Sue Perkins says own family tragedy inspired her push to others to have eye tests

Sue Perkins says own family tragedy inspired her push to others to have eye tests

Chatting to Sue Perkins about her eyes is not for the faint-hearted. Within minutes she is listing off a history of injuries that would have you reaching for the remote control were you watching an episode of Casualty.

“I’m an absolute idiot, such a klutz,” says the 52-year-old comedian.

“I follow my instinct all the time, so I quite commonly give myself a mild concussion or skewer myself in some way. As a child I tripped and fell into the path of some scaffolding and took a steel bar to the face.

“It was so traumatic and left me very short-sighted in one eye. I’m long sighted in the other and have the reach of a sparrowhawk, so it’s a confusing picture for my brain. I’m extremely thankful for spectacles.”

This early visit to the eye hospital wouldn’t be the last for the presenter, who describes herself as “very accident prone”.

“Not just once, but twice, I’ve had the lead of a propelling pencil fly off into my eye,” recalls Sue, who is currently starring in the Sky show Hitmen: Reloaded with her on-screen comedy partner Mel Giedroyc.

Sue Perkins has a very important reason why she always champions having regular eye tests
Sue Perkins has wore glasses for most of her life, after confessing she is very accident prone

“Another time, I was on the back of a motorcycle and got a load of grit in my face, which scratched my cornea.

“My most impressive, though, I think, was bending down to admire a yucca plant. I don’t need to tell you where that ended up. It was excruciating. I had this searing pain as the spine delved its way into my cornea. It means I’m very familiar with the London’s Western Eye Hospital and Moorfields, so I heartily apologise and heartily thank the NHS for their endeavours.”

Less dramatically, Sue believes lockdown has also taken its toll on her vision.

“I’d wake up, check emails, check Twitter, check my messages, go and read, go and write at the computer, watch TV and go to bed – with a dog walk fitted in somewhere,” says the former Great British Bake Off host.

Sue Perkins stars alongside Mel Giedroyc in Hitmen

“It was not necessarily all online or computer based, but it was all pretty close work and I started to notice my ability to read without glasses had evaporated. Of course, that happens naturally with age, but I expect the relentlessness of the pressure I put on my eyes in the last 18 months probably accelerated the process.”

Sue knows better than most the importance of not putting off medical or optical appointments.

“My dad, Bert, was a very stoic bloke and of a generation that didn’t wish to cause a fuss. But by August 2015, when he was 79, his sight had become very bad and his balance was very bad too. After a close shave in the car it became clear he needed his eyes checked.

He went to his local Specsavers in Penzance and a young optician did some quite basic tests. But even with those, it became clear there was a tumour in his brain. I imagine she knew immediately it wasn’t the sort that could be removed, but the way she dealt with him and referred him on without panic and with a great deal of kindness was so important. He unfortunately had a stage four glioblastoma and he went, almost immediately, to palliative care as it couldn’t be treated.

“Sadly we only had six final months with him, but when I look back on that time, however god-awful it was, at least I don’t have to contend with the fact that Dad found out in a shocking way or a callous way, which would have been unbearable.”

Sue is well known by the British public for appearing alongside Mel Giedroyc, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood on The Great British Bake Off

Sue has now started working with Specsavers on its State of the UK’s Eye Health Report 2021. The study, in collaboration with leading eye health experts and charities, reveals there were 4.3 million fewer eye tests in 2020 – a drop of 23 per cent on 2019, and that ophthalmology referrals decreased 28 per cent. Significantly, 40per cent of those questioned said they have delayed an eye test despite knowing they needed one.

“I’ve been banging the drum for people to get their sight checked ever since my father passed away,” says Sue.

“People think of eye tests as something you could skip, ‘oh yeah, I am a bit short-sighted, I’ll get around to it’, but before you know, six months have passed.

“An eye test is the only non-invasive examination you can have where they can actually see what’s going on with your brain, blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma and cataracts and it’s all vital information.

“They can tell so much just by looking. I remember going for a check-up when I was in my 20s and the first thing the rather gruff optician said when he looked into my eyes was ‘oh yes, a smoker’. Very shortly after that, I gave up as I was so horrified he could see the effect it was having.

“My dad’s tumour wasn’t something treatable, but those cases are few and far between. If an issue is spotted by an optician, early intervention can massively redefine how your future’s going to look.

“You’d never live with painful teeth, so I don’t know why, culturally, we will wait so long to see an optician.”

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