Campaigner Katie Piper visits Kettering
It has been almost 10 years since a younger Katie Piper's life was changed.
In 2008 she had acid thrown at her during an attack which left her needing 40 surgical operations to treat her injuries.
But she has never let her injuries define and is now going out on the road to help people through the problems that they encounter. And one of these events will be at the Lighthouse Theatre in Kettering on Thursday April 19.
In a time of glossy magazines, Photoshop, Instagram filters and app dating, remaining in touch with reality has never been harder.
Katie embarks on her debut theatre tour to share what she has learnt and what helped her remain positive through the toughest of times. She will discuss her own battles with anxiety and explain how she has overcome its crippling clutches.
She is opening her own diaries, photo albums and personal memories in this most intimate and revealing talk about her life. We chatted to her about the show and what people can expect.
Where did the idea for a tour come from?
Well, I get a lot of responses to the books that I’ve written. In my autobiography I started off writing very much about my personal experience, and then I expanded into self-help which drew on my own experiences, and those of psychologists and life coaches experts that I’d worked with and benefitted from.
I now feel that I’m on a position where I’ve got techniques and a mantra and things that have worked for me, and I want to help other people.
I am constantly inundated with letters and just people in the street and in restaurants coming up, asking me, ‘How can I get through this?’.
So I thought, if I can take it into the theatres and go onto the road with it, it would be great to help people.
It’s sharing parts of my journey, but it’s not about me re-telling my story word for word. Hopefully it will be uplifting and help people who are having their own battles with anxiety and depression and whatever they are going through.
Is it a day to day part of your life now, talking to people who want your advice?
Yes, it is, and it’s one I feel I can fulfil.
I can help burns survivors practically through my Katie Piper Foundation by giving them funding, we can help with treatment, we can mentor them, we can connect them.
But this is an extension of that: helping people with mental health issues.
What sort of people are you hoping will come to see the tour?
I think lots of different people will come because I think society is changing. With Prince Harry, for example, coming out and talking about mental health, and lots of other people have also come out and said, ‘I suffer from depression’ - people who look outwardly happy.
I think now we’re realising that so many of us are affected by mental health issues.
And now we know that having a counsellor or a therapist isn’t embarrassing, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. So I think we’ll see very normal people in the audience. Everyone has a story, or something they’re going through.
The people who read my books are not just young women who’ve been burnt. There’s a real variety.
It’s interesting you mention Prince Harry: it’s becoming okay for men to talk about their feelings, do you agree?
Yeah, and I hope we’ll see some men there. I do get men coming to my book signings. Sometimes they’re my dad’s age, even. When trauma happens, it affects the whole family, not just the person.
So I think encouraging men to keep talking is great and I hope the show touches them as well.
Can you tell us about some of the subject matter you’ll be discussing?
I’m a mother, I’m pregnant now, and when the tour starts I’ll be the mother of two small children.
And because we live in this glossy, Instagram, dating app sort of world, I think there’s never been so much pressure on us or that it’s ever been so hard to stay in touch with reality.
So I think as well as being a mum, I have that insight of what it’s like to be in that ‘celebrity’ world. Sometimes I’ve stood on that red carpet and I don’t even recognise people in the flesh because they are so photoshopped in all other mediums.
Lots of young people are making unfair comparisons to those role models, and feeling in adequate.
So those comparisons are something I really want to talk about.
For me, I had to find confidence and self-worth against all the odds, so if I can do that, I would hope I could help other people do that, who are just trying to get on with their lives but finding it difficult.
I want to help them find perspective between what is real and what isn’t.
What is the format of the show?
I’m going to talk a little bit about my back story, just to put it into context.
But it’s going to be very much about the present tense and the ‘now’.
I’ve got some interesting images to show people that will illustrate what I’m saying. Some images that I’ve seen on Instagram; and I’ve mocked up some examples of myself to show the difference between real life and photoshop.
I might have some special guests at some of the venues, too.
Then I’ll be taking questions from the audience and interacting with them. What they’ll get is absolute honesty. It’s certainly not just going to be me talking at an audience from a lectern.
You’re used to public speaking, of course, but does a theatre tour feel like something a little bit more intimidating?
