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Samantha Renke is an actress, presenter, speaker, writer and disability rights campaigner who was named as number three in The Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 of 2020. Samantha was born with brittle bone disease and has broken her bones over two hundred times in her life. Through her book “You are the best thing since sliced bread” she shares the lessons that she has learned and why we should all be free and unapologetically ourselves.

At The Legacy Globe, we are collectively working alongside each other to leave lasting legacies which will empower future generations. How do you feel that your upbringing has shaped you?

 

In my debut book 'You are the best thing since sliced bread' I touch upon my childhood quite a lot and in particular the labels that I was given as a physically disabled child born with a condition. A lot of the labels were negative suggesting that my disability would give me less of a quality of life and a lack of opportunities compared to my peers, they insinuated that independent living would be out of reach for me, along with marriage, travel and any aspirations. I struggled with this because I have always had an innate sense of self-worth, pride and confidence and drive to achieve whatever I wanted to in life. This innate sass and confidence allowed me to negate all the harmful stereotypes that were put upon me. I am painfully aware that I speak from a place of privilege as a confident person, which I believe was not from nurture but rather an inherent trait of my personality. This has undoubtedly been my saving grace and allowed those labels not to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your Bestselling book 'The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread' inspires us all to follow our dreams and to know our self worth. How did you find the process of writing it and what does the book mean to you?

 

I have always wanted to share my story with the world but my life has been a rollercoaster and some of the most challenging life events that I wanted to write about included difficult times of my nearest and dearest and I did not feel as though I had ownership of their lived experience, so this halted my journey of becoming an author. When I met Fearne Cotton, she approached me to write a book in conjunction with her brand ‘Happy Place’ which is a wellbeing and holistic brand. Fearne gave me the opportunity to share my journey but not have to go into microscopic detail of others. She gave me the confidence to write my book and provided me with the knowledge that I needed to outline how my book could be structured. Each chapter has a life lesson linked with a milestone or grand moment, both good and bad in my life, and I reflect on what I have learnt from each situation. I am not a specialist or a life coach but I guess in many people’s eyes I am successful and a go-getter so I wanted to be honest and unpack that and show that who I am is just a person. I wrote the book for other disabled people so that they did not feel alone in the world and for anyone who wanted reassurance that who they are is good enough and what they want in life is achievable. I also wanted to educate the world a little bit on disability as I felt that that was important not just because I am a disability activist but because I am proud of my disability identity and I would not want to be stripped of that in anyway.

Through the process I learnt a lot about myself. I stripped away the labels that I was given by society and by the pressures from family, friends, men and social media and revealed the barebones of who I really am. It has been cathartic and I have cried a lot during the process. It even led me to seek talking therapy which I had put off for a very long time.

You are well known for your national Maltesers TV advert which aired during the Paralympics and your debut lead role in indie film Little Devil. How did you make the leap from teaching to acting? What were the challenges that you faced?

 

I guess I do not want to go into too much detail about this because you can all find out how I made this leap in my book in the chapter ‘Fake it till you make it’, but what I would like to say is that if you are truly unhappy in a situation it is never too late to change and that really was key to my own success. I went into teaching purely out of circumstance and stayed with it as long as I did because I enjoyed how people would interact with me when I told them I was a teacher. It blew their mind that this 3 foot something wheelchair user was a high school teacher. I took the leap to change career as living for other people is not good for the soul. Changing a career or being bold and brave is scary and once you are living your dream it does not mean that everything will neatly fall in to your lap, but at least you can sit and feel content that you are living for you and not for others.

Tell us about your mission as a disability rights campaigner and as an ambassador for Scope, ADD International, Parallel Global and a patron of Head2Head Theatre.

 

I am not ashamed to say that my journey into the world of disability rights and activism came very much from a selfish standpoint. Having a disability particularly when you are born with that condition means that you spend a lot of your childhood and teenage years being put perhaps on a pedestal and being pandered to, there are many charities that support young disabled children. When I moved to London without the support network that I had been so reliant on, I realised that the world was a harsh place and that I had gone from being this cute inspirational disabled kid that everyone is happy to fundraise for to this adult who needs to fend for themselves but perhaps had not been given the right skills to be able to do so. The media depicts disabled people as burdens or perhaps a drain on society and as an adult people are less likely to come to your aid. So, I felt the shift to my core and it scared me. I wanted the world to be a better place initially for myself but also I recognise that I was not alone and the way in particular disabled adults are treated was and still is absolutely horrendous so I wanted to highlight this and make a difference.

What does the word Legacy mean to you? What Legacy do you want to leave?

 

Being an actress and knowing that after I am gone that I will be remembered and people are able to watch me on repeat is iconic and part of the legacy that I would like to leave. However, for me a legacy is more than the fame and adoration that comes with being a celebrity. I believe in a better world where we raise disabled people up instead of tearing them down and create a world that embraces everyone equally. My father passed away when I was young and I often reflect on his life and the fact that I am part of the legacy that he left behind. I want to be a mother one day and if my children also have a disability then I would like to think that I have made the world a safer and more compassionate and accessible one for them to live in.

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