Adele, Katie’s beautiful friend

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Channel 4’s Katie: My Beautiful Friends follows Katie Piper, whose face was badly burnt in an acid attack, as she sets up her own charity and meets others who have suffered from disfigurement. The first episode features second year Hild Bede student Adele Pope who was left with serious burns after having an epileptic fit in the shower, ending her dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer. We asked her about the experience of being involved in the programme.

How did you get involved with the documentary?

I got involved with the programme largely through my mum’s letter. She wrote to Katie Piper’s mum, and I think the fact that our stories were quite similar (in that the scarring also ended both of our intended careers) made them interested in my story. Then Katie and the TV company who made the documentary wrote back telling us that a new series was being made, and asking if I wouldn’t mind participating.

Did you have any reservations about appearing on the show?

I was a little scared about appearing on the show, because obviously you don’t really want the entire world to know about all your emotional baggage. But I was also worried they might misrepresent me. Once something is caught on camera they can show it and edit it so that your words change context and it sounds like you’re saying something completely different. Once we started filming though and I met all the people involved, I came to understand that they weren’t about changing what people say or misrepresenting anyone. However, I didn’t want to look like a sad little victim, and I didn’t want it to look like Katie rescued me, because I went through my injury and the worst part of the recovery on my own, and still came out dealing with it much better than some others would. I still managed to go on the beach in a bikini and wear a low backed dress in public with just myself and my family for support. I told myself that if I could help just one person through this documentary, then the fear would have all been worth it!

Did being on the show and meeting Katie change your life?

It made me realise that the way I coped and felt about things was completely normal. We both responded to similar things in similar ways (like first hiding our scars, then sort of shoving them in people’s faces to overcompensate, then finally just not really thinking about them) and knowing that I wasn’t being irrational or blowing my feelings out of proportion really helped me. I’m not sure if I would say it changed my life though!

Would you like to do more things like this in the future?

I think the documentary will be a one-off, but if anything else should come out of it then that would be fine! I think people with burns get a bad reception sometimes because people don’t see burns that often, but the reason for their rarity is that quite a lot of people who suffer these kinds of injuries don’t survive them. I would like to help increase awareness, just so people become desensitised to scars like mine. Also, as an ambassador for Katie’s charity (The Katie Piper Foundation) I may have to do the odd interview or appearance. At events, the ambassadors may be asked to share their stories, or if there is a request for someone from the charity to appear anywhere near Durham, I will go instead of Katie.

Compared to the other people on the show, many people might think your burn is quite minor… did that cross your mind when appearing on the show?

Compared to some people on the show my burns do look quite minor, but that is because I have had them for five and a half years now (they fully heal and stop changing after about two) whereas other people on the show are still early on in their recovery. For example there’s a 16 year old called Will in one of the other episodes. My burns and my recovery were pretty much exactly the same as his, except that technically I have a greater percentage of my body burned than he does. But the difference is that we are following him from a few weeks into his recovery, and so you can see all the pain and the therapy and potentially more surgeries….I went through all of this exactly as he is doing, and I also had to deal with the loss of my career and trying to complete my GCSEs, so at the time my injuries were just as horrendous (bad enough to warrant being on life support for 5 days). Obviously that was a long time ago for me, so in the documentary my injuries are likely to seem less. Also, mine are mainly down my back, on my shoulders, one arm, my neck and my bum, which are easier places to hide – so unless I’m completely starkers, the full extent of my burns won’t be visible! I think my story is just as important as the others, but I feel like I’m the ‘after’ shot whereas all the other people are the ‘befores’. I’m just more healed physically and emotionally because I have had more time. However, hopefully seeing someone who is healed to that extent would give hope to anyone going through the process who thinks their life is ruined and that you can’t live normally or achieve things.

What has the reaction to you being on the programme been like?

The reaction to the documentary has been quite overwhelmingly positive….strangers keep sending me Facebook messages (in a non-creepy way) to say well done and stuff, so all in all I am glad I did it, although I’m a little embarrassed that I told the entire world that my thumb looks like a chicken drumstick!

Episode one of Katie: My Beautiful Friends is on 4od now.

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