A controversial documentary #series that follows disabled and disfigured Britons in their search for love returns for a fifth series next month, featuring an Asperger’s sufferer, a young man with Tourette’s, and a 34-year-old woman who lost her nose and lips to meningitis.
The Channel 4 show has attracted criticism from some doctors who accuse producers of exploiting the vulnerable for entertainment. But it is a ratings winner, with viewing figures consistently averaging 2.3 million.
And one of the latest participants, Tammy Saunders, disfigured after contracting meningococcal septicaemia – severe blood poisoning resulting from a meningitis infection two years ago – rejects any suggestion that she was manipulated into appearing in the programme.
‘I find that notion insulting,’ she says. ‘What happened to me can happen to anyone. Why shouldn’t we be on television? I’ve heard people describe it as a modern-day freak show but I think that says more about them.’
Tammy stars in the first episode, going on a date with ‘Gary from Norfolk’, a bicycle engineer who ‘was shown my picture and didn’t run away screaming’.
She vividly remembers the first time a stranger saw her newly rebuilt face. She recalls: ‘I had left my hospital room for the first time. I was bandaged up in a wheelchair and a lady tapped her husband’s hand, pointed at me and said, “Oh God, look at that.”’
It has been a difficult, emotional journey, but one from which Tammy has emerged with enormous grace.
She says: ‘I applied to be on #Undateables because I was trying to hold on to as much of the old me as I could. I don’t want to be alone for ever and I want to find someone who loves me for me. I am the same me whether I have 50 operations on my face or none.’
While the Meningitis Research Foundation estimates that about 3,200 people get bacterial meningitis and associated septicaemia in the UK each year, its exact causes are not known.
Tammy, who was a manager for a womenswear company, was enjoying a family Christmas when she started to feel unwell. She dismissed her discomfort as just a bug.
By December 27, she was so ill that she couldn’t eat and her legs and lips had gone numb.
She was rushed to hospital in Colchester. Doctors quickly realised her problems were serious, but meningococcal septicaemia is so rare in adults – it occurs mostly in children – that it took ten days to diagnose.