My Life: Katie Piper On Dating, Being A Mum And Surviving The Worst Time Of Your Life

'None Of Us Know How Strong We Are Until Tested'

"My entire life story is written on my face," says TV presenter and ex-model Katie Piper, "which made small talk on first dates a bit difficult."

Piper, who survived a brutal rape and acid attack perpetrated by her ex boyfriend Daniel Lynch in 2008, is well known for her stoically positive, life-won't-beat-me-down attitude. It won her the respect of thousands.

But while people may be inspired by the confidence that radiates from her now, there have been moments she found very challenging. Dating being one of them.

In her fourth book, Beautiful Ever After, she talks about the challenges of dating (spoiler: it has a happy ending involving a baby and a husband) but also the pressure of being perceived to be flawless and strong. Or as she puts it, 'on a pedestal.'

Piper's popularity isn't just because survived an awful ordeal, but because she is eminently down to earth and relatable. And above all, she has an indomitable spirit - she waived anonymity and set up the Katie Piper Foundation to help other people with burns.

Her own recovery has been hard won. Aside from the emotional and mental impact, there were terrible physical consequences.

She had to wear a plastic pressure mask for 23 hours a day for two years as part of her treatment, says her website, and her injuries also meant that she needed to be fed through a tube in her stomach.

This was her new reality after starting a budding career as a model. That she has achieved so much afterwards is nothing short of spectacular, particularly the foundation that aims to share the support and access she was able to receive after her attack.

Here, we caught up with the mother, campaigner and all round wonder woman to find out more about her inner strength...

Katie, tell us about your book...

It picked up where the last one left off, which was moving back to London and out of my parents’ home. So it’s about the last three or four years of my life.

A lot of my focus like many young women, was about going back into the dating world – which is difficult for any man or woman but having that added complication of having a facial disfigurement and also being a public person that had something so dramatic happen to me.

So the book ends with me having a child and there were lots of other ups and downs. For instance my mum was quite ill – she has cancer when I found out I was pregnant.

You write about your dating experiences - what was that like"

There were some funny anecdotes – I was 27/28 and asking my sister, ‘he’s texted me how are you – what do you think this means?’ and analysing every text. There were people I was texting and they weren’t texting me back. I would send six messages and my friend said: ‘You’ve got to stop texting him’. And I’d say, ‘Maybe he’s lost his phone’ and making excuses for someone who blatantly didn’t fancy me.

That was quite funny but then I had to say to myself, ‘well he might not fancy me, but it might be because I might have been boring’ rather than always assuming it’s because I’m burnt. But I had a lot of rejection and it did affect my confidence and it was quite hard not to blame it on looking different.

Also those first dates when you’re meant to have light, small talk were quite hard for me especially because what happened to me was written on my face. Even what I do for a living goes back to what happened to me. It was quite hard to have those deep conversations with someone when you don’t even know if they are a good kisser. It was a bit of a minefield.

Katie at a Labour Party press conference in 2010

What is your definition of beauty?

I give talks to a lot of talks to different audiences, and I talk to a lot of young women. You hear of the clichés about beauty is on the inside and while that is true, it’s not much comfort when you’re facially disfigured at 24. The thing that got me through it was human spirit, and when people say to me ‘oh you’re inspiring’ I think well human spirit is in all of us.

It’s not like I’m special and none of us know how strong it is until we’re tested and we’ve got no choice. If you knew the terrible things that were going to happen to you, you’d probably think you’d never get through it, but the reality is that you can. Human spirit radiates true beauty, it makes you respect them and see them for who they truly are.

You’ve been described as an inspiration – but I can’t imagine it felt like that when you were going through everything – how did you handle it?

If I read an article about what happened to me, I think, ‘did I actually go through that? I can’t believe it’ but once you’re in it – you just get on with it because what I don’t want is for it to beat me.

