Interview: Making a difference with Katie Piper

Following the launch of The Katie Piper Foundation Rehabilitation Centre, Saskia Harper sat down with Katie, to find out more about the vital work the centre does, and battling with confidence.

Katie visits staff and patients following the opening of the ‘Katie Piper Foundation Rehabilitation Centre’ at the Fairfield Independent Hospital, St Helens Merseyside

Over a decade after a horrific acid attack by an ex-boyfriend, Katie Piper is working hard to ensure other burns survivors have access to specialist treatment here in the UK.

How are you feeling, seeing the centre in real life and knowing the impact it will have? 

I think it’s brilliant. It’s named after the charity, but it’s not me: it’s the whole team. You couldn’t do this without a team of professionals, volunteers, and also the patients. There are patients who have been through the service who are happy to mentor other people, so I’m really proud of them, too.

You’ve incorporated exercise into the recovery programme at the centre – why do think exercise is so integral for recovery and wellbeing? 

There’s the scientific side, that’s been documented in medical journals and the obvious things: most people have been in a coma after a burn injury so they experience muscle wastage and need to get their fitness back up and help their respiratory system.

But there’s also the mental health side of being in control of your own body.

People that have been attacked or in an accident, or have acquired a disability often don’t feel in control of their own body. Exercise really helps you and when you feel in control you feel empowered; when you feel empowered you become confident. 

How do you feel sharing your story helps to combat the stigma surrounding visual injuries such as burns? 

Initially it helped with people knowing we existed as a charity – and donating to us, people were running marathons for us.

In my other world, where I write books, and do TV presenting, women come in all shapes and sizes, different disabilities, but that doesn’t mean we’re unsexy, unattractive, can’t be leaders, CEOs, trailblazers.

We don’t just have to be people to feel sorry for or inspirations. We can be lots of different things. We don’t always need the level of empathy people think.

You’ve spoken a lot in the past about confidence – how do you make sure you stay confident during challenging times? 

I do still find it hard – you see things online and think: “Oh God, I don’t look like that” or “I’m not as outgoing as that”, and then you have to take a step back and say, well, that’s not my journey. My journey is me and you can’t make those comparisons. They’re unfair and unhelpful comparisons.

I suppose, you have to remember that everyone battles with confidence: we’re all battling it, just at different stages in our lives.

Sometimes I think I’ve cracked it and then it goes a little bit downhill, then it comes back and I feel really good and limitless. It’s about recognising that confidence isn’t a permanent state of mind and anyone that tells you it is, that’s rubbish. It’s not possible and if you recognise that, you can kind of relax.  

What do you hope people take away from hearing your story and seeing all you have achieved?

I hope that for the survivors, they know that there’s that extended arm of support and you’re not alone.  We recognise it isn’t possible to just go back into society and live life on your own – to ask anybody to do that isn’t fair.

It would be that they know we’re here and the public help us to be here forever. That’s our goal, because people need us as long as these injuries are going to be happening. 

What advice would you give anyone who has gone through a similar journey to yourself?

Because I’ve also been through a life changing experience, I would never want to patronise people. Sometimes that’s the worst thing – being told “chin up, keep going”.

I understand that disability is permanent and for some it’s been acquired at a later stage in their life, for others, it’s something they’ve been born with and it’s about that resilience.

Some people in life, have to be more resilient than others. It’s okay to feel like that’s unfair and it’s okay to feel angry or upset. That doesn’t make you less resilient: that’s how you become resilient, being able to express emotions.

Society has a massive thing about inspiration and saying it’s not okay to be angry: that’s wrong, you have to go through all of these emotions and process them to get to where you want to be. It might go a little bit backwards and forwards each day, week, month, it’s completely normal.

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