If there’s one thing that has helped Katie Piper when it comes to her wellbeing, it’s “not losing faith in how strong the mind can be”.
The 36-year-old presenter, author, activist and model has been through devastating times in her life – she suffered life-changing burns in an acid attack in March 2008, and has since undergone around 250 operations.
Remembering “how in control you actually are of the mind and the body” is important, she continues, “because sometimes moments of your life are taken out of your control. But it’s what you do with it afterwards that will truly count or have the biggest impact.”
Hampshire-born Piper – who has written memoirs and self-help books – is incredibly uplifting to chat to. She’s passionate about keeping the conversation about wellbeing open at home, where she lives with her husband, carpenter Richard Sutton, and their two children, six-year-old Belle and two-year-old Penelope.
Now, she has decided to share the relaxation techniques and rituals she does with her daughters on TV, in CBBC’s Celebrity Supply Teacher.
While some schools have now reopened, lockdown measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic means parents are having to home-school their children, while also working from home. And the series sees a variety of famous faces stepping in to help with lessons, including former Spice Girl Geri Horner, astronaut Tim Peake, footballer Marcus Rashford, former politician Ed Balls, Paralympian Ellie Simmonds, and singer Kelis.
Loosely based around the primary curriculum, there are 20 10-minute episodes covering topics such as science, English, geography, dance, history, and cookery.
Piper’s subject is wellbeing, something which she says schools are “getting a lot better” at including as part of their teaching.
At my children’s school, they do meditation, they do yoga,” she notes. “It was even part of the home-schooling, so I was actually really pleased that we are, as a society, recognising that mental and physical health are very equal.”
Taking over the classroom in Celebrity Supply Teacher – in which her voice is incredibly soothing to listen to – she talks about the benefits of practising gratitude; for example, writing down what you are grateful for each day in a journal, as well as how you can use breathing to calm yourself down.
“When you look back over things like gratitude journals, it gives you perspective, it helps you reflect in a more positive way rather than in a negative way. That’s why it’s such a good ritual because it’s not just about doing it at that time, it’s about creating the material that you can come back to.”
The last few months have obviously been a stressful and anxious time for everyone. Has Piper been using these sorts of relaxation methods herself even more than normal lately?
“Yeah, and I think it’s been really important to be mindful and check in with yourself and go, ‘Actually, what I need to do is stop overthinking this, pause, go out in the garden, have a coffee, breathe or just think about what’s happening today’ – don’t go beyond today.
“It’s just being mindful and checking in with yourself and saying, ‘Am I overwhelming myself? Is it necessary?’ And that’s the thing – no-one is going to take care of your mental health but you, it is your responsibility.”
Her children have recently returned to school and pre-school, but she admits home-schooling “came with its challenges”.
She says: “Sometimes they would have too much screen time and get frustrated, and other times we did really great stuff like picking stuff from the garden and making collages with leaves and flowers and really great art projects. So, I think, like most people, it was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, if I’m honest.”
One positive of lockdown is that it has given us “the most valuable currency of all, which is time” she says. “And, if you’re a parent, time with your children is priceless, particularly if you’re a working parent; you’re never going to get this time to be at every mealtime and every bedtime again.”
Over the last few months, she and her husband have succeeded in teaching their eldest daughter to ride a bike without stabilisers.
“So, that was really lovely,” she gushes proudly. “And there are lots of videos for the grandparents. We also potty trained my two-year-old, which was really great because she’s gone back to pre-school now in her big girl pants and is really happy.”
When it comes to Piper’s career, she says she’s “really fortunate to do stuff that I’m passionate about, that I believe in”.
After she gave up her right to anonymity in 2009, she made Channel 4 documentary Katie: My Beautiful Face to increase awareness about burn survivors. She also presents a series on the channel called Bodyshockers, and was a star of the 2018 series of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing.
She admits she has had TV projects paused because of Covid-19. But a positive is that she has been able to dedicate more time recently to her podcast, Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, in which she chats with inspirational people who have turned incredible adversity into powerful positivity.
Then there’s her charity, the Katie Piper Foundation, which she set up in 2009, to help support people with burns and scars – something she wants to put a lot of energy into in future.
“It’s a really difficult time for them. We’ve been directly affected by coronavirus with our patients, and then, of course, their funding has also been cut. So, we are trying to find new and inventive ways to raise funds. But we will get there, and we will keep positive and keep going.”
Asked if she’s finding it emotional knowing the charity is struggling, she muses: “I mean I suppose I’m in quite a good stable position; I know I can be strong and support the team.
“But, yeah, there are survivors at the start of their journey who, regardless of our funding cuts, they all need our help, they still need their treatments, so we need to find ways to make that work.”
Celebrity Supply Teacher airs on CBBC from Monday to Friday until July 3, with Katie’s episode on Tuesday June 23, and is also available on BBC iPlayer.