How We Met: Pam Warren & Simon Weston

'I'd love to be able to say I was this great guru, but I wasn't'
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The Independent Online

Pam Warren, 44

Since suffering horrific burns to her face and hands in the Paddington rail crash of 1999, Warren has been an active rail safety campaigner. She's now heavily involved in disfigurement charity The Healing Foundation and is working on her autobiography. She lives in London

A year after the train crash I was approached by The Healing Foundation, which wanted me to become one of their ambassadors. Simon was already a lead ambassador there, so I'd seen him at functions in passing, but I only knew him as the Falklands hero.

It was when I was going through a dark patch in my recovery, in 2002, that the CEO of the charity suggested I went and had a chat with Simon, and drove me all the way to Cardiff to meet him. He had this easy-going attitude and wicked sense humour. We connected immediately. We talked about what he'd been through – to say he is lucky to be alive is an understatement – and I couldn't believe how someone who'd been through all that could be so happy and laidback, without a trace of bitterness.

At the time I was going through all these emotions that I'd never admitted to anyone, not a psychologist or even my husband: I was having flashbacks, nightmares and huge problems coping with life. But I felt so relaxed in his company on that first visit I just blurted it out: "I think I have a drink problem."

His joviality suddenly dropped and he said, "Explain to me what's going on." So I told him how I was disappearing down a bottle and had been for the past year and people had started to say things about my behaviour. He looked calmly at me and said, "You might be surprised to know, but that's happened to me quite a few times." And that's where the friendship took a leap.

There was no accusation from him, he'd been through it himself. He just said to me, "You've got two choices: keep doing what you doing, become a full-blown alcoholic and destroy everything around you, or stop and pull yourself back." I would have reacted badly to anyone else saying that, but he knew what it was like to be burnt, had been through it all, and I could see how good his life was now. When I got home I could still hear him echoing around in my head, and something stirred within me. I found all the alcohol in the house and tipped it down the sink. It was a lynchpin moment.

He always says to me he doesn't care what people think about how he looks, but I'm actually not that blasé about it; I care what people think and I have struggled with how I'm perceived. But at least now now I find life exciting again and Simon has had a huge impact on that.

Simon Weston OBE, 49

A former British Army soldier, Weston's Falklands War injuries catapulted him into the public consciousness. He's now a popular public speaker and involved in a number of charities such as The Healing Foundation. He lives in Cardiff with his wife and children

With these sorts of injuries that Pam and I suffered, it's not about being burnt, it's the psychological damage that it does afterwards. You've got an altered body image and when Pam got injured, being a young woman, it caused the biggest part of her angst; we live in a society now where women are judged on their looks.

When I met her she was caught up in the web of drink and it was making the decisions for her. Sometimes you need to speak to someone who's been there before you, which I had been.

She was a bit quiet at first with me, but being who I am – really chatty and forthright – I asked her the big questions and I discovered that the old drink was causing her biggest problems. I instantly wanted to like her as she had been through something terrible, and she needed the support and friendship of someone who could empathise. I would love to be able to say I was this great guru, but I wasn't. Pam's recovery was down to many people, but if she thinks I played a big role, well that's very flattering.

The accident altered her life dramatically, so it took a while for her real sense personality to come out. But once it did, you see the real Pam: she'd do anything for anybody she's close to. But she's become suspicious of people and her trust is now hard won, which I think is not always to her betterment. But I love her willingness to stand up to her fears and face the future, rather then be bowed by the weight and pressure of the past.

So while we met though misfortune, at the end I say, what misfortune? Pam is running her own business now and writing a book and I'm not doing too bad either. So maybe it's been the making of us. It's certainly been the making of me.

pamwarren.blogspot.com, simonweston.com

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