Katie Piper is used to deflecting personal slights. Ever since the horrific acid attack which changed her appearance and her life, she has steeled herself to everything from being stared at in the street to — extraordinary as it sounds — being targeted by vicious trolls online.
She has also established an impressive career as an advocate for burns survivors. The Katie Piper Foundation is the UK’s only charity dedicated to rehabilitating adult burns survivors and those with severe trauma scarring.
She is the face of hair-care brand Pantene, hosts a podcast, Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, and in 2018 was a hit on Strictly Come Dancing, with professional Gorka Marquez.
Katie Piper, pictured, is used to deflecting personal slights after she was attacked with acid 12 years ago which changed her appearance and life forever and has established an impressive career as an advocate for burns survivors
She has revealed the dramatic moment she had a supernatural experience in hospital after the attack which changed her life forever. Pictured, Katie with her daughter Penelope after an operation
But she admits she waited with bated breath to see what viewers would make of her latest incarnation — as a presenter of BBC One’s Songs Of Praise.
In the event, the 36-year-old needn’t have worried. From the moment she made her first appearance on the world’s longest-running religious TV programme on September 20, she has carved out her own, arguably more stylish niche, compared with former hosts such as the late Sir Harry Secombe and Alan Titchmarsh.
Viewer comments vary from praise for her courage in stepping forward, to compliments on a trendy leather jacket she wore.
The BBC must be cock-a-hoop. After all, former models with tumbling blonde hair who are willing to talk about their faith with such passion are, to say the least, in short supply.
Bosses picked Katie to join regular presenters Aled Jones and Katherine Jenkins after she made a stand-out appearance with mum Diane in a Mother’s Day edition in March.
One thing viewers can’t fault Katie on is her faith — she is a devout Christian, and credits her belief with turning her life around.
Since the experience, Katie has turned to religion and attends a church near her house in London regularly with her family. She says before then, she never really visited church and that her mother Diane, pictured with Katie as a child, and father David never took her and her siblings there
Before she married her husband, carpenter Richard Sutton, in November 2015, she insisted they take marriage classes. They spent every Sunday for six weeks discussing their relationship in intimate detail with an older Christian couple.
‘Everyone should do it,’ Katie says. ‘It was a great way of exploring our feelings and discussing love and commitment.’ The family attend church regularly near their London home. Every night before bed, Katie prays with daughters Belle, six, and Penelope, two.
Katie’s faith is unexpected because she was born into a non-religious family.
Mum Diane, a primary school teacher, and dad David, a barber, never took Katie and her siblings to church.
‘My parents don’t regard themselves as Christians. I wasn’t even baptised,’ she says. ‘But they had good values. They instilled in us to love our neighbours and treat others as we’d like to be treated.’
Katie explains that she became a Christian 12 years ago, as she recovered from the most horrifying event of her life.
After winnings the hearts of Songs of Praise viewers on the Mother’s Day special, Katie, pictured, was asked to join the regular presenters Aled Jones and Katherine Jenkins
Aged 24, she had moved out of the family home in Andover, Hampshire, and was living in London, appearing on late-night TV shows, when she was contacted on Facebook by a man called Danny Lynch. He told her he owned property and was also studying computing.
With 30 mutual friends on the website, he seemed credible. And after he won her over with numerous lovely messages, she started to see him romantically.
However, when she began to doubt his stories, things rapidly turned ugly. Lynch raped her and then arranged for an associate, Stefan Sylvestre, to throw sulphuric acid in her face.
Katie was horrifically injured, losing her eyelids, part of her nose and one ear, and has since endured more than 250 operations.
While she was in hospital, lying immobile in agony, a nurse started talking to her about God.
‘Had anyone known, she would probably have been sacked for breaking ethics by discussing religion,’ says Katie. ‘But she was just doing it out of Christian kindness to comfort me.
After moving out from her family home in Andover, Hampshire, she became romantically involved with a man named Danny Lynch and she soon became suspicious of the stories he told
‘At that point, I really felt my life was over. But I remember her telling me: “Things happen for a reason. This is not the end. God has great things in store for you.” That night I prayed for the first time. Then the weirdest thing happened. The room seemed incredibly bright, and I felt I was being enveloped in a warm hug.
‘A voice in my head said: “Everything’s going to be OK”.’
It is clear Katie believes she felt a divine presence: ‘I didn’t see God or angels, but I felt an incredible sense of being loved.’
Katie’s faith has obviously been a huge source of strength through her ongoing physical challenges.
Her most recent operation in July, taking skin from her armpit to graft onto her eyelid, left her looking so wounded her daughters were frightened. ‘The eyelid was originally a skin graft. But it had shrunk, so my eye was closing,’ she says.
‘The procedure used skin from my arm to graft a new eyelid.’
Katie was so bruised after the procedure that daughter Belle begged her not to pick her up from school.
‘She was reassured when I explained what had happened and that I would look like my old self again,’ she says.
Her faith has helped Katie to manage the mental scars of her ordeal — and the unbearable ongoing saga of her attackers’ release from prison.
Katie said she felt some kind of divine presence when she was laid in the hospital bed 12 years ago recovering from the horrific attack. Pictured, Katie on her first episode of Songs of Praise
She steadfastly refuses to talk about either man, but must have found it hard to see Stefan Sylvestre released from jail in 2018 after serving just six years of his life sentence. He was recalled to prison last November — only to be cleared for release once more in June. But she is adamant she has forgiven both men. ‘I am a Christian. I have forgiven.’
For Katie, the past few months have been particularly hard because she has been separated from her mum, Diane — her greatest support. Diane has been battling bowel cancer for six years, and the disease has spread to her lung, liver, skin and lymph nodes. The immunotherapy treatment she is receiving to keep the cancer at bay makes her particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, so they have had to be apart for many months.
‘I miss Mum terribly, but we both know it’s for the best. It’s easy to see the pandemic as a tunnel with no end in sight. But it is just a brief interruption. I’ve been through so much worse.’
Katie’s new role, she hopes, will help convince viewers of the central truth of her life: that we can all get through the worst of times and thrive.
‘Dwelling on what happened to me would just be giving the attack more power,’ she says firmly. ‘I have always been determined to write the ending of my story and to do something meaningful with my life.’
With her latest move — and the very public declaration of the importance of her faith — she is certainly doing that.