It does! I think this is going to be so much more intimate. Because I’ll be interacting with the audience, this isn’t like going into a firm and talking in a certain slot.
It’s like inviting people into my front room and having a coffee and talking.
But I’m hoping that intimacy will keep it refreshing and it also means each show will be bespoke and different from the last one. And that does make me more nervous! But in a positive way.
How have you prepared for it?
I’ve been preparing for the last ten years, technically!
It’s actually harder than writing a book. Writing a book is very structured and you have a beginning, middle and an end, and I am used to writing to deadlines. But writing a show keeps evolving and manifesting. Every time I hear something new, that I like, I add it in.
I am constantly collecting quotes, photos, and mantras. In my downstairs loo, I put up stuff that inspires and motivates me, all the time.
In a way, you don’t know who’s going to be in the audience, so you can only prepare to a certain extent. If they ask a certain question, we might veer off in a totally different direction. And that’s quite exciting.
Is there anything out of bounds as far as what the audience can ask you?
Well I live by the mantra, ‘What happens to us, doesn’t define us’, so anybody expecting me to go over my story again is going to be disappointed. It’s not a story about a specific acid attack - I don’t think that would make a good theatre show.
But I believe that sharing is reciprocated so if I share something about my life, I find that people normally share something about their lives.
I feel like most people who come along will have some kind of issue - like we all do in day to day life - so I feel like it will be an environment that will be free and non judgemental. I hope people can say what they like and the audience will listen and empathise.
Have you practised any techniques to help with your delivery or performance?
When we very first started talking about this, I did wonder if I should learn to sing! But everyone shot me down!
I’ve been speaking for seven or eight years and I do still get nervous. I read to my husband, and I practise beforehand, but I actually don’t mind the nerves. I think that adrenaline is good. If you don’t feel nerves, things can get stale.
Are you looking forward to travelling the country?
Well it’s going to be a challenge because I give birth at the end of December and my first tour date is the beginning of March. So I’m going to take the baby with me. I’ll probably be breast feeding, and the baby is going to be very small, so it’s going to be ‘mums on tour’.
But I will talk about that: mums putting labels on ourselves and on what we can and can’t do.
I think being a working mum is challenging, but certainly achievable. So I can bring my experiences from that day into the theatre that evening! I just hope I’m not too tired…
Is Richard going with you to look after the baby?
I think my family are going to share babysitting duties. My mum and my sister are going to help sometimes, and Richie will help at other times. Everyone’s really excited.
Richie is so happy for me to be taking this next stage, but then he always embraces every aspect of my career. I must say, I couldn’t do it without him.
Will he see one or two shows?
I think so! My first show is going to be in my home town and that’s going to be particularly special because I’ll recognise faces in the audience. My family still live there, and I went back to live there while I recovered, and everyone was so supportive, so I have a special attachment to it.
If I told a very young Katie Piper that she’d be touring the country’s theatres one day, what would she say?
It’s definitely surreal! But when I was young I did tap dancing and jazz, and my parents have this fireplace that I would stand on, tap dancing, scratching all the surface. It was our theatre stage, me and my sister. So I’ve always had those aspirations!
So you’ve achieved your dreams, but in a very roundabout way?
Yeah, that’s really true actually, and that’s another lesson I’ll be talking about. Sometimes we get to where we want to be, but it’s not a straight journey: it does veer off to the left and to the right, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I’ve always been interested in the theatre, so it’s really amazing and cool to be doing this.
What else will you be working on before the tour starts?
I’ve been working quite hard on my maternity collection with www.wantthattrend.com, so selfishly now I have a wardrobe to wear!
The launch went really well and it was something I’d wanted to do for ages.
It’s been really good fun - and it’s been really nice doing a photoshoot where I didn’t have to breathe in!
It’s been so successful, we sold out some of the lines within a couple of weeks, so I will continue to work with the brand.
It’s founded by a woman who had her first child and she founded it from a laptop in her bedroom, so she’s one of my inspirational women. To keep working with her would be great.
Tickets for the show cost £21.50. and starts at 7.30pm. For further information or to book tickets call the box office on 01536 414141 or alternatively visit www.lighthousetheatre.co.uk.