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‘I am more than just a headline’

Pictures by Kenny Elrick
Pictures by Kenny Elrick

She held a square piece of cardboard out in front of me which had a drum kit on a red background on it.

She tapped it, and to my surprise, it made the sound you would expect a drum kit to make.

The cymbals, the bass drum, everything was there.

“That’s amazing”, I told her.

Likewise, a seemingly ordinary baseball cap allowed her to create a tune simply by touching the rim, and a cardboard boom box, complete with a tape, started playing music as if it was the real thing.


These are just some of the quirky products created by scientist Kate Stone as part of her company Novalia. She creates interactive electronics out of paper and works with a host of clients across the world from Disney to some of the biggest names in the music industry as well as advertising agencies.

But this wasn’t the reason I was meeting her.

After a few months of e-mail correspondence – clearly Kate is a very busy woman – we managed to set a date to meet.

And that’s how I found myself sitting in a summer house in the middle of the Angus countryside at Kate’s sister’s house near Dundee.

The 47-year-old had recently been in America and was making a flying visit to Scotland before jetting off to the States again. Her trips were related to her work as a scientist, but I was there to talk about the past two years of her life.

Kate, who has three children, came to the attention of the media back in December, 2013 when her life was nearly ended in a horrific stag attack.

The animal, having been trapped in a garden, ran straight through her after being released and its antler impaled her throat, completely destroying it.

She was left in a coma, and doctors were not sure if she would even make it. If she did, it was unknown whether she would ever walk or even talk again.

It is believed that the animal had been roaming around the area for some time and there had been reports of near-misses involving other people and the stag.


I knew from doing some research that Kate had recovered but I wasn’t sure to what extent.

So when she answered the door on that sunny Sunday morning, I couldn’t believe how great she looked.

Wearing biker boots, jeans, t-shirt and a military-style jacket complete with a Dr Kate badge, you would never imagine that just over two years ago she was fighting for her life.

A barely noticeable scar on her throat and a mention that she felt slightly short of breath as we sat down in the summer house were the only reminders that the incident had taken place.

“I was incredibly lucky,” she told me.

“Its antler went straight through my throat. Two millimetres left or right and it would have taken out a major artery. If it had got me in the head or chest or stomach, I would have been dead.

“And it stopped at my spinal chord. When they cleaned out my throat, they could see my spinal chord. The fact that the stag hit me was not a million to one, it was inevitable, but the fact that its antler went within 2mm of the most debilitating things is incredible. And I survived.”

It was Kate’s attitude to life that got her through it and aided her recovery. She said that she just concentrated on one thing at a time, and was grateful for each development in her progress.

She believes it is important to be happy for what a person does have, and not get upset about what they don’t.

“It’s not about the cards you are dealt, it’s about how you play them,” she said.

“I didn’t know what would happen but then I could move, then a few days later I could stand up and then I could walk and talk. Each thing I took as an amazing gift.

“How could I be ungrateful about not having all the gifts? It was never about what I didn’t have, it was always about what I got back.

“It was incredible. Just the fact that I survived. I might be in a wheelchair, I might never speak again, it didn’t matter, I was alive.”


I found it amazing that Kate was able to think in such a positive way given how much she had been through. But she told me, she’s always been like that.

“It’s not that the accident made me that way, it’s just the way I am,” she said.

“It gave me the chance to be like that. You think you are a certain way and it’s not until something happens that you get tested.

“It’s given me much more resolve and determination. I’ve got unfinished business and things to do.”

A few months later there was a second wave of media attention. In reports of the attack, several national newspapers made references to her transgender status – and some went as far as to print personal details including her previous name.

The scientist complained to the Press Complaints Commission, which agreed with her, and the papers at fault amended their online stories, taking out all the inappropriate material.

Kate had been in newspapers before, including the New York Times, the Independent and the Daily Mail, in articles about her work, and yet her personal circumstances were not mentioned those times.

“Why should it be, because it is boring? There is no story,” she said.

