Reflections on a brother in arms, RIP


David Partridge blog

My dear brother, the Rev. Canon David Partridge, died a few weeks ago and so memories of his immense life as a pastor in his parish, Warblington with Emsworth, and as a committed pacifist and campaigner on many controversial causes like homelessness, anti-apartheid and the Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.

Three reflections about him:

First, David loathed injustice and instinctively fought against it wherever it occurred – and he often wrote to The Guardian to voice his views.

When I set up Changing Faces in the early 1990s, it was the injustices which I was touching that enraged him most. Every year before our big reception at the Mall Galleries, I took to going for a short walk into St James’ Park to gather my thoughts but also because I knew he would be there. He called the meeting ‘a rite of passage’… I called it his blessing. He would then wander into the Galleries and his hands went out to people with all sorts of disfigurements who were there. I know they felt his empathy.

Second, I was reminded of him last week when in a busy London tube. I was minding my own business but was the subject to one man’s staring and whispered chat to his fellow travellers. It’s a common experience for anyone whose face stands out. I found myself thinking back to the early years after my car-fire accident when David suggested we go for a pint at the local pub.

It was at a time when I was agonising about every single venture into a public place, learning how cruel and intrusive the reactions I would get were, and trying to work out, test and perfect my response. Everyday problems that most people never have to go through which were to become my daily bread.

As we stood at the bar in the pub, I sensed I had attracted the attention of a small group of drinkers further up the bar. “Hi there” I blurted out, “not looking at my best today”. It had the desired effect as my potential tormentors turned away somewhat chastened. And David was impressed. He often mentioned it. But, inside, I didn’t like the throwaway line because it suggested I should like to look ‘better’ and indeed ought to.

It was a rather weak response and a few years ago, I discussed it with David and we spent a few seconds dreaming up some other lines… like “Happy to tell you more about my injuries if you’d like” or “I’m not Niki Lauda in case you’re wondering” or, more assertively, “Would you mind minding your own business?”.

I soon came to realise that having a facial disfigurement meant that I would probably always lack “the civil inattention everyone takes for granted” as Frances Cooke Macgregor put it. Instead I had to learn how to face up to others’ staring, curiosity, anguish, rudeness, embarrassment and dread – their SCAREDness. I was scared too… self-conscious, clueless, awkward, … and was only just realising that, to be really effective and not belittled, I had to be pro-active in the first few seconds of every single encounter.

Taking the initiative had to become second-nature. Not at all easy. My ‘manual’ of how to do this was in my 1990 Penguin book still available [] and forms one part of what Changing Faces Practitioners (CFPs) offer to people who get in touch [].

What David would be really glad about is that the NHS is starting to recognise that the help of a CFP to learn these skills needs to be part of what is offered to patients with disfigurements – as has been shown this week with this excellent piece from the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board:

Thirdly, David was so pleased when Changing Faces launched the campaign for face equality in 2008 – see – and he likened it to other campaigns that he was so positive about – for gender equality, race equality and many others.

He knew that we had set out on a long road to familiarise and get imperfect faces valued and respected and so make it unnecessary for people like me to have to endure intrusive attention in so many everyday settings – and at work and in the movies and on social media and…. We agreed there was far to go…

But as I stood in the tube that day deciding whether to sanction the staring, I chuckled… Most of my fellow passengers were not paying me any attention at all. Maybe this was good news! Maybe they were already respecting face equality. In that instance, I chose to hold my head high, keep my body language strong and positive and be on the high moral ground above the intrusive onlooker. I refused to be roused but weathered his attention.

What’s more, I like to think that David, like my fellow passengers, was admiring my choice. Which is not to say I’m always going to let such pesky people off!

RIP, David…



Better to spend more on looking good than doing good?

On Tuesday 10 November, I spoke in a debate at the Oxford Union, organised by the Oxfordshire Community Foundation. This is the text of my speech.

The motion for debate: “This house believes that there is nothing wrong with spending more on looking good than doing good.”


Good evening, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you will observe, I have come dressed in a fine £150 suit, an elegant shirt from the Charles Tyrwhitt range, a tie out of the top drawer, shoes from Russell & Bromley, and hair styled by Toni and Guy. Total price £250. I enjoy wearing good-looking clothes – but I have no interest whatsoever in owning lots of them – and I’m hopeless at choosing which.

