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5 minutes with: Sue Hampton

PUBLISHED: 12:30 30 June 2016 | UPDATED: 14:28 24 May 2017

Photograph: Mikaela Morgan

Photograph: Mikaela Morgan

Archant

Sue Hampton, novelist and Alopecia UK ambassador, who led her team to a £29,000 victory on the BBC quiz show Eggheads, explains the role of the charity and her experience of the condition

Tell us about your Eggheads experience and why you did it.

I thought it would be great if five bald women took on the Eggheads for two reasons. The first was to make the hairy world aware of the condition and show with our confident smiles that we’re not ashamed – we’re kicking alopecia into touch. The second was to hearten people watching who have alopecia or feel different too. I said that if we won, the money would go to Alopecia UK, but that possibility seemed remote. Our triumph - £29,000 - felt joyous and unreal. We didn’t really know each other beforehand and recruiting the team took nine months but we’re firm friends now.

What does being an Alopecia UK ambassador involve?

Unlike fellow ambassadors, I have no Olympic gold medal like Joanna Rowsell-Shand and I don’t play rugby for England like Heather Fisher but as an author who has been booked by about 600 schools to lead writing workshops I can walk in bareheaded and inform children about alopecia every time. My message is one of respect for diversity. It’s OK to be different. Sometimes, and this is always very special, I have the privilege of supporting a student with alopecia at the same time. I was invited to be an ambassador because my novel with an alopecia character (The Waterhouse Girl) has made life just a little easier for readers young and old who have the condition. I sometimes represent the charity with a speech at a fundraiser and visit other support groups than the one I lead in Berkhamsted.

How does the condition affect those who have it?

Alopecia is auto-immune. It can be patches (areata) or total, and all over. It’s very unpredictable, which is one of the challenges. Mine is alopecia universalis and over 25 years not one hair has regrown but some people get it back only to lose it all over again. Without eyelashes, eye infections are common and some have other auto-immune conditions too. There isn’t a ‘cure’. Many find it overturns identity and undermines confidence. Most wear wigs in order to fit in and feel accepted as ‘normal’ and everyone who doesn’t, experiences ignorant cruelty now and then.

What support is available?

Online support is available through the Alopecia UK website and Facebook group and there are support groups where people can feel understood. There are also days out and a Big Weekend each year. Being with others is very liberating and it’s a strong, vibrant community where we have enormous fun and bond. Anyone experiencing hair loss is very welcome at the Herts support group. Details are at alopeciaonline.org.uk

What do you have planned next?

My latest novels are for adults, published by Magic Oxygen (see suehamptonauthor.co.uk). I’m always writing, but I’m also going to be speaking about the Eggheads triumph at a few WI and other groups. The story I’ll share ends with the final question on the show, because incredibly, the answer which gave us victory was on the third page of my first book. It seemed fitting, because it was my story that made me stronger, earning me the praise of Michael Morpugo and my role with the charity. My character with alopecia really did change my life.

 

Photography by Mikaela Morgan

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