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I TALK TO Dr Dawn Harper

I recently caught up with Dr Dawn Harper to talk all about what's in store for the latest series of Embarrassing Bodies.

Whether you've seen Embarrassing Bodies or not, you've most definitely heard about it. The newest series is called Embarrassing Bodies: We Can Rebuild You, and will see the doctors, (Dr Dawn, Dr Pixie and Dr Christian), take on their most challenging cases yet.

They'll go further than ever by helping some patients with multiple problems, by using the very latest in surgical reconstruction and technology.

Are you surprised by the success of Embarrassing Bodies?

Yes. I'm very surprised. I remember very clearly the day that I auditioned and I remember very clearly telling the producer that I thought it was a brilliant idea - because I know people who have literally died of embarrassment because of a lump in the boob or whatever it might be.

So anything that encourages people to come and see us soon has to be a good thing. I remember saying to her - "It won't work in this country though.

We've got a free NHS. Why would anybody show their embarrassing bits on television?" - to what turned out to be 2 million viewers per show. If I'm honest, I didn't think it would work. And how wrong could I be? I had a party at home this time last year to celebrate our 100th episode and we've done several since then, so how wrong could I be?

Why is then do you think that you were wrong and millions of people tune in, and many actually come onto the show? 

I think there's lots of different reasons. I think now actually it's become so successful that what happens is that we have some of the top surgeons in the country and they get their treatments for free, so they see a specialist that they may not have seen at home.

So I think increasingly there is that element to it. I'm pretty sure that in the early days some people did it for their '5 minutes of fame' - although why you'd show your parts on television is beyond me! (Laughs).

I think interestingly, what's happening more now, is that we're getting more complica, teted illnesses, and I think that's because the public are recognising that we have got access to some of these incredible doctors and they come onto the show because perhaps they have tried several things that haven't worked for them, and sometimes, to quote them, it's a "Last chance".

Did you have any reservations of being on the show in the first place?

I was very anxious about looking after the individual's emotional wellbeing - because people can be very nasty in the world of social media. People can be really unkind, and actually one of the things I wanted, and the producers have been brilliant about, is getting a Psychologist on board. So before people come into the clinic, they do have a psychological assessment so that people are aware of what they're letting themselves in for. It sounds silly, but once it's out there, Embarrassing Bodies gets millions of viewers.

It also gets repeated a lot and it has been sold to 120 different countries, so it's important that people realise that the trade-off for getting some of the best treatments in the country often, is that actually this is going to be seen by millions of people, so it's important that people go into that knowing what they're letting themselves in for.

If I'm honest, when I'm watching Embarrassing Bodies there are several moments where I have to look away. Does that ever happen to you at all?

You and half the population I should think! (Laughs). But me no, not at all. I've never been squeamish, I've been a GP for many many years so we really have seen it all before. And interestingly, what Pixie, Christian and I see on the show is what GP's see every in their surgeries.

The difference with ours is that we have television cameras in our surgery. And one thing I have learnt from non-medics who watch the show, and say "How you could you keep a straight face? I had to turn away!" - is that doctors really have seen it all before, almost certainly worse, and possibly that week.

So I think the overriding message is that it doesn't matter how awful you think it is, make an appointment and go and see your GP.

Were you surprised and how open people are to bearing all on TV, yet some of them are too embarrassed to go and see their local GP?

It's interesting isn't it? I think there's an element now that people feel that they know Pixie, Christian and I - so they know the way we consult and because we have such wonderful backup - and I have to give credit to the amazing crew that we have working behind the scenes, because they have access to these very very specialist doctors and they really do look after the patients off camera as well, so I think by the time they're on camera, they're really quite relaxed.

What can we expect from the new series Embarrassing Bodies: We Can Rebuild You?

We go to Magaluf and the less said about that the better! (Laughs) That was an experience! We follow four lads on a very raucous holiday in Magaluf so expect lots of 'men behaving badly' and alcohol. This series is going to be slightly different - it's called Embarrassing Bodies: We Can Rebuild You and we are looking at more complicated cases.

So I for example met a wonderful lady who was born with no ears, and we have been able to provide her with cochlear implants and she talks about being able to hear raindrops which is so lovely. She's a wonderful person, and she's having earlobes made from her ribs and looking forward to wearing sunglasses and buying her first pair of earrings so that's a lovely story.

Do you think Embarrassing Bodies has helped people react better at their embarrassing problems and actually go and see a GP themselves?

Yeah I do, and I'll tell you why - I see some of my own patients who I've been looking after for years, come in and see me off the back of the show and say - "Actually we watched the show and think we might have that same problem" - and yet they've never come to see me about it before.

And my NHS GP moan to me when the show is on air because they have up to 40 appointments per doctor per week, purely based on the show, to which I always say - "I'm not apologising for that" - that's exactly what the show was designed to do and I'm very proud of the show.

Did you expect that sort of reaction?

I didn't expect it if I'm honest, but I'm so proud. The NHS contacted Maverick Television who make the show, and they calculated how much they think the Embarrassing Bodies website has saved the NHS. In the live series we did the whole 'My Health Checker' thing and we were able to give that data collected from all those tests to research units, so I'm really proud of it.

What happens when you're out and about in the supermarket for example? Do people feel like they can come up to you and show you their embarrassing body?

You will be amazed at what I have been shown! (Laughs) It's almost like people have watched the telly, and go - "Ooh I could ask her to look at that" - and yep... in supermarkets, on the high street, in restaurants, I have been shown boobs, and bottoms, and pubic hair - you name it, I've seen it!

It takes minutes of my time and actually, it's part of being a GP. I'm a GP in a small town so I've always been stopped out of my clinic and asked medical questions, and I think that's part of the job and if you're going to moan about it, you're probably in the wrong job to be honest.

It sometimes irritates the family I think, if people are constantly asking for photos or showing me their bits, but it's part of the job. I love being able to help people.

You're several series in now - What's it like working with Dr Pixie and Dr Christian?

Fabulous. Oh fabulous. I honestly think Pixie is just wonderful! She and I have become really good friends, and I was actually her Maid of Honour at her wedding, she's a very close pal. Christian I always refer to as my 'telly hubby' - Pixie and I are the envy of the country I think! (Laughs).

Do you think Channel 4 were brave to come up with Embarrassing Bodies and put it on air?

I tell you. They never told us that when they showed the first ever episode of Embarrassing Bodies that they actually had a contingency plan to put in something else if it was absolutely slated! (Laughs) I think Channel 4 were very brave, Channel 4 are brave though aren't they?

That's their job, that's what they do. I'm really glad they did it, we've had some incredible letters and emails from people who follow the show and found a lump and got it checked much sooner than they would have done without the show. It saves lives actually, and I think that's brilliant and I'm glad Channel 4 were brave enough to.

Embarrassing Bodies: We Can Rebuild You airs Thursday nights at 9pm on Channel 4


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