Channel 4’s Katie: My Beautiful Friends – episode review

Katie - My Beautiful Friends on Channel 4Last night, we tuned in to watch the first episode of Channel 4’s latest documentary series, Katie: My Beautiful Friends.

Having been massively moved by Katie Piper’s Katie: My Beautiful Face, which aired on the channel last year, we knew it would be an emotional yet inspiring night.

First a bit of background. Katie Piper, 27, is a former model and television presenter from Andover, Hampshire in England. She had hoped to have a career in TV but in March 2008 in North London, was the victim of a vicious attack, in which Stefan Sylvestre threw sulphuric acid at her face. It was later discovered that the acid attack, which blinded Piper in one eye, was arranged by Piper’s ex-boyfriend, Daniel Lynch.

In 2009, Piper stepped out of anonymity and in a Channel 4 documentary, Katie: My Beautiful Face, spoke out about her injuries and subsequent medical battle, in a bid to raise awareness of burn victims.

The support she received from members of the public and various celebrities after her show aired, drove Katie on to launch her own charity to help others living with disfigurement and this latest series will follow her as she launches her foundation and chronicle the continuing gruelling treatment still necessary two years after the attack.

Tuesday’s episode followed Piper as she prepared for her launch ceremony and also as she reached out to two other young women living with very different disfigurements.

Five years ago Adele, a ballet student, suffered an epileptic fit in the shower, knocking the tap to it’s hottest setting as she fell. She was subsequently left with burns across nearly half her upper body and a webbed area under her arm.

Adele is a talented ballet dancer who now lacks confidence in her abilities and admitted that because of her accident and the never ending subsequent medical treatment, she has never had a boyfriend and never even been kissed. She admitted:

“In university people laugh at people who are still a virgin, never mind have never kissed a boy.”

However, we were moved and inspired when Adele – a keen actress and ballet dancer – decided to move past her accident and auditioned for a part in a play to be staged in Edinburgh. She won the role and on opening night, looked thrilled, proud and elated that she had overcome her injuries and moved back to enjoying her life.

The second inspirational woman who met with Katie, was 22-year-old Chantelle. She was born with a rare condition called arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which means that a group of blood vessels are growing out of control deep in her nose, leaving her disfigured and threatening her life.

“With everything that’s going on with all the operations I don’t have a life at all, I don’t do anything, I don’t leave the house,” she dejectedly admitted. “It’s like a cocoon and then when everything is done I’m going to come out like a butterfly and have loads of new clothes, new shoes, new things, just a new life. Get rid of the old me and start with a new me. I want to experience things and travel the world.”

Six months after getting married to Brett, an RAF fireman, Chan’s condition flared up, became life threatening and now her life is overtaken by medical treatments and hospitals. The pretty brunette was told that she could lose her nose completely and the longer the condition goes on for, the more of her face will be affected. She was forbidden from drinking alcohol, having sex or partaking in any activities that may get her blood pumping and cause haemorrhages. It seemed like her marriage was doomed from the start.

She sadly recounted to Katie an experience which knocked her confidence the last time she went out with friends saying:

On Friday night I got attacked. I went out with my friends and a girl started shouting “have you got a mask on?” and she hit me. I don’t think I will go out with people who are drinking alcohol again, they always pick on the weakest person.

The incident reminded her of being back in school….an experience she detested.

“High School was an absolute nightmare,” said Chantelle. “I think I’d rather die than go back. I’d stand in the corridor waiting for class and everyone would be walking past and saying things like ‘Rudolf’ and ‘Big Nose’. I had people threatening me, groups of girls circling and saying things. I just kept my head down.”

As Chantelle prepared for what she hoped would be one of her final operations, it became clear that she and Brett were on different life paths. He wanted children and she adamantly did not. She admitted to feeling ‘trapped’ and during a visit to a high street book store she browsed travel guides and admitted that if she ever gets well, she wants to travel the world while Brett wants to settle down and start a family.

When his RAF unit was deployed abroad, Brett and Chan took the decision to go their separate ways. They must have known it was coming, as neither party seemed too upset by the split. We were moved by Chantelle’s hope for the future and vision for her life. She has great plans in place and all that is needed now is her health and she’ll be off.

However, she has a long road ahead and there were harrowing scenes as doctors operated on Chantelle’s face, cut the AVM out and made her a new nose out of extra skin they had grown on her forehead. She seemed pleased with the result afterwards but soon it became clear that her new skin was dying and blood sucking leeches were introduced to encourage blood flow. When that extreme step didn’t work, staff cut open her stitches, with no anaesthetic and the last we heard of Chantelle she was screaming in pain as her mum cried in the corridor.

We can only hope that in next week’s episode everything works out for the brave young woman, because another setback would seem like the most unfair development we could imagine.

It was striking to us that as Katie Piper’s show aired on Channel 4, Katie Price’s new reality TV series launched on Sky Living. The difference between the two women is marked and viewers took to Twitter to praise one inspirational character, while criticising the ‘self absorbed’ nature of the other.

One fan wrote:

not even bothered to watch fake katie price ‘documentary’ when the beautiful captivating moving inspiring katie piper is on C4.

Another told their followers:

Price was on 1 channel being self absorbed & Katie piper was doing amazing prog on ch4 about disfigurements at same time

A third mused:

To all those who watched Katie Price, the Katie you should have been watching was Katie Piper. True strength and courage.

Did you watch Katie: My Beautiful Friends? Were you as moved as us? Leave your comments below.

Watch the first episode here<> on C4 on demand and tune into the next episodes every Tuesday at 9pm on C4.