“So you didn’t expect anything to be included this time around?” I asked her.

“I never expected that to happen because it’s no secret, but it’s just boring. How many magazine articles have you read that are about the transgender person’s struggle and all the rest of it? It’s tough but at the same time, it’s like, and?

“It’s not easy, it is incredibly difficult but I’m over it. It just really surprised me because it’s not a secret but it’s not newsworthy.”

Kate decided to take action in order to reduce the risk of it happening to someone else.

It was one of three things she decided when she was lying in hospital – the other two being that in order to take action, she would use the system as it is, and not complain about the press or press regulations, or become a bigot towards journalists – and the most difficult, she would sacrifice her own privacy to make it happen.


“That can come across as hypocritical that I am then telling 10 million people what one million people read but it had to be done,” she said.

“Every newspaper that did anything instantly replied with kindness and retracted things. Now I would say I am friends with them.

“If something happens that I come into contact with, I will do something about it. But I am not going to be spending all day trawling the internet to find things to complain and campaign about.

“That’s not my role. I absolutely didn’t do it for me. If someone looks me up on the internet, I am easy to find. I am quite proud that the first thing that comes up is the University of Cambridge page of 12 people who have diverse backgrounds and they are celebrating that Cambridge is opening and accepting.

“I am proud to be among those people and be on that page. But that page and that information is not on my forehead or on a t-shirt that I wear.

“If that’s the first thing that anybody knows about me, a judgement is made, which we would all make.

“We make that judgement because it’s the first thing you read and you think it’s clearly the most important thing I am thinking about.”

I had a confession to make. I had fallen into the trap of assuming – I assumed because Kate had taken action against the newspapers that all she would want to talk about in the interview would be transgender rights and their representation in the media. I assumed that she was now some kind of spokeswoman for transgenders.

But having spent almost an hour speaking to Kate, I realised I was wrong. She has far more interesting things to say.

So I told her how my questions mostly related to her gender status and transgenders in general, with one even about the controversy surrounding Eddie Redmayne being cast in the lead of the movie, Danish Girl, instead of a transgender actor.

I thought you might be a transgender activist, I admitted to her.

“I’m not at all,” she said. “I’m about who I am and what I do, my outlook on life. I want to inspire people and be a positive role model but I’m a scientist.”

During our conversation I found myself asking more questions about Kate’s work than I had set out to do. I realised that, despite doing some research, I knew very little about her.

I was intrigued to find out more about this quirky company that she had spent many years building up. And it seems that the newspapers are following a similar line.

Kate told me she had visited a number of the newspapers that she had complained about and the talks had progressed past the previous stories and onto her work.

“We’ve spoken about the future of newspapers, technology, digital, everything really,” she said.

“Now what hugely interests them is what I am and what I do.”

Most recently Kate was appointed to the Editor’s Code of Practice Committee as an independent lay member and sits alongside editors from across the country.


And she is continuing with her fascinating work – something she speaks about with so much passion and energy that her enthusiasm is catching.

“I’m doing things that no one has ever done before or is doing right now,” she told me.

“I’m not doing it to be that, it’s just what I believe in and what I love.

“I don’t look at what anybody else does, I’m not interested in what other companies do and I don’t read anything because I’m so much in my own world and being creative and having so many ideas, that I don’t need to look anywhere else for inspiration.

“The more I cut myself off from what everybody else is doing, the more I am in tune with where the world is going. What I end up creating is slightly ahead of its time.

“The more you can find the confidence to be yourself and do what feels right, the more you can resonate with the world and what’s around you and create something that is massively relevant.”

A photographer arrived, signalling the end of our interview. I thanked her for her time and left her in my colleague’s capable hands.

When I got home later that day, I found myself telling a friend about the interview. I spoke about Kate’s work and how passionate she was and how she had all these ideas for the future of different industries.

And then I realised after speaking about it at length, I hadn’t told my friend that she was transgender – because it just wasn’t important to the story.