Phantom: a 19th Century parable or 21st Century reality?

I finally got to see the Phantom of the Opera last night 14 years on since it was created – not that I didn’t know the story – I’d seen the film on a plane years ago. It was a birthday present to me so we made an evening of it… food before, great entertainment… much relaxation all round.

I winced at the painful lyrics – ‘ my hideous visage’ or words to that effect – and connived in the sympathy wafting towards the Phantom from the audience but comforted myself with the argument that ‘of course, that was the 19th Century and things have changed so much since – much less stigma today about facial disfigurement. I had walked in, maskless, through the front door of the theatre after all not via the cellars…

Coming out at the end into the wet reality of central London, 21st Century style – with i-Phones flashing and beeping – I found myself being stared at by a respectable middle-aged woman who then blurted out to her friends and everyone else milling around – ‘ Hey, look, there’s the Phantom – over there, look’… did a double take, turned and walked off.

My wife who’d witnessed it was as flabbergasted as I was – in 2010… My daughter captured me on camera in front of the Phantom of the Opera sign a few minutes later, in a state of shock frankly but refreshed and newly committed to the cause. Not hurt but reminded in stark terms how far there is to go before people’s cultural reflexes are civilised towards facial disfigurement.

Two hours earlier, I’d congratulated Lucas one of young Face Equality Champions on his powerful advocacy on BBC Breakfast TV against bullying in school – and he’d been to the Anti-Bullying Summit where he and others had made our case to stamp out bullying in the playground – you can read and watch more on our website:

Reading in the programme notes that the sequel to Phantom is set on Coney Island where the 1890s freak shows were played out is profoundly depressing. Thousands of people are seeing these – I think I need to write to Lord Lloyd-Webber to suggest he commits to our Face Equality campaign – or perhaps he could construct a 21st Century parable next?

More immediately, everyone should watch tonight’s documentary on BBC3 – see


Beacons and fires

Remember, remember the 5th November! Guy Fawkes night and not a firework to be seen – yet…

Fireworks like beacons are lit with a purpose, to be seen and attract attention – but sometimes fireworks like fires can have unintended consequences – let’s hope everyone has a safe but enjoyable night.

Yesterday, I was honoured to receive a Beacon Prize for Leadership in the stunning Goldsmith’s Hall which was almost certainly standing when Guy Fawkes got up to his mischief! There in front of so much gold plate, I received flattering applause and said that I was proud to be a Beacon. They made a little film about me too – which says quite a lot in a short space, I think: 

The unintended fire that caused my injuries all those years ago had the effect of making my face and me stand out from the crowd – and attract a huge amount of unwanted attention. This was acutely uncomfortable and it took me much trial and error to work out how to live confidently and with high self-esteem with my face.

I used yesterday’s occasion to publicly thank everyone who has helped me to do so – my parents and family, friends and colleagues – and now, all the generous donors who have enabled me to create an organisation dedicated to empowering others to do similar whatever the cause of their facial disfigurement… and to changing the way in which the wider culture accepts and welcomes our faces in all their diversity.

I said I was proud to be a Beacon, a leading light perhaps but what I now realise I should have said is that what I really want – eventually – is not to be a beacon any more because there are so many ‘lights’ around me, people with unusual faces living fulfilled lives in a fully inclusive, fair and non-prejudiced society…