But that’s not important is it, compared to my face. Not pretty. Not looking good? Could do better? Severe burns at 18 made my life here as an Oxford student in the early 1970s extremely challenging. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money through the brilliant NHS were spent on getting my face to ‘look OK’.

But not good enough, of course. Because as prevailing orthodoxy would have it, without a good-looking face, I am doomed to three nasty effects: I won’t feel good inside, I won’t be liked by others and, with scars as good/bad as mine, I’m likely to live life in the shadows. I would be well-advised, you might say, to spend a lot more on ‘looking good’ – certainly much more than I do now! Not just on moisturisers but on major reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, perhaps even on a face transplant.

We live in a culture which has swallowed, hook line and sinker, the theory that ‘looking good’ brings big rewards. It also imposes a nasty stigma on people like me whose face doesn’t fit the norms of the day which is profoundly unfair.

In this culture, we are bombarded daily with slickly presented messages which tell us why spending massively on ‘looking good’ is not just good for our psyches but absolutely vital for them. If we don’t aspire to the spotless, wrinkle-free, age-less norms of appearance, our sex lives will be poorer, our self-esteem lower and our job and career prospects diminished.

The facts suggest that over 50,000 people spend £0.5bn on cosmetic surgery and that in all, £70bn each year is spent on ‘looking good’. That’s over £1,000 per person in the UK.

So on generous assumptions and including the cash-value of volunteering, £35bn a year is expended on – or given to – doing good. About half of what is spent on looking good. And by less than the half the population.

So why am I against spending of so much – and certainly any more – on looking good? For three reasons:

First, because I think the link between ‘looking good’ and being successful, feeling good and being loved is far more tenuous than is claimed and can be positively dangerous.

I work with many psychologists and they confirm that self-esteem and self-confidence are hard to acquire for most of us. Research suggests that parental support, academic achievement and the development of skills in sport, art, theatre and many other ways all combine with the quality of friendships, especially in adolescence to create our sense of self-worth. But some people’s self-esteem is heavily dependent on their looks.
Self-confidence too is gained by your ability to manage the many social encounters you have. That means your social skills have to be pro-active and your ability to deal with the judgements of others robust and resilient.

Do looks matter? Yes, of course they do… in the first five minutes of a new encounter, people do take a note of what you look like. But as Professor of Social Psychology, Michael Argyle of this great University showed years ago: when we meet someone, our first impressions are 54% determined by their overall appearance, dress etc, 34% by their gestures and body language, 8% by what they say and how they say it, and 4% by their face.

So looking good does matter but the idea that after those first five minutes, your facial looks – not your facial expressions or the quality of your eye contact – matter more than a little bit, I dispute. Sexual chemistry too is not about superficial face-value judgements – No, it’s a whole body, mind and spirit experience.

Incidentally, if you want a crazy sort of proof that there is not a very reliable correlation between ‘looking good’ and happiness, have a look at the Hollywood divorce statistics!

But psychologists also tell us that the over-zealous search for looking good has very dangerous unintended consequences. Some of those who strive to get a perfect body image do so at a severe cost to their own health. The epidemics of eating disorders, over-exercising, body dysmorphic disorder and self-harm are all obsessive behaviours designed to achieve or reacting to a frustrated search for an illusory perfect good-looking body. Research by Girlguiding found that one in five girls aged nine to 10 said the way they look makes them feel most upset, and 39% of girls say they experience demeaning comments about the way they look every week.

These are the unacceptable social costs of our ‘look good’ economy imposing massive costs on the health system most of which are preventable. The culture promoted by ultra-thin models and air-brushed faces is dangerous and needs countering. The ‘look good’ and ‘eat lots’ economy is unconstrained. Commercial pressures are hard to resist.

So there is definitely something ‘wrong’ with spending on ‘looking good.

Second, I dislike a culture which believes that looking good is not just a nice-to-have but also makes you morally good too. Research shows that many people believe it. Which is hard enough to swallow. But it’s the flipside which I detest.

Our culture perpetuates the nasty stigma that looking ‘not good’, with facial scars especially, means you are likely to be immoral, a villain, a weirdo. This lazy and nasty equation is seen not just in Bond and Elm Street films but in children’s online games too. The baddies in Moshi Monsters have names like Freakface and Fishlips who is characterised as a ‘one-eyed blob of badness’. Last week Children’s BBC gave Guy Fawkes a facial scar that – according to a Fawkes biographer – he never had.

