Katie Piper: 'It makes me so happy that perceptions of beauty are gradually changing'
From sneaking workouts while the kids play, to keeping her mum's trusty advice close, Katie Piper tells Gabrielle Fagan how she keeps the balance
ALONGSIDE author, campaigner, presenter and charity founder, Katie Piper can now count Strictly contender among her ever-growing list of achievements.
Piper (35) who has two daughters – Belle, four, and baby Penelope, 11 months – with her husband Richard Sutton, was partnered with Gorka Marquez on the hit BBC show. She reached week four before being voted off recently and, despite being hit by nerves, describes the experience as a "fantastic journey".
Taking part in the show was quite a change from her usual, jam-packed routine: She set up the Katie Piper Foundation in 2009 – a year-and-a-half after suffering life-changing burns in an acid attack in March 2008, requiring around 250 operations as a result (during her Strictly stint, Piper had to deal with the "difficult" news that her attacker had reportedly been freed from prison) – to support others also affected by scars and burns.
Here, the mum-of-two talks about coping with nerves on the dance show, how she deals with tough times and keeps well, and why she has no regrets...
So how was Strictly?
"I don't think I'll ever have that much fun anywhere else. It was wonderful, positive, and scary and crazy and, as I never imagined I'd be able to dance in front of strangers, a really big thing for me. I'm so proud I managed it.
"My biggest battle was nerves. Despite the fact I'm so confident normally – I've done a one-woman tour and TV work – there's something about stepping onto that ballroom floor! Forgetting my steps on week one was awful, but at least other celebrities like Ruth Langsford have experienced that.
"If I was being my own worst critic and having that 'You're not good enough' tape playing in my head, I'd read back daily notes I kept of positive things which happened and what I was learning, which boosted me.
"Confidence is about perspective and not slipping into comparison. Gorka's lovely, he was very patient and I'm now hooked on dancing. My husband and I plan to join a salsa club."
You got some critical comments from the judges, especially Craig Revel Horwood – was that hard to take?
"I think the judging was very fair, and I was grateful to get as far as I did. Strictly was a far bigger challenge than I ever expected. I thought I'd pick it up in a couple of lessons but there's so much to remember – and I don't have a natural rhythm and am clearly not the greatest dancer!
"While it's hard to hear criticism, you want the judges to be honest and tell you what's wrong because that's their role. At the end of the day, it's about them giving honest feedback, telling the truth and helping people better themselves in dance and progress.
"When Craig's in the bar afterwards, he's not the judge, he's just Craig and is really, really nice. My four-year-old, Belle, summed it up really, when I told her I wasn't on the show any more and she said, 'Oh, so you're not good enough then!'"
How do you feel at this stage in your life?
"I'm happy where I am at 35. I'm so far away from the incident that happened to me – it was a decade ago – and I very much live in the present and plan for the future. The important things for me are stability, consistency and love, and I have that through my family, so that's a great place to be.
"I'm self-sufficient, but it's brilliant to have people in your life that you love, who love you and are important to you. I feel very fulfilled having our two girls, and I think our family's complete for the moment."
What inspired your new look – going from blonde to brunette?
"I enjoy looking good and love experimenting with my hair colour. I've just gone from blonde to brunette, and keep looking in the mirror and not recognising myself!
"It makes me very happy that people's perceptions of what's beautiful and attractive are gradually changing. I've just met Kelly Knox, a successful model who just fronted Primark's latest fashion campaign, who was born without a lower arm and left hand, and Jack Eyers, an amputee, who's just won the Mr England title. I hope my appearing on Strictly also helped a little bit in moving things forward."
How do you cope during tough times?
"Meditation really gives me moments of calmness, in what's a very busy stressful life. I started doing it when I suffered some postnatal anxiety and depression after I had Penelope, and had gone back to work within two months of her birth.
"I began using meditation apps to target whatever I was feeling, whether it was anxiety, anger or needing to sleep, but now I do it on my own and aim for 15-minute sessions twice a day.
"I'm very conscious that mental health needs to be looked after as much as physical health. I use my new book, Confidence: The Journal. Confidence is found from within, and writing down personal thoughts, acknowledging positive things and seeing progress towards goals is really helpful, empowering and calming."
How do you look after your health?
"I did a half marathon recently. Road running is great for me, I put on a podcast and savour an hour on my own, away from the family, which helps me recharge and relax. I also do weight-lifting and boxing.
"I've gradually lost around two stone, which I put on in pregnancy, by exercising regularly and improving my diet. I have a sustaining breakfast, something like oats and fruit or maybe eggs, which sets me up for the morning. I try to eat mindfully, by focusing on a meal and not going on social media or watching TV at the same time.
"As a mum of two under-fives, I have to fit workouts around them. Sometimes I'll go in gym gear to the park with the kids and while they play, I'll do a cardio workout.
"I'm all for treats at the weekends, like a glass of wine and some dark chocolate. I don't have to over-protect my skin but I do use a detergent, Neutral 0%, especially designed for people with sensitive skin."
Do you have any regrets?
"No, I don't, because I think if there's anything in your life that you look back on and wish you'd done differently, you still have the opportunity to do so. I love the saying that there's no such thing as failure – it's just practise for getting it right and enjoying success.
"My mum's advice to me has always been: 'Get on with it, dear!' And that always rings in my head at tricky times."