The whole journey is gaining acceptance and the quicker and easier it becomes. That’s not to say I’m this expert and I got through it so well – I thought I couldn’t talk about the private struggles I had because I’d been put on a pedestal and was bound to fall off at some point. There are a lot of times when I didn’t cope and I did fail but there are lots of times when I got back up.

Do you still have hard moments?

Yes, it’s like I say to the burnt women I meet through the charity, ‘it’s not like you’re going to have this day where everything’s better and you’re over it’. It’s actually like a bereavement – you will never be okay with it, you’ll just learn to live with it, accept it, function and have a quality of life. It’s not the destination it’s the journey, and most journeys are neverending with bumps. It’s okay not to cope.

One thing I realised from the feedback from my documentaries and books is that we can always relate to the emotions, isolation – feeling like we don’t fit in, and these are things we all have in common. I suppose none of us can understand each and every person’s daily battle in life and be able to relate to them.

What's an average day like?

It’s not about what time I like to get up anymore because now I have a six-month old baby but we wake up at 5, when she wakes up. I go in, change her, feed her and sometimes she’ll come back to sleep with me for an hour, and then we’re up, we’ll play, chat. My day is quite different with regards to work. I’m either working from home and then it’s emails, writing on computer, playing with baby and taking her out in the pram.

If I’m working with the charity, it’s out in West London. I’m quite face to face with the charity so that might mean mentoring, organising workshops, giving talks and it could be all around the country in hospitals, clinics, cafes, parks. That’s quite varied – and my daughter has come along to lots of my work with the charity. But at the moment I’m filming a new series for channel 4 so that can be out on location - they are quite long days but I like being busy.

Usually my partner cooks because he is better than me but it’s a hobby we have together – but I’m lucky because sometimes I could be home by 3, do a bit of office work with my daughter, taking her out in the pram. But sometimes if I’m filming it might not be until 10 or 11.

Do you feel like it's a battle between your baby and your career?

It’s really hard – there is so much pressure for women. A man’s career doesn’t change – he’s off for seven days and then goes back to work? As a woman you want to still provide and set a good example but you don’t want to miss out on a time you can never get back with your baby.

So you’re guilty if you’re at home full time and you’re guilty at work. Weekends and evenings I try not to be on my phone looking at emails and when I’m not working I spend structured time with her. I take her for swimming lessons, to church, go for a walk. I make a rule that I read a book to her every day.

I will try and there are times when I’m working 14 hour day and I will try and Face Time her. But I haven’t yet worked out the best formula – if anyone has, please can they tweet me!

Tell us more about the foundation - how has it helped to change lives?

At the beginning, it very much started with the background around my story. I’d gone abroad for scar management treatment to France. I wanted to give other survivors access to that support and treatment. All the smaller things that aren’t available on the NHS and also that community that had been through what I have gone through and understood the isolation.

As it grew we were able to start funding social events, workshops, academic courses for healthcare professionals, branch out from London to the whole country and now we are funding patients to go abroad for rehabilitation to the clinic I went to. To see it grow has been amazing.

What is your life mantra for getting through things that seem impossibly hard?

I wrote an affirmations book that has a positive message for each day. But I suppose I’m quite a spiritual person and I do believe in positive thinking and everything you put there you get back. I will never forget the affirmation my dad said to me during a really difficult time: ‘You’ve actually got to appreciate all these dark times because it is the only time you can really look up and see the stars.’ It hits home when you’ve started to lose hope.

What has your baby girl taught you about life?

It’s funny because I’ve had a life-changing experience happen to me so I thought I was quite broad-minded anyway, but giving birth to her and becoming a mum has changed my perspective on life. You realise that this is what life is about – all the things you think will bring you happiness don’t come close. Having a daughter has given me fulfillment.

What do you do to relax?

I like to run – so if I run it gives me quiet time to think about things and a bit of freedom. I’m not a person that likes to relax easily because I find it a bit boring.

And on a day off?

I don’t have them, but if I do, it’s spending time with my daughter!

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