Guy Fawkes with a mysterious facial scar - his leading biographer says there's no record of that scar.

Guy Fawkes with a mysterious facial scar – his leading biographer says there’s no record of that scar.

Encouraging spending on ‘looking good’ legitimates children in schools today being ridiculed because of their scars or birthmarks. We want our culture to respect ‘face equality’ just as race equality is coming to be.

But the third and strongest reason why I am against spending so much – and more and more – on looking good is that the monies could be put to so much better use.
Although when you watch BBC Children in Need this Friday and Comic Relief you might not think so, altruism, philanthropy and volunteering are all in retreat at a time when the need for them are rising.

With the state pulling back from so many areas of life and with more severe austerity cuts in the offing, charities are facing increasing pressures on their services – and there are so many causes to which people could give to or devote time to ‘doing good’.

Which can work miracles to people’s self-esteem and self-confidence. By volunteering to support elderly people in their neighbourhoods, getting a team together to raise sponsored money for a good cause, or finding out about how women survive after acid attacks in India or Britain and raising funds for their rehabilitation… All great ways to feel good… that you are doing something worthwhile.

So, Mr President, I strongly oppose the motion tonight: there is a great deal wrong with spending more on looking good than doing good – it is dangerous, allows stigma and prejudice, and is a waste of money. We are all the poorer because of our society’s excessive search to look good.

Why powwownow’s Zombie advert offends

Ten days ago I saw an advert on London’s transport network. Called ‘Avoid the Horror’, it featured a group of Zombies standing around a commuter on a packed tube train. Their faces display a variety of scars, bleeding mouths and exposed teeth, distorted by plastic masks.

It was a disquieting moment because I came face-to-face with this advert on King’s Cross station and the irony that this station was the scene of the worst station fire in the UK was also not lost on me – I got to know several of the survivors well in the years after that – and none of them found travelling on the Underground easy, silicon masks, scars and all.

Worse still, one of the ad’s Zombies closely resembled me and my face in the early months and years following the car fire in which I sustained 40% burns.

And the ad’s call to action to ‘Avoid the Horror’ is just as disturbing, reinforcing as it does the harmful association that people who wear masks as part of their treatment and who have burn scarring, are to be feared and avoided.

All this offence just to sell a conference call system.


Changing Faces has campaigned against the offensive use of facial scarring, asymmetrical or missing features and facial masks to deliberately incite horror, fear and revulsion in popular culture for many years – our Leo film was widely seen in cinemas and online.

And we have also been raising awareness of – drawing attention to – our society’s tendency in everyday speech to describe scarring as ‘horrific’ and disfigurement as ‘terrifying’. It is the language of the horror genre – and should remain in that only.

The problem with such popular cultural references is that, for those of us who actually do have facial scars or whose faces are asymmetrical as a result of cancer, strokes or birth conditions – one on 111 people according to a recent study – the way that people react to such images and language regularly spills over into the way we are treated in everyday life. And that matters because it can make the playground a no-go area and public transport to be avoided at all costs.

I have endured being called Freddie Kreuger and Phantom by total strangers in front of family or members of the public. Some of our clients have been called Monster, Cyclops or Alien. These insults are usually accompanied by loud laughter by the perpetrators or obscene facial gestures or running away.

Such language and imagery, if left unchallenged, subtly encourages the public to view anyone with a disfigurement with fear or avoidance or caution and it makes the individual feel vulnerable, disempowered and unlikeable. The word ‘Horror’, for example, immediately makes a judgement on a person’s appearance.

We would like to see this offensive and disempowering wording replaced with factual words and phrases like ‘extensive scarring’, ‘a person with a disfigurement’ (not ‘the disfigured’), ‘has burn scars’ rather than ‘suffers from burn scars’ and we advise the media accordingly.

The fact is that people suffer as a result of the discriminatory behaviour they encounter from others because they look different.

It is also insensitive and disrespectful to the survivors who live with scarring from their injuries sustained in the King’s Cross fire and the Paddington rail crash, and continue to use London’s transport system, to urge fellow commuters to recoil in horror from anyone whose face bears a resemblance to those in the advert.

So what happened next?

