Newsflash: it's time to face up to disfigurement

Five's lunchtime bulletin is to radically test prejudices about the looks of newsreaders, reports Ian Burrell

Channel Five, the broadcaster which famously pays the glamorous Natasha Kaplinsky £1m a year to read the news, will today put before the autocue a man who, to use his own description, has a face made up of "a patchwork quilt of scars".

Fronting the Five News lunchtime bulletin today and throughout this week will be James Partridge, whose face was so horrifically burned in a car accident that he needed five years of surgery to replace it with skin grafted from his back and other parts of his body. Partridge, 57, has had intensive training to be a news anchor – one of the most prestigious roles in broadcasting and one of the most controversial given the apparent obsession of television executives with youthful good looks.



The question, which Partridge himself quickly raises, is whether it's all just a big stunt? "Well, of course it is, in a way, but we don't make any excuses for that," he says. "We see this is as a way of challenging people's perceptions." Partridge has had 39 years since his teenage road crash to deal with the embarrassment of strangers being repulsed by his looks, but still acknowledges that his appearance might cause some viewers to reach for the remote. "The question as to whether people will switch off is interesting," he says. "If it's the case that disfigurement is not seen as 'acceptable' in the role of news reading then we have a long way to go in terms of changing attitudes in Britain."



A former farmer and A-level teacher, Partridge is now chief executive of the charity Changing Places, which represents half a million people in Britain with disfigurements to the face, hands or body caused by birth defects, accidents, disease, war and street violence. He managed to persuade Five News executives Chris Shaw and David Kermode that an experiment in newscasting could be especially powerful in confronting prejudice. "Newsreading was interesting because it's full frontal to the camera, there's no holding back," he says. "Too often, disfigurement is shrouded in negativity and tragedy, presented as something to be hidden away or surgically removed."



He admits to nerves, saying: "I don't want to appear on screen and make a fool of myself. But they have put me through some tough training." The five-minute, 12.30pm news – unlike Kaplinsky's live 5pm bulletin – is pre-recorded just before broadcast, minimising the danger of Partridge making howlers. He has a little broadcasting experience, having once hosted Down On The Farm With James Partridge on Radio Guernsey during his time as a dairy farmer.



Britain's highly paid newscasters might be nervous at the prospect of a newcomer making the job look easy, but Partridge says it is "much harder than I was anticipating". "It's not the reading per se, it's getting the right tone, the right pace, the right emphasis," he says. "There's some considerable skill to it. I will be wearing L plates and I hope it won't show too much."



Kermode, the editor of Five News, produced by BSkyB, says he is confident the audience will not switch off, particularly after commissioning a YouGov survey which found that 84 per cent of viewers said they had no problem with someone with a facial disfigurement presenting a television programme. "We are of the view that it is important to address disability as it relates to the media and to have some balanced representation on and off screen," adds Kermode.



Partridge said it was important that Five committed to the project for a week, rather than just a single bulletin. Before he goes on air, he will be dusted with the air-brush to reduce shine ("we did some screen tests and the lights were unkind") but he will otherwise avoid make-up, unlike his colleagues in the newsreading business. And he's happy to do just the lunchtime bulletin. "It's extraordinary how quickly it goes but it's very concentrated. Doing a half-hour news bulletin, that's a serious challenge."



In the years immediately after his disfigurement, Partridge greatly regretted the loss of the "social anonymity" that comes with being able to walk into a crowded room unnoticed. "Gradually I got used to the idea that being noticeable was something I could handle," he says. "Being in the public eye is something I have decided I need to do in order to make things easier for many other people. That's why I'm doing this."



Newsreaders can find themselves cast aside not just through lack of beauty but for having grown older (witness the treatment of Moira Stuart). That's one thing Partridge seems less worried about. "One of the bonuses of having a face like mine, mostly composed of skin from other parts of my body, is that the ageing process is held back," he comments cheerily. "Because it's tight you don't get very much wrinkle."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape