Single-eyed, single-minded and superb

My prayers and sympathies go out to Marie Colvin’s family. Many tributes have already been paid and she will be sorely missed for her remarkable reporting of the ghastly effects of war on people in the firing line.

She literally wore that commitment not on her sleeve but on her face. I met her only once but that once was enough for me to see the strength of a woman driven to reveal the inhumanities of war and conflict but also one who knew at first hand just a little of suffering – and only a tiny fragment, she would say.

We met about 18 months after she had lost her eye in Sri Lanka and she spoke about the pain, the surgeries and her disfiguration openly but without the slightest hint of self-pity. Her attitude was one I admired hugely.

She said she had seen far worse disfigurement and had met people who’d clearly made a complete adjustment. She was not going to let it diminish her life in any way and had already learned to get used to and ride over the tiresome side-effects. We compared notes on the staring, questions, names and turning-away that are par for the course – and ruminated whether these reactions are any worse or more inhibited in some countries than others.

Most of all, I recall her unaffected attachment to her eye patch – which was hardly beautiful or well-fitting but she thought it just about did the necessary. I told her that the man I most admired with an eye patch was a lovely barrister, Henry de Lotbinière, sadly no longer with us either, who’d made a habit, a fashion, of cutting the end off his ties to cover his eye patches – maybe she could make a similar statement. She was having none of it – not amused at all… Black and simple and functional was all she needed.

I asked her if she would be willing to be a champion for ‘face equality’ if an opportunity arose – and she politely said “of course”. But, of course, typically, she needed absolutely no request from me to be such a champion. She was one everyday and everywhere she went.

Marie Colvin, RIP.


Celebrating two Giant Men

Joseph Merrick was born 150 years ago this August in Leicester and although he only lived 27 years, became something of a celebrity in Victorian England. His condition was not properly diagnosed during his life but he is now thought to have had combination of neurofibromatosis type I and Proteus Syndrome. Merrick offered himself to a music hall in order to earn an income and so escape the workhouse – a social entrepreneur of his day, you could say – and although paraded and ridiculed mercilessly, he stood his ground proudly.

His notoriety was beautifully conveyed to cinema through the superb acting of John Hurt, so rightly honoured at the BAFTA Awards for his amazing 50 years in cinema and theatre, in David Lynch’s 1980 film called The Elephant Man. He gives a beautiful interview which I encourage everyone to watch.

Joseph Merrick and John Hurt – who is also a Patron of Project Harar in Ethiopia, an NGO supporting children with facial disfigurements – are dignified advocates for the rights of people with unusual-looking faces.

Sadly, in today’s culture, respect for this remarkable human being has been replaced by the use of his assumed freak show name as a term of ridicule – applied to children who look different in schools and, so far without apology, by well-known and well-paid presenters of a popular TV programme about cars (see the PS below).

My purpose here is to celebrate two Giant Men who, in their different ways, have helped to raise public awareness of the difficulties posed for those who look imperfect in this look-perfect culture. Joseph and John, I salute you!


PS: See our press release which was well-covered in the Telegraph and the Guardian; and the offensive remarks too, about 17 minutes in.

If you’d like to add to our effort, please contact the BBC  and Ofcom  and add your personal complaint. We have asked for a public apology from Jeremy Clarkson on the programme and asked that the BBC works with Changing Faces again to refresh its policy on face equality.