On Friday 23rd January, I emailed Jason Downes, the General Manager of PowwowNow, the company responsible for the campaign, and explained our views. I was very encouraged that he called me very quickly, listened and took on board our concerns.

After two hours he called me again to say he agreed this particular ad might well be offensive although they had not in any way intended it to be, and that he had given instructions for the digital adverts to be removed with immediate effect. He also undertook to review the other locations where the zombie ads appeared (such as in London taxis) and come back to me in the following week.

I knew that the ad campaign had cost the company £3 million to mount so this was a big vote of support for campaign for face equality for which I thanked him – and offered to publicise his support. He preferred no publicity and I agreed that.

Last Tuesday he called me – and I assumed I would hear the outcome of his review. Instead, he informed me that the ad was to be reinstated following an internal review with the marketing department and their creative agency, Homeland. I was summarily informed by the Marketing Director in an email that

“After this robust review, we have decided to re-instate the advert as a reflection of our belief in the creative concept, its clear reference to the fantasy horror genre and the fact that we are in no way targeting or discriminating against people with facial disfigurement.

We wish to re-iterate that there is absolutely no intention to offend anyone at all. In fact, this campaign is built around expressing sympathy for all people at the mercy of public transport and providing practical solutions to make their lives easier.”

I immediately asked them to reconsider. Jason Downes’ final words to me were that the firm would not be changing their mind.  End of the conversation.

Quite an about turn.

How does a marketing department and a creative agency decide whether or not an advert has caused offence to people with burn injuries?  Did they run a focus group with people like me? Did they contact Katie Piper? Did they contact Simon Weston, our Patron and Falklands veteran, Pam Warren, the King’s Cross fire survivor, or the 7/7 survivors like Davinia Douglass who was photographed clutching a surgical burn mask as she was helped out of a station? As far as I know none of them have been contacted.

I am quite sure that this campaign will divide opinion even amongst people with disfigurements but Changing Faces does not accept that images of Zombies or other characters from the horror genre which so closely resemble people with burn injuries or other disfigurements are fair game for marketing departments and ad agencies to sell their products – especially when the public are asked to ‘avoid the horror’.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people with disfigurements from discrimination but that should be a last resort. Businesses should be tuned up to the modern expectations of their customers today not using worn-out and offensive images to sell their services.

Changing Faces is determined to challenge any example of prejudicial portrayal because we are not living in the Middle Ages nor in a fantasy land nor in a horror movie. We live in the UK and it is time that people with disfigurements were given the respect and dignity they deserve.

I urge you to email and have your say.


Revisiting ‘The Elephant Man’

It’s more than two years since I blogged on the greatness of Joseph Merrick and John Hurt, two men who helped, in their different ways, to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by those living with an unusual appearance in today’s looks-obsessed world.

I was prompted to look back at that post after Time Out magazine listed a screening of The Elephant Man as one of the ‘great film events’ happening this week in London. The film critic Mark Kermode is to host a screening of this great film at the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley on Friday night. If you haven’t seen the film before, I’d urge you to take ‘time out’ to do so.

The film shows how Joseph Merrick found an advocate in Dr Frederick Treves, played beautifully by Anthony Hopkins. Sadly even 150 years later in today’s so-called sophisticated world people who look different still need those champions. Here at Changing Faces, we hear daily of the tormenting that far too frequently inhibits and diminishes lives – and that’s not helped by the like of Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters.

Sadly, the point I made in my original blog about ‘elephant man’ being a lazy yet incredibly offensive term applied in the playground, in the street and even on television, hasn’t changed. Just last month, the Daily Mail ran a story with just such a headline, and our Press Office stumble upon other such stories every week.

And it’s not only about the terminology. Today we’ve learned of ‘I’, a forthcoming Indian film in which the main villain has a facial disfigurement. Apparently it’s the most expensive Indian film ever made, and yet they rely not on special effects wizardry, but on disfigurement to make their point. Here’s the trailer.

The day will come when an unusual appearance is no longer a writer or director’s easy way out of having to think about their villainous characters, but we’re clearly not there yet. This new film is due for release this autumn, and we’ll look out for screenings in the UK and do our best to raise awareness of our Face Equality on Film campaign.

EastEnders – we must be thankful for our world-leading burns care

Like millions of other people, I’ve been following EastEnders closely these last couple of weeks.

