A new four-part documentary series follows Katie Piper’s progress after a horrific acid attack destroyed her face two years ago.
Millions were moved by the 2009 Cutting Edge film, Katie: My Beautiful Face, which showed her extraordinary determination to overcome the physical and emotional damage wrought by the attack. Since the film was broadcast, Katie has received an incredible response from people offering their support, including many also living with disfigurement.
The series follows her over a year as, inspired on to a new phase of recovery, Katie sets up a charity to help others living with disfigurement. Meanwhile, she continues the grueling treatment still necessary two years after the attack and, despite setbacks, puts together the building blocks of her new life.
She also wants to offer a support network to other people facing similar issues and is meeting people with a whole range of disfigurements, hoping to build a network of mentors to spur others on as she was a year ago.
“There are a lot of people that need a support network,” says Katie. “Sometimes you can draw strength from other people – nobody can be strong all the time. It would be nice just to text somebody and tell them how you’re feeling and ask them how they are.”
Katie finds people walking a variety of paths, some similar to her own, some very different, but all having to deal with a world that turns away from disfigurement. With candid humour, they ask each other the difficult questions no-one else can about how to get the best out of life when others can’t get past how they look.
In the first programme of the series, Katie meets two young women who have experienced very different forms of disfigurement, one through a life-threatening condition, the other through a terrible accident.
Five years ago Adele, a ballet student, suffered an epileptic fit in the shower, knocking the tap as she fell, and was left with burns across nearly half her upper body. She was found by her mum, Denise.
Rushed into a specialist burns unit in Chelmsford she received emergency and reconstructive treatment in the intensive care unit. Now nineteen, Adele decided that the physical perfection demanded by the ballet world meant her dreams of dancing for a living were over.
“I feel a lot of the time I should be at the bottom of the heap,” says Adele. “I seriously hope the scars don’t make a difference, but a lot of the time I think they do.”
And as Katie gets to know Adele, she sees the young performer gain in confidence, winning a part in a play going to Edinburgh.
23-year-old Chantelle 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.
Chantelle’s treatment is making her look worse before plastic surgery can eventually make her look better and the situation is putting a strain on her marriage to Brett, an RAF fireman.
“Since we’ve found about how aggressive the AVM was I’ve not been able to do anything physically that will get my blood pumping.”
She feels trapped in their home, but hopes that the treatment will allow her to start living life again.
“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,” says Chantelle. “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.”
Chantelle has been bullied for looking different all her life. She had a facial birthmark that spread across the centre of her face and it wasn’t until she was fourteen that doctors diagnosed her condition as a potentially life threatening.
“High School was an absolute nightmare,” says 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.”
Chantelle tells Katie about how she was recently insulted and punched in the face by a girl who was drunk. The girl was arrested, but it has knocked back Chantelle’s confidence even further.
Radical new surgery to save her face, but she could lose her whole nose as a result.
Meanwhile Katie is in Istanbul for the most significant surgery since her face was grafted two years ago. Mr Jawad, the plastic surgeon who treated her when she was first admitted to Chelsea and Westminster burns unit has brought Katie to see Professor Erol for fat injections under her skin. They hope to replace the fat that was burned away by the acid which will not only improve the contours of her skin but might mean she will be able to properly close her eyes for the first time since the attack.
Back in England, as the launch of her charity looms, Katie is frantically sorting out last-minute arrangements. And she receives bad news about the man who organized the attack on her: he is appealing against the life sentence he received.”
Channel 4, March 22nd 9pm