With acid attacks becoming an all-too-frequent headline in recent months, Katie Piper faces constant reminders that the world has yet to learn from her own traumatic attack 10 years ago. But as Happiful speaks with this truly exceptional and inspirational woman, it’s evident that her own world is changing. And most certainly for the better
Katie Piper’s daughter, Belle, has reached that inquisitive age of three – she’s energised to discover the world around her, and keen to learn about everything. She’s a happy, spirited toddler for whom it’s perfectly normal to see her mummy on TV, or on the cover of a magazine. When it’s all you’ve ever known, what’s the big deal?
Still, Belle’s admiration for her mum is ever-present, because she looks for her face wherever she goes. Katie playfully describes what happens whenever the pair button-up and head outside for a stroll. If Belle sees a beautiful woman on a billboard, she’s excitedly and assuredly convinced it’s her mummy. “I’m like, ‘Actually, that’s Claudia Schiffer!’ But I’ll take that,” Katie laughs.
Along with the normality of her mum’s public life, Belle sees Katie’s physical scars as just another part of her mum, and something she’s always known. As Katie explains, her daughter doesn’t see any difference between her and other women... most of the time. “But then,” says Katie, “other times she’ll ask me, ‘Have you hurt yourself there, what happened? Are you OK?’ I think she worries I’m in pain. I won’t lie, I just say, ‘It did hurt years and years ago when I first hurt myself, but it’s better now.’”
For those who don’t know, Katie’s scars are from a life-changing incident in 2008. After dating now-convicted Danny Lynch for just two weeks, she was assaulted by him in a hotel room. What transpired was a sustained and horrific attack. Lynch raped her, beat her, and threatened her life. The full details are too devastating to print, but things got much worse. Lynch spent two days phoning and harassing Katie, demanding to know her every move to ensure she didn’t report him to the police. Eventually, she agreed to read an email he had sent. On the way to her local internet cafe, a man – who Lynch had “hired” – threw sulphuric acid in her face. The acid not only burned Katie’s face almost to the bone, it blinded her in one eye, and also went down her throat. Katie has issues with her digestive tract to this day.
To think all this happened to the same strong, confident, charismatic woman I’m speaking to today is almost beyond belief.
And yet, with 601 acid attacks in the UK last year – a staggering 454 of these were committed in London – I shouldn’t be surprised by Katie’s fortitude. Earlier this year, Katie wrote an open letter to the medical journal, Scars, Burns and Healing, to emphasise the utter destruction of these attacks. On behalf of all burns survivors, she wrote: “For acid attack survivors, the aftermath is a life sentence.”
Experts believe the rise in these horrific attacks in the UK is due to the police crackdown on knife and gun crime. Gangs, in particular, are turning to corrosive substances, which are often readily available over the counter. Katie’s heartfelt letter refers to the need for stricter laws to make it more difficult to purchase these substances, and for sentencing to reflect the devastating impact of the crime. For one thing, survivors live in fear of the day their attacker is released back on to the streets.
Discussing Katie’s article, I’m curious about one line in particular where she says she will “need therapy for life”. She’s thoughtful as she explains: “I think you can never predict when somebody’s had something that causes PTSD – people are in and out of treatment for the rest of their lives. And that’s why we call it a life-changing injury.”
And with recovery, Katie’s been open about getting support, and the importance of taking care of your mental health. She has a strong support network, with her amazing family and incredible husband, Richard, whom she married in 2015. But alongside support from loved ones, Katie is a keen advocate for professional help to deal with trauma.
Like Happiful, Katie recognises the incredible impact that speaking about our mental health can have on people’s perceptions, awareness and understanding. She discusses how it’s not just the number of people talking that speaks volumes now, but how people you wouldn’t expect are breaking down the stigma around mental health by openly saying they’ve experienced depression, or received counselling. “They are people who outwardly look happy, and we are realising that, actually, mental health doesn’t just affect people who look miserable,” she says. “I almost make a joke of it saying: ‘How would you get through all this without help?’”
To read more, pick up a copy of Happiful in your local Waitrose. Katie's story features in the November issue of Happiful magazine
Photography | Ruth Rose Photos