My interest was sparked – if you’ll forgive the pun – by news that there was to be a terrible fire at the Moons’ place, after Alfie sets a bin alight in the belief he can remedy his financial woes through an insurance claim not realising that his partner, Kat, was asleep upstairs.

Kat sees her reflection in the mirror

One of the images we’ve been sharing on social media to raise awareness of our work

In a classic villain-turned-hero tale, Alfie rushes into the burning house to rescue Kat, whom we see bandaged up in subsequent episodes in Walford General Hospital.

Kat’s bandages come off in tonight’s episode, and I’ll be watching again to see just how accurately the treatment reflects the modern reality.

I’m not doing this to pick holes – in fact, I think EastEnders has given an excellent and informed picture of what getting burned is like, so far. But I do what to see how the story progresses. EastEnders has an opportunity to celebrate the world-leading NHS burns care on which we can all rely.

Some might expect me to talk of my own experience of sustaining burns in a car fire, but I’ve held off from that. What happened to me was more than forty years ago and today’s care of an acutely injured patient with severe burns is totally different.

Indeed, the EastEnders storyline has brought home to me just how far burns care has come, especially in recent years, and I believe much of this is down to the persistence of the team at Changing Faces.

We’ve worked closely with the NHS and Department of Health over the last decade to develop the world-leading national standards for burns care that are now in place nationwide. You can read below our Position Statement on burn care across the UK.

So, as you’re watching EastEnders and musing on Kat’s injuries and treatment, please do have concern for her situation but be thankful too for just how far we’ve come.

In many ways the missing link is the psychosocial care that follows – and that’s why Changing Faces is needed here. Here to help Kat, here to help anyone in that daunting, frightening situation. And here to help her family too; Alfie and all.

Will that become obvious in the story, I wonder?

Use the comments field below to tell me what you think.



Changing Faces (CF) has been lobbying for improved treatment and routine psycho-social care for burns patients and their families for many years.

The charity has advised on many developments and informed practice in many areas including:

  • Burn Care Clinical Reference Group: Patient public engagement representation on this advisory group to NHS England. CF contributes information about patient experience and advises on how to improve psycho-social elements of treatment and care.
  • London and South East Burns Network commissioned CF to produce training for all staff in burns units. This training manual is now delivered in many specialist centres in England.
  • COBIS (Burns Network in Scotland) – are currently implementing the CF training pack across specialist units in Scotland.
  • The former National Network for Burn Care in England and Wales reviewed and revised the national standards for burns treatment and a Quality Dashboard to which CF played an active role.

The structure of burn care in England/Wales

Specialist Burn Care is provided in approximately 13 hospitals for the most severe burns. Other burns are treated in the community at A and E departments, GP surgeries and local hospitals.

The specialist services usually have psychologists but there is frequently no psycho-social provision beyond specialist care.

Recent policy/guidance developments

  • Development of “key quality indicators” in England and Wales for burns specialist treatment – to include psychological assessment of patients
  • Revised National Standards currently being revised for England and Wales. CF is delighted that psycho-social care is integral to the description of care pathways which includes support on discharge and when patients are back in the community. The discharge plan should address psycho-social needs but the provision depends on local availability and patients say that it is still often lacking.

Changing Faces considers that further developments are needed

Changing Faces would like to see further developments and improvements in the following areas:

  • At many local hospitals there is a need for more training of staff to be able to assess the needs (medical and psychological) of burns patients
  • At present compliance with the revised national standards will be based on self assessments in the specialist centres. CF would like to see a more robust system for ensuring compliance. E.g. part of CQC assessment.
  • Post-discharge from specialist units care becomes fragmented and patients say that medical and psycho-social support cannot be relied upon. They describe a post code lottery in local provision.
  • Psycho-social support in the community needs to focus both on dealing with the aftermath of burns/injuries AND with the challenge of integrating back into daily life. CF can support patients and professionals in this area and has self-help resources to assist with this but more resource is needed.
  • Improved support for carers and members of the patient’s family – both emotional and practical at all stages of treatment – should be provided to help families cope with the challenges of having a relative who may have a permanently altered appearance and undergo long periods of hospitalisation as well as face challenges reintegrating into daily life. (This is provided in some specialist units).
  • Patients have identified the need for improved communication and information sharing. Patient experience mechanisms needs to be strengthened and gaps in provision need to be improved upon.

