As far as inspirational young women go, you don’t get many more as humble, motivational and charming than Katie Piper.
Six years ago, aged just 24 the television presenter and model had sulphuric acid thrown in her face in a horrifying attack that has left her permanently disfigured and scarred.
But beautiful Katie did not hide behind her injuries, or let her spirit be quashed by the unprovoked violence; she instead became an international bestselling author, founded a charity and is a role model for positivity.
Now 30, and heavily pregnant Katie gave a talk at Dean Close School to hundreds of students across Gloucestershire telling them about her story and how she overcame what was many young single women’s nightmare.
She told the audience at the Bacon Theatre: “At the age of 24 I was attacked, raped and burnt with sulphuric acid on a busy high street in London.
“It sounds like an horrendous story, but still six years on I can’t quite believe it even happened to me.
“This isn’t a story of misery, it is a story of how strong the mind really is.”
Beauty, fashion and make up were all part of Katie’s life before she was attacked – she studied beauty therapy after school and worked in a spa.
But then she followed her dream and moved to the capital in a bid to become a television presenter.
“I was a normal young women. I also felt I was invincible. But within 30 seconds my entire life changed forever,” she said.
“Perhaps before I had been ignorant, naïve, young or maybe I had just never experienced any real trauma before.
“Was I victim of domestic abuse – no I don’t think so. This was somebody I ad began to date and when I didn’t give them what they wanted they force me and decided nobody would want me again.”
Following the attack Katie was in intensive care for 12 days. She was blinded. She could not swallow, eat or speak. She said her identity had literally been burnt away with acid.
After four months in hospital in London, Katie returned home, but has since had to endure endless trips to hospitals to try to repair her face and also a two year court battle to see her attackers locked up.
For two years she had to wear a mask for 23 hours a day and became isolated.
When she made the brave step of returning outside she had people shout abuse at her because of her injuries and she was even once asked to leave a pound shop.
She said: “I really battled with the injustice at that time. But the more negative reactions I started to received, I became motivated.
“I wanted to take some of the control back. I fought so hard for my life in ICU that I wanted to live it.
“People say it is what’s inside that counts, and although I do believe it, it is hard to take when you are disfigured at the age of 24.
“But I believe the human spirit truly radiates every lasting beauty.
Katie decided to go public with her story and took part in a year-long documentary called Katie: My Beautiful Face, which went out to an audience of 3.5 million.
She said viewing that was made her realise she would not be beaten.
“I was then, I realised. Seeing myself on the screen was a turning point. Why was I hiding away, being a prisoner? I decided after that I was not going to be a victim anymore,” she said.
“I would talked positively to myself and look for the positive even if I didn’t believe it and gradually it started to come true.”
In 2009 she set up The Katie Piper Foundation to help others with scars and disfigurement and following the documentary Simon Cowell contacted her to help run it.
More than four years following her attack, Katie found love and is just weeks away from giving birth to her first child – a baby girl.
She told the students: “We all carry scars physically and mentally. When you carry physical scars they do take you back to what happen, but actually it is the invisible scars that are the hardest to live with and often take the longest to heal.
“My attackers have blemished the surface and left a permanent mark, but the evil in them has shown a different side to me. My scars have saved my life.”
Pupils from Dean Close, Bournside, Pittville, Cleeve, Ribston Hall, Winchcombe, Stroud High and members of the Stroud Youth Council all came along to her talk. It is one of a series of talks set up by a beneficiary with the aim of inspiring young people.