“I had to go against every ounce of my body which was telling me to run,” says Katie Piper.
It was already far from a typical working day for Katie Piper. The activist and TV presenter was working as a volunteer police officer as part of her documentary, Famous and Fighting Crime, alongside the likes of Jamie Laing and Penny Lancaster.
And then she came upon a burning block of flats in Peterborough.
Naturally, Piper’s fight-or-flight response (also known as the acute stress response) was triggered. However, she forced herself to ignore the inner voice telling her to run, and instead decided to stay and help deal with the threat.
Speaking to The Mirror, Piper explained: “I had to go against every ounce of my body which was telling me to run, then it just hits you, there are children in there, people are asleep, we have to go in.
“I thought, ‘these people are going to get badly burned if we don’t help them’, you run the numbers in your head and realise if we don’t go in, people could be killed or have their lives changed for ever.”
She added: “Me and my boss had to go in because there was no other choice. People were asleep, children were asleep, disabled people were asleep…
“I vowed I would never put myself in danger again and here I am.”
Thanks to her and the team’s efforts no one died. But every single one of the 50 residents in the burned-out block had to be rehoused.
Ed Coulthard, the show’s executive producer, has commended Piper for her bravery.
“She raced from floor to floor banging on doors to get the tenants out and on to the street,” he recalled.
“It was a frightening scene but she showed real courage.”
Of course, Piper has always been one of the bravest women we know. The activist had sulphuric acid thrown into her face by Stefan Sylvestre in 2008. He had been hired by Piper’s ex-boyfriend, Daniel Lynch, who is currently serving two life sentences in prison.
The attack left Piper partially blind and with horrific burns and lifelong scarring (all of which required more than 300 surgical procedures). However, she fought to turn the experience into something positive, and went on to set up a charitable organisation, the Katie Piper Foundation, to help burns victims and people suffering from disfiguring injuries.
In 2016, Piper gave a highly-charged and emotional talk at Stylist Live, during which she described how she came back from the brink after the attack.
“This is not a story of misery,” she told the audience. “This is a story of how strong the human mind can be.”
Piper continued: “I chose to be a survivor. Now I love my scars because they gave me my new life.
“One of the most powerful tools we all possess is human spirit. To me, that’s what radiates beauty. We’ve all been touched by it – but no one has ever been touched by the perfect skin.”
And, in her latest essay, Piper has made sure to echo this sentiment.
“Words like ‘inspirational’ and ‘brave’ are bandied around so easily,” she writes, “but there’s no such thing as a superhero – and celebrity is a cult.
“This inspirational spirit is in everyone… most of us don’t draw on it until we’re pushed to the limit.”
Famous and Fighting Crime starts on Channel 4 next Monday (11 Feb) at 9pm.
Image: Sarah Brick Photography