A week of connections

I love Round Britain Quiz but frustratingly rarely get all the connections.

Here’s a conundrum for you:

“What links a sculptor from Oxford, a speaker at a conference in Gdańsk, an actor in EastEnders and Dr Scroggy?”

The answer is…

Last weekend, I met Martin Jennings who sculpted Sir Archibald McIndoe’s statue in East Grinstead to commemorate his outstanding work with the Guinea Pigs – and I was struck by the similarities of those who sculpt and plastic surgeons. In Greek, ‘plastos’ means ‘to mould’ and that is indeed what sculptors do.

Years ago, a plastic surgeon called Brian Morgan instigated courses for surgeons to learn the sculptor’s art – and there are now regular courses. The Guinea Pigs came from all around the world – and on Wednesday evening last week in Gdańsk in Poland, I met Peter Neligan, now a Professor of Surgery in Seattle, who used to be a surgeon in Toronto and was the co-ordinator of the Canadian chapter of the Guinea Pigs.

Peter and I were in Gdańsk to speak at a fascinating symposium on vascular anomalies – and I left England on Tuesday to get there, which meant that I missed the EastEnders episode which so traumatised the viewers. Kat was caught in a house fire and sustained major burns.

This is an important storyline because it could open up questions of how patients and their families are treated in the British burn care system – including to address their emotional and social needs – and how Kat will be received back in Albert Square, Walford… and the nation may have to witness how prejudiced and uncomfortable we are towards people who look different.

Going back to McIndoe: he was famous not just for his surgery on the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain but for speaking up for the fair treatment of his patients with all their scars and disfigurements in the pubs, clubs and shops of East Grinstead. A public health doctor par excellence and one of the first to support face equality, like race equality.

I learned a lot in Poland and I heard from Peter Neligan of his latest edition of the six-volume tome Plastic Surgery, the state of the art book that stems back to the version in 1964. The history of facial surgery goes back the First World War and the work of Harold Gillies and his seminal textbook Plastic Surgery of the Face published in 1920.

And I have two more weeks to see the latest play about Gillies: Dr Scroggy’s War.

Bring on this week!

His is the face of a warrior for the human spirit

To be chosen as the subject of the first People’s Portrait was, as Simon Weston put it, a very humbling experience. But as he showed consistently throughout the beautifully crafted BBC film about the making of the portrait, he is a delightfully humble man.

But not in the way you might imagine I mean. Not passive or unctuous as in the mode of Dickens’ Uriah Heap. No. A strong humble. A servant with such a great commitment to helping people, inspiring people by his remarkable courage and frankness. He is not the classical hero figure rising up and charging towards a huge goal of his own imagining.

Simon Weston portrait


In one of the most telling of the conversations Fiona Bruce had with him, she asked him about his ambition… and he answered without the clarity of a determined fighter for a cause that “you’ll have to wait until I’m done” or words to that effect. He was non-specific because, I’d say having known him for nearly 25 years, that he is a man who ambitiously embraces many causes that uplift the human spirit, a warrior for good and justice. He doesn’t know what they are but when he finds them – or they him – he gives his all.

I’ve seen him on stages with young people as his audience but equally at home and compelling with the leaders of industry, commerce, medicine and the military. And he is writing children’s stories too.

All about uplifting as he was uplifted by his mother, his Welsh community and all the medics who worked on his face and body. It’s as if he is passing on the kindness and inspiration that he received to so many others.

His portrait is of a strong man with a chuckle of humour in the eye and one gnarled hand resting gently on the oak chair, the other unassumingly holding his medals. It is a fitting tribute indeed. The nation thanks you for painting him so powerfully, Nicky Phillips.

Three role models of how to live a full life with facial burns

Role models are inspirational and we need more of them, people who have been through some trauma or major life event, and come out not just surviving but in some way uplifted by the experience. In the last week or two, as a man with facial burns, I have been inspired by three men who set a shining example to us all.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting some of the Guinea Pigs, airman and tank crew whose extremely severe facial and hand burns had been treated by Sir Archibald McIndoe at East Grinstead after the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the five years of war that followed. The survivors are all in their later years now but retain a steely resilience and meet every year to continue the Club’s camaraderie at a lovely retreat on the South Coast.

