

"And then going on to have her children, experiencing this hair loss after already being made aware of her appearance and the value of it. She gave quite a raw in-depth interview, which I found really, really helpful, because sometimes with somebody who's famous, they might be media trained and not go so in-depth, but she did."

Katie agrees that, because she experienced her own trauma and is very candid about the impact that had on her life, people are more willing to open up to her than they might be on other podcasts.

She said: "Yeah, I think so, because sometimes people come on and you think the story is one thing and then they divulge other stuff that you didn't know and you didn't even necessarily push them for.

"Yeah you're right, it creates an environment of trust as you've already disclosed your trauma and it's a small studio and a cup of coffee and it does just feel like an intimate chat.

"I think with podcasts as well there's that intimacy where you kind of forget millions of people are going to listen to it." But she has had to be creative during the pandemic lockdown, however, to keep her show on the road.

She explained: "I've had to adapt, so I've ordered myself some equipment from Amazon and I've stuck a duvet up on the wall of my office - it's very budget, but I think it will work! But it's great to be able to work from home and that's the thing about the lockdown, we've got so much technology and we're able to connect in so many ways.

"We started the year kind of criticising social media and technology and talking about being kind to one another and now at the moment the only way we are able to be kind and stay in touch and support those who are lonely is through that social media and technology.

"Personally I wouldn't moan because I don't have any symptoms and nobody I live with has corona, so we have our health and that makes us really fortunate. We just have to adapt and get on with it and not bitch and moan about it, we're not in India where they can't wash their hands in clean water or where they have 20 or 30 people in one accommodation, you know, so we're very privileged."

But while pupils have started to go back to schools in England from last week, Katie did find juggling work with having her two girls - one aged six and the other two - at home more of a challenge.

She said: "The oldest is six so we were home schooling her and the other one is two and she was at nursery, so we got worksheets from the nursery as well, but obviously I'm working as well so it's a bit difficult with the age gap when you're home schooling a six-year-old and the two-year-old is smashing up your Macbook half the time.

"But I just learnt to let go of it and said, look if I get three hours a day of education in the can like maths and phonics and spellings and stuff, then the rest of the time she can go in the garden and we can play, we can go and do football together and just let go of it and not get too stressy about it."

The third series of Katie Piper's Extraordinary People is out now.

Belfast Telegraph