TRAINING from the age of three, 60-hour rehearsal weeks and meeting her boyfriend through the industry, Abbie Quinnen has dedicated her whole life to dancing.
But when she suffered third degree burns in a freak accident back in February, after attempting to recreate a YouTube hack at home, the 24-year-old was left fearing she’d never perform again.
Abbie, the girlfriend of Strictly Come Dancing’s AJ Pritchard, 26, had some of the worst scars on her neck and underarm, meaning she could barely move her arm for months.
But now an unusual treatment has helped get her back on the stage – Botox with Dr Vincent Wong.
She tells Fabulous: “There was definitely a point when I thought I wouldn’t ever be able to perform again.
“After the accident, I looked in the mirror and my first instinct was ‘I’m not ever going to look the same again, I’m not going to be able to do what I love doing, this is it’. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.
“I have trained since I was three years old. For my whole life, all I’ve ever known is to be on stage, perform, dance and act. At college, I trained seven days-a-week, from 8.30am until 6pm.”
Aged 12, Abbie appeared in Billy Elliot on the West End for two years, playing one of the ballet girls. At the time she was a pupil at Italia Conti school of performing arts.
She then went to Urdang Academy for three years of college, before joining Royal Caribbean to perform Cats on cruise ships.
Upon returning, she joined AJ’s first dance tour, Get on the Floor, which is where she met her now-boyfriend.
She also took part in his second tour but – when this was cancelled due to coronavirus – AJ, Abbie and his brother Curtis Pritchard, 25, of Love Island fame, turned their attention to social media.
After the accident, I looked in the mirror and my first instinct was ‘I’m not ever going to look the same again, I’m not going to be able to do what I love doing, this is it’. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin
The couple were filming a hack video for their one million Instagram followers, attempting to cut a glass bottle in half to be used as a vase, when Abbie was engulfed in flames.
The risky trick involves dipping a rope in a flammable chemical, wrapping it around the bottle and lighting a flame to it. Abbie has since urged others not to try similar hacks at home.
She says: “In the beginning my scars felt so tight, I couldn’t move my arm above shoulder height.
“It was definitely scary, because I’m a dancer. I thought ‘will I ever get my range of movement back? Will I be able to dance again?’ I was panicking so much. It was a really scary time.
“But with help from the Botox, I have way more range of movement under my arm and in my neck. It’s just amazing, I used to think Botox was just for aesthetics.”
By May, Abbie had regained some of her movement, allowing her to do her first audition since the accident in September.
She says: “Only recently have I had the confidence to go back into auditions. I had my first last month and I was so worried I’d go in and not be able to dance, which sounds ridiculous.
“But that audition felt completely different to how I’ve ever danced before. It felt so amazing to be back doing what I know and love.
“I lost a whole lot of my confidence from the accident, so I just felt so proud to be in a room dancing with loads of other people again.
“I was really nervous before but it felt amazing, better than it’s ever felt.”
Abbie admits it’s been a “long road” to regain her confidence, after undergoing three NHS ops on her burns and having to wear a bulky compression vest 23 hours-a-day.
I was crying two times a week. I was just so fed up with being able to see the scars every single day. Not being able to wear tiny dresses definitely took a toll on my emotions. I just kept saying to AJ, ‘I’m 24 years old, I should be able to wear whatever I want’
She says: “I did find it tricky. The compression vest really got me down.
“Being a dancer, you’re used to always wearing crop tops and leggings. But this summer, I couldn’t wear little tiny dresses with thin straps, as the compression vest comes up to my collarbone.
“I was crying two times a week. I was just so fed up with being able to see the scars every single day and also of the vest.
“Not being able to wear what I wanted to wear definitely took a toll on my emotions. I just kept saying to AJ, ‘I’m 24 years old, I should be able to wear whatever I want to wear’.
“I’m still in and out of hospital for laser therapy on my scars but they’re healing well, so I’ve been told I can wear my vest less, which made me extremely happy. It will be 14 hours-a-day and mainly overnight.”
It was AJ and Curtis who drove Abbie to hospital after her accident, with AJ spending much of the winter lockdown caring for her in their West London flat.
She says: “I’d definitely say we’re closer than ever. Even though it was such an awful experience, I really did see how much he loved and cared for me.
“He’s been so amazing. Especially in those first few weeks, when I was on 27 tablets a day, I couldn’t do anything and felt like I was slurring my words the whole time.
“AJ did everything for me – he even put the tablets in my mouth, he cooked me so many meals, he was just by my side, cleaning my wounds. He was so amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better carer.”
In those first few weeks, I was on 27 tablets a day and AJ did everything for me – he even put the tablets in my mouth, he cooked me so many meals, he was just by my side, cleaning my wounds
The pair have both spoken about marriage before, so is it still on the cards?
“I think you’re going to have to ask him,” Abbie laughs. “I would love to marry AJ, the situation we’ve been in has proven what an incredible person he is. He’s definitely my dream man and I’d love to marry him.”
Although Abbie has been surrounded by love and support from not only AJ but the majority of the public, she’s also experienced trolling while she was at her lowest point.
She says: “I did have a few trolls. It’s really sad they put someone down when they are already so low.
“The one I remember most was when I posted a picture of my niece and nephew and someone wrote ‘don’t go near them, you’ll scare them with the way you look now’.
“It got to me so much. I was scared to be around my niece and nephew in case they saw any of my scars, as I didn’t know what their reaction would be.
“Really I should have just not taken any notice and done whatever made me happy.”
I did have a few trolls. It’s really sad they put someone down when they are already so low. They said ‘don’t go near your niece and nephew, you’ll scare them with the way you look now’. It got to me so much
Since two months after her accident, Abbie has been seeing Dr Wong for Botox and PRP treatment (platelet rich plasma), which also helps the scars from becoming more raised from her skin.
Every six weeks, she has laser treatment at the NHS Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, who Abbie recently raised £2,500 for with the London Landmarks half marathon.
Through the NHS, she has also had therapy to come to terms with her accident, which she says has helped her improve “leaps and bounds”.
She says: “I feel so much more positive about things. Before I just felt so negative about everything and I didn’t want to do anything.
“I do feel differently, it’s been a really long, slow journey but I am accepting it more every day.
“I will probably have some scars for life. It’s not 100 per cent yet, it’s still a bit soon to tell, but maybe two or three of them will be there forever – including one on my arm and one on my chest.
“I’m speaking out because I want to help other people. When I was struggling, I had so many messages from people from Instagram which made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and that was amazing.
“I felt like a completely different human, so being able to talk to someone who was also going through that helped me so much.
“I would definitely not advise people to recreate YouTube hacks at home, you just don’t realise how dangerous they actually are.
“What I’ve noticed is they don’t actually film them doing the entire life hack, they just film snippets and put it all together and make it seem like it’s really simple, when it’s actually much longer.
“So I think approach with caution. That’s the only advice I can really give.”
The expert comment
Medical Director of Laser Clinics UK Dr Wong says: “It is such an honour to be able to help Abbie with her recovery process.
“My main aim with her treatment plan is to prevent wound contracture which is common with burns. For that, I treated Abbie with neurotoxin (Botox) quite early on, to relax the smooth muscle and preventing them from contracting.
“I also performed Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) on the wounds to help improve recovery rate and the overall appearance. These treatments, combined with the support from Chelsea + Westminster, has really made a huge difference.”