I was there to talk to them about the legacy of McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club in the run-up to the unveiling of a statue in East Grinstead in June commemorating the surgeon and his work:

I walked and talked with 93-year-old Sandy Saunders who joked and chuckled like a man forty years younger! One phrase stood out: he said that he believed that many of the Guinea Pigs experienced an increase in “moral maturity” as a result of their ordeals. By which I think he meant a deeper understanding of human suffering and the needs of the disadvantaged.

His story is beautifully told in this link:

Sadly, the number of Guinea Pigs dwindles each year and I was reminded too last week of the passing of Bob Boscawen, MP for Wells in Somerset for many years who died in January. I recall meeting him very briefly years ago and being impressed not just by his strongly expressed views but by his total lack of ego. He served his constituency, country and those around him selflessly.

Last but by no means least, I was present last week at the unveiling of a portrait, chosen by the BBC’s One Show to hang in the National Portrait Gallery of one of today’s national treasures, Simon Weston, the Falklands War veteran.

Simon had not seen the portrait before the curtain was removed and was understandably very nervous about it. When the moment arrived, it revealed a superbly strong and respectful portrait by Nicky Philipps, capturing well his glinting eyes, gnarled hands and strength of being. We all watched as Simon inched forward, clearly very moved. His quiet appreciation spoke volumes… He was – and is – truly awe-struck at how people love and respect him. We could all feel his warmth and inspiration radiating around the room.

I salute these men and role models in all walks of life.

Face equality is also about thinking positively about unusual faces

Too much of the last month of my life has been taken up challenging the negative stereotyping of people with disfigurements that is still so prevalent in today’s culture (including in children’s games like Moshi Monsters) – and it has been heavy going as is explained in the footnote below….

But, thankfully, on Wednesday I was reminded that there are two sides to our campaign for face equality: not just challenging the negative but promoting the positive: that, contrary to popular mythology, people with unusual faces can and do live happy, confident, family-full lives contributing much to our society.

I am a commuter cyclist in London. It’s a dangerous method but there are lots of benefits as increasing numbers are finding, even in the wettest of winters. You get exercise, get to your destination in a predictable time and quicker than most other methods – and it’s cheaper too.

Perhaps best of all, there is a camaraderie amongst cyclists that I much enjoy – helping each other out, remarking on near-misses and being (on the whole) very courteous to each other, even if there are other road-users who treat us with less respect. But I digress!

Not surprisingly, I am easily drawn to stories about cycling – and on Wednesday evening, I spotted one by the BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Matt McGrath: “Faster cyclists are more attractive, study says” read the headline – and I hesitated because the media have an unnecessary tendency to use the word ‘attractive’ to mean beautiful.

But I read on and it was a sensible and interesting piece about what sounds like a fascinating study… But I couldn’t help myself reacting to the title so tweeted twice:

@BBCNews Science: humans may have evolved to recognise athleticism in faces; Media: faster cyclists more attractive

@BBCNews Reality? Humans interested in survival (of the fittest) cycle slowly; attractiveness comes from face, personality, skill, chemistry

But I think I should explain myself now! I was trying to make two points:

  • What the study suggested was that women’s assessment of men’s facial characteristics when shown photographs of them was a good proxy for athletic performance, stamina and endurance. In other words, women have evolved a clever shortcut to finding the ‘fittest’ (ie: most athletic) mate: check out how attractive you find a man’s face. Which is not quite what the headline says.
  • And it might seem very discouraging if you have a facial disfigurement like me. But in my view, it shouldn’t. Because my understanding is that other research has also shown two other things: first, that photographs are rarely good indicators of how attractive people are in real life. And second, that people are much more influenced when meeting someone by their gestures and body language, the quality of their eye contact, their personality, how they speak and what they say than by their facial features.

So thank you, Matt McGrath, for reminding me to keep making the point. The look of a person’s face does not and should not determine their future – unless they and we are trapped in the prevailing stereotype: ‘good looks are passports to success, not-such-good looks to failure’. Nonsense!

Footnote: For those who are not aware of Changing Faces’ latest campaign called “Don’t call me Freakface”, briefly, it aims to persuade Mind Candy and its stubborn boss, Michael Acton Smith OBE, to change the names (like Freakface) and descriptions of the baddies (like “icky one-eyed blob of badness”) in the company’s Moshi Monsters game played by over 70m young children worldwide.

