WHEN his hair was a bit shorter, Craig Mitchell was often asked about the zig-zag scar across his skull.

“I got fed up talking about it, so I just started telling people I’d been in a fight with a shark,” the 12-year-old says, cheerfully.

“I’m used to people staring at me because I look different. Someone even came up to me and poked me in the face once.”

He grins: “It drives my mum mad, but I don’t really care. The main thing people should know about me is that I am just ordinary. I’m just like everyone else.”

This Wednesday (May 22) is Face Equality Day, the UK’s only campaign to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally whatever the appearance of their face or body.

It is organised by Changing Faces, which supports the 1.3 million people in the UK with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different.

Craig, who lives in Wishaw with his mum Lesley and dad Stuart, is a member of the charity’s Youth Action Group, a collective of young people aged between 10 and 26 years from all over Scotland.

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They use their voices and stories to raise awareness about how life can be affected when you look different, through speaking in schools and at conferences and events.

A recent Changing Faces survey of more than 800 people with a visible difference found that almost half experienced bullying about their appearance at school and more than a fifth said their appearance affected their decision surrounding moving into further or higher education.

“I want to raise awareness of the charity and tell people it’s really okay to look different,” says Craig. “I want to change people’s minds about this.”

Craig was born with a rare form of facial cleft, which ran from the middle of his lower eyelid down his cheek to the corner of his mouth.

“To say I looked different is an understatement, even my mum and dad were shocked as this hadn’t shown up in any scans,” he says. “It was so rare that the doctors had never seen it before.”

Over the next few years, Craig had several operations.

“When I was seven, they removed a piece of bone from my skull and gave me a cheek bone, and that took four hours; then when I was 10, they removed another piece of bone from my skull to build up my eye socket and tissue from mouth to build up my eye,” he rhymes off. “That took nine and a half hours.”

Craig adds; “Following all these operations, I had to miss school, give up my favourite sports for three months and I couldn’t go out to play with my friends. I even had to change my diet after the operation on my mouth, so I couldn’t eat chocolate, bread, crisps or pizza for SIX weeks.”

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He shakes his head.

“That was REALLY difficult.”

Getting his own personal ice cream vending machine in hospital was a bonus, though, he laughs.

“That was good, I got to go to the ice cream factory too,” he says, adding with a grin: “Sometimes there are advantages to looking different . On holiday in Florida I didn’t need to pay for my sweets in the M&M shop.”

He pauses. “NOW I wish I had filled the bag right to the top….”

Craig adds, more seriously: “The sad thing is, there was actually nothing wrong with me. These operations were carried out to make me look ‘normal’. Well, what is normal? Every single person looks different.”

Craig’s mum Lesley frowns as she recalls the rudeness of strangers when her son was a toddler.

“When he was wee, I’d walk down the street with him and people would just stare and stare. It made me so angry,” she sighs.

“The adults were always the worst. Kids would at least come up and ask but grown-ups were often just incredibly rude. I got mad, but Craig has always just taken it in his stride. We’re really proud of the work he is doing for the charity, helping other young people who might not have been so lucky, and who have experienced bullying.”

Pupils and staff at Craig’s school, Clyde Valley High, say he is an inspirational boy.

His pals and fellow first years Gavin Barton, Isla Brownlie, Emilie Laats and Lauren Macleod are also backing the charity by taking part in events at school this week.

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Emilie says: “Craig’s our friend and it really doesn’t matter what he looks like. We are proud of all the work he does for the charity.”

Away from school and the YAG, Craig is basketball and drama daft. He spends his time training for the local team and rehearsing for Shine Youth Musical Theatre Group.

This month, however, he will be working hard to support Changing Faces as it celebrates Face Equality Day “It’s really good to be part of the charity, because I just want everyone to be a bit kinder,” he says, thoughtfully.

“I want to change people’s minds about people like me.”

In the run up to Face Equality Day, the Evening Times has teamed up with Changing Faces to encourage our readers to support the charity, which has a Glasgow office in the Merchant City.

Read more tomorrow and Wednesday, in print and online at www.eveningtimes.co.uk


Changing Faces provides advice, support and psychosocial services to children, young people and adults, challenging discrimination and campaigning for Face Equality - a world that truly values and respects people who look different.

The Changing Faces Support Line is 0300 012 0275.

To support the work of Changing Faces text FaceEquality to 70085 to donate £5 plus your standard network rate message.

Alternatively visit www.changingfaces.org.uk/donate

For more information on Changing Faces or to get involved email

scotland@changingfaces.org.uk or call 0141 559 5028