Sue Hampton is an author of children's books. She lives in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
"I was born in Essex but studied and taught in London – where I lost all my hair in 1981 – before moving out to Herts. My two children, adult now, grew up used to a bald, rather cowed mum who never faced the world without a wig. I was married for the second time in 2012, to writer Leslie Tate.
At the age of twenty-four, I noticed a bald patch I could feel but not see. Four months later I’d lost every hair on my body to alopecia universalis. No doctor ever mentioned that alopecia is auto-immune; now I realise that my family is full of auto-immune conditions, common and rare. I was prescribed anti-depressants but never took them, and bought an off-the-peg acrylic wig which once blew off in the playground! I’m an open person, and living in fear of discovery made me feel vulnerable. Having been a podgy child with frizzy hair I always hated, I’d built up self-esteem only to lose it. For ten years or so I tried various treatments before giving up on false hope. In 34 years my only regrowth consisted of one long white hair. It got lonely and left.
Then in 2001 I wrote a story for children about a girl with alopecia, and called it The Waterhouse Girl. When my hero Michael Morpurgo read the manuscript and rang to tell me it had moved him, adding that it was “beautifully written”, I began to believe I could become the author I’d always longed to be. Writing it was therapy. But had it been published then, I would have used a pen name to distance myself from alopecia. I wasn’t ready – yet. A few years later I became a full-time writer, met Leslie and accepted my hair loss at last. I have 20 novels now, for all ages. When booked as an author in schools I always address my alopecia, along with appearance, difference and respect – and the power of stories. In my workshops I help young people to find a voice through fiction, connect with their emotions and develop their understanding of themselves and others.
THE WATERHOUSE GIRL was published in 2009 but it was years before I realised – to my huge delight – that it had helped many readers with alopecia. (And others with hair: “You made me a better person” wrote one teenage boy.) I’d already offered support to a couple of young people with alopecia by visiting their schools and saw that as an ambassador for Alopecia UK I could help more effectively, in person and through my writing. I’ve now done some fundraising by dancing for four hours non-stop, started a thriving support group in Berkhamsted (which is doing what it says on the tin) and been in contact with hundreds of people with alopecia of all ages. Being an ambassador for such a wonderful charity really is inspiring."
"AUK is like a great novel: it can make a real difference."