Katie Piper opens up to DARE’s Natalie Ticehurst about why moving forward is the only way
Fact: if anyone proves that strength is a mental game, it’s Katie Piper. Yes, the sunshine smile and pixie-like proportions might fool you, but the 35-year-old mum of two isn’t all sugar – she’s made of seriously steely stuff. Not only is she a total pro – charming the camera crew by turning up on set with a box of chocolates big enough for a day’s worth of sugar highs – but after chatting for just a few minutes, it becomes clear she’s the kind of person to stare adversity in the face and say, ‘Go on, try me’ – with a smile, of course.
It’s a mindset that’s shaped not only by the events in her life – Katie doesn’t want to focus on the past anymore, and why should she when her future is diamond-bright? – but one that floods her veins, a just-keep-moving attitude, passed on to her by her mother.
‘My mum is what I’d call the strong, silent type,’ Katie says fondly of Diane. ‘She’s, like, “Well, you know, you’ve just got to get on with it, dear.” It sounds a bit harsh, but there’s something in that. In just moving forward.’
Moving forward has become a sort of mantra for Katie, a blueprint for how she leads her life. Starting the Katie Piper Foundation, a stint on Strictly Come Dancing, a happy three-year marriage to Richard Sutton, two children, Belle, four, and Penelope, one, glossy magazine covers, a stack of bestselling books... what Katie wants, Katie gets, largely because she refuses to let the past dictate her future.
We’re sure you’ve heard her story. Left rebuilding her life 10 years ago after an acid attack hospitalised her, Katie faced countless operations and physical therapy to get to where she is today. ‘Many things have happened to me that people might not know about – besides the obvious thing,’ she tells us. ‘You can put it in a box, put a lid on it and say, “Well, that was a shit time in my life,” or you can let the bad things from the past destroy any future you might have had. I’ve always thought that’s a pointless outlook on life.’
Perhaps we could all take something from her sunny-side-up attitude. Because for Katie the bad times have given her future fuel for all she’s accomplished. She gushes when talking about the Katie Piper Foundation, which she founded in 2009, grateful to be in the position to help others. ‘Opening a rehabilitation centre has always been the biggest aim,’ Katie says. ‘It took over 10 years, but we’ve opened it to a pilot programme of trial patients this year and are taking referrals from the NHS. It’s a credit to all the staff, volunteers and trustees as it costs over £100,000 to treat each patient.’
Having such focus means it’s often difficult for Katie to switch off. ‘I don’t have the answer to finding the balance because I think, well, maybe successful people don’t switch off,’ she muses. ‘People say, “Put your phone away,” and I’m, like, “What, and come back to 300 emails the next day?”
‘Being a mum has been good for me, as you have to turn some jobs down. Other times, you might have to miss a school assembly and send your mum instead because you think, “I need a holiday. I haven’t seen my partner for a week with coming in late from work,”’ she explains. ‘Nobody gets it right – you’ve got to do a bit of give and take.’
Katie swears by exercise, eating healthily and journalling, all tried-and-tested tools prescribed in her book, Confidence, The Journal, to retain balance. ‘I try and journal daily, so that at the end of the month I can take stock of what’s happened. You can read about your failures and not repeat them.’
Katie puts this practice of self-care down to her unwavering confidence. ‘Confidence is such a personal thing. And it’s something we have to keep working on,’ she asserts. ‘A massive part of it is in the mind. What we put into our bodies – not just food but the media we consume – affects it. Looking at lots of negative things can cloud your mind and confidence. It’s the same with your relationships if they’re toxic. I do a lot to protect that.’
While Katie’s mum Diane is a huge source of support for her and her confidence – the pair wrote a book, From Mother To Daughter, together, full of heart-warming life lessons – Katie has built a happy nest for herself, too. ‘Mine is a thoroughly modern partnership,’ she explains. ‘If I’m working late and Richard has to put the kids to bed, I don’t feel he’s doing me a favour. There’s an equality in our house,’ she says. ‘Belle is a massive Strictly fan, so she walks around the place dancing. It’s a bit of a mad house.’
Where Katie goes, inspiration soon follows, but it’s impossible not to feel in awe of all she’s achieved. And though it’s a label she’s reluctant to claim – ‘I guess nobody sets out, or ever asks, to be a role model,’ she says – she undoubtedly is. A lift-people-up kind of person, an advocate for the unheard, a girl’s girl.
‘Lots of women inspire me,’ she tells us, when we get talking about International Women’s Day. ‘I’ve just set up a podcast and, yes, we’ve had some celebrities on there, but some are people I’ve met on Instagram
and at charity events. They’ve
all got the same thing in common: they’ve overcome horrific adversity in quite an admirable way. And they’re like my real-life heroes.’
While social media has its golden side – giving people space to come together, share their stories and provide support – Katie has been subjected to her fair share of trolls. ‘I saw some really good advice the other day – I think Zoella posted it. It said, if you see someone writing something about you, you can’t take it to heart because they’re judging that one image, and that’s only a fraction of what you’ve chosen to show. That really put it into perspective for me because you’re always going to be too something for someone. Too thin, too fat, too ugly, too pretty, too loud, too quiet – you’ll never tick the box for everyone in the comments section,’ she says.
Despite what the trolls might say, Katie ticks more than a few boxes for us. A woman doing it her way, lifting up and inspiring those she meets, balancing family life with a glitzy career, determined to make the most of her lot and raise her daughters with the same strength her mother gave her.
‘Someone asked me the definition of a mother the other day, and I believe the true selfless mother raises her child so they don’t need her anymore. You should be able to let your children go and trust you’ve raised them so well that they’re independent, confident and fearless. If you do that, they’ll come back to you as your best friend.’ And that’s exactly what Katie intends to do.
Katie's beauty essentials
Katie Piper’s podcast Extraordinary People is available now