These words are so offensive and potentially harmful. Actions make people or characters evil not scars, marks or asymmetric features. I don’t want to linger on the argument here – please see my previous blog, our website and our second media release on 28.1.14 –


Me on a fundraising bike ride with Changing Faces’ Head of Operational Support, Christine Muskett


Don’t call me Freakface

Mind Candy is a very successful multi-million pound British business making online games and toys. Its Moshi Monsters are played by 70m children worldwide. And you would think, wouldn’t you, that as a very modern company, it would adopt 21st Century values with relish and without hesitation?

You’d be wrong. Mind Candy is stuck in the middle ages.

Ever since last May, Changing Faces has been trying to persuade the company to revise its characterisation of its ‘bad’ Monsters. In early May, I wrote to their founder and CEO, Michael Acton Smith as follows:

Our attention has been drawn in the last 24 hours to some of the characters in your Moshi Monsters ‘series’ especially those in the Glumps family some of whom have faces, names and characters that are decidedly stereotypical and unhelpful to anyone with a disfigurement. You may be aware of a blogger, Victoria Wright, who is one of our champions and who has written very powerfully about this:

Victoria’s blog is just one of many stories that we hear every day about how our culture affects people’s lives and I’d be very keen to see if there is a way in which you at Mind Candy could work with us to tackle this issue…

His response was a stone wall. “No chance of change except, perhaps, if we create new characters” sums it up.

I am not easily blocked by a stone wall so I persisted. We met a woman from their Corporate Social Responsibility team. She listened carefully as we explained why characters with names like Freakface, Fish Lips and Bruiser put children with unusual faces at risk and were stereotypes that need to be consigned to history.

Phrases like “Bruiser’s scarred skin makes for a scary sight” do nothing to enable children with scarred skin (after burns, for example) to be included and respected by their peers.

But it had no effect. Eventually, after chasing, we got this:

Again, we are sorry to hear that any offence has been caused by any of our characters. Moshi Monsters is an imaginary world with 100s of varied characters of different shapes, sizes and origins. We work very hard to create enthralling story lines that engage and inspire kids and this includes a variety of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. We’re not alone. Many other children’s entertainment characters, from Disney to Marvel have featured characters that represent both good and bad. These have captivated children with exciting narratives over the years and are the essence of good storytelling.

As our name would imply, our characters are all ‘Monsters’ and there are many that have characteristics similar to the Glumps and are portrayed in a very positive light, (including some of our most popular characters, Zommer, Big Bad Bill and Gingersnap).

It is unfortunate that we have not been able to find a resolution that is to your satisfaction.

Wishing you all the best…

It is a weak argument. Of course, children’s thoughts and actions are influenced (unwittingly) by the imaginary worlds in which they play, the books they read and the films and visual images they are exposed to. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and know that I swallowed racial prejudice without questioning.

There is absolutely no justification for today’s toy and games makers to be perpetuating outdated facial prejudice and legitimate offensive name-calling based on people’s appearance. Actions not appearance make a person or character evil.

So today, with Anti-Bullying Week in full swing, the charity has launched the “Don’t call me Freakface” campaign which aims to get Mind Candy to:

  1. Change the names of the Moshi characters called Freakface, Fish Lips and Bruiser
  2. Stop referring to scars, spots, missing features and unusual faces as ugly, evil, scary sight, angry etc.

Please would you support the campaign by taking at least one of the following actions:

If you tweet, please tweet @mindcandy, @acton and @moshimonsters using thehashtag #freakface and a phrase like “I have acne, facial scars or other or my friend, spouse, partner, daughter has… Don’t call me/her/him #freakface”.

If you email, please email your views to with a message that includes:

Please take the following actions:

  • Change the name of Freakface, Bruiser and Fishlips as these are common terms of abuse for people like me (my child)
  • Please remove all descriptions of the Glumps which refer to scars, spots, one eyes, snuggle teeth, face like a squished blueberry, mouths that can’t close, as being evil, scary, monstrous, angry, scarface smashes etc.

Actions not appearance make a person or character evil.

If you agree, please sign our petition.

I hope you will give this campaign your support.

It is time for the way we think, write, film and talk about unusual faces to be imbued with the 21st century values of inclusion, equality and above all, respect.

Thank you.