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How Jono Lancaster Became The Biggest Hero In His Own Life

Jono Lancaster was only 36 hours old when his parents abandoned him at a hospital in Yorkshire.

Born with a rare genetic condition, Treacher Collins syndrome, which affects craniofacial development in the womb meant he had no cheekbones, and "little Bart Simpson ears".

Adopted into a loving family, things were fine until he got to secondary school, he told RNZ's Kathryn Ryan.

"The teenage years were when I noticed that I was different. And it wasn't good to be different back then," he said.

He struggled through his teenage years, learning to hate his face, he said. He even cut his own hair as he couldn't stand looking in the barber's mirror.

"My mum would give me five pounds to go and get my hair cut. And I was like yeah, I'll do it. And my mum would go away into town and do the food shopping and I didn't go to the hairdresser's. I put the five-pound note in my pocket and I went home and I had this routine to cut my hair.

"And I did that because I hated going to the hairdresser's just a simple thing of going to the hairdresser, I couldn't do it, sitting in that chair, looking in the mirror, at a face that hated more than anything. I couldn't do it."

So, he gave himself a succession of "dodgy bowl cuts," he said.

"My mum says, 'why do you keep on going to these hairdressers? And I was like, 'Oh, Mum, it's fashion, it's style."

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Eventually after a reclusive period in his early 20s, he was persuaded to take a bar job. Two encounters there changed his life.

"One night this guy walked into the bar, head-to-toe tattoos, muscles coming out of muscles I didn't even know existed. He was huge and I accidentally made eye contact with him. And as soon as he saw me, he made a beeline straight to where I was working.

"Panic just took over and I got hot, and I got sweaty, and I'm looking at my feet. And I'm like, I hope he goes away. But he didn't and I found myself stood in front of him."

Lancaster asked the tattooed punter what he'd like to drink, and the man said, "Hey mate? What happened to your face?"

"He's like, 'What's that in your head?' pointing to my hearing aid. I said, 'I was born like this, this is my hearing aid, can't hear anything without it.'

"And he was like, 'dude, you're so lucky. I wish I had a hearing aid, I wish I could pick and choose when I could and couldn't hear'."

It transpired tattoo man had a very talkative wife, Lancaster said.

"I've got a wife at home and she's so loud. As soon as she wakes up - talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I'd do anything for a moment of peace."

They laughed and the man asked his name, shook his hand and bought Lancaster a drink.

"In that single handshake, in that single 'what's your name?' Oh man, he changed my life forever. I realised in that moment that it's okay to talk about my face. People are gonna look, they're gonna ask questions, but it ain't always gonna be negative."

That was a game-changer, he said, and then another encounter at the bar further boosted his self-esteem.

"A girl started working in the bar, she loved Radiohead, The Foo Fighters, Smiths, Morrissey. Wore skinny jeans and a beret and she had this love heart necklace, she did ballet at the local uni.

"And she just kind of twirled and floated and flew through life. And I just thought she was the coolest chick that I'd ever met. And we did get on okay, but no girl is gonna find me attractive."

Eventually the girl asked Lancaster on a date and chatting over wine at her place she asked a question that scared him.

"She's like, 'Jono can we talk about you?' I'm like this ain't cool, this ain't sexy, I need to go, this ain't a date I've got it all wrong. She's said 'Jono I find myself staring at you all the time.' I hated being stared, hated it. And before I had the chance to say anything else, she said 'Jono, I just freakin' love your face'. And she leans in, and she kisses me.

"And in that kiss, in that sentence, I went from feeling lovable to thinking I was the sexiest guy in the world in a single moment."

In the space of a month, these two people had changed his life, he said.

"I never met that guy in the bar again, me and this girl broke up, but they've left me with something special and I'm incredibly grateful."

Feeling stronger and more confident about himself he decided to track down his birth parents to let them know he was doing well, he said.

Eventually an agency found them and the papers associated with his adoption

"The language in these reports was awful, Jonathan Lancaster was born on the 31st of the 10th 1984. Both parents were horrified by the child's appearance, both parents felt no paternal bond for the child, both parents left a hospital 36 hours later, leaving the child behind."

Despite this he sent them a letter.

"Days passed and eventually we got a letter back. And it simply said, 'regarding this subject, we do not wish any contact, further attempts will be ignored'.

"And those two signatures at the end of it, followed by a solicitor and it was signed by my birth parents."

Although crushed, it helped him realise what he had in life, he said.

I've got something pretty amazing in life. And those two people gave me life and brought me into this world. And it's down to me to take this life and fill it with love and adventure and that's what I've done for the past 15 years."

Lancaster launched the Love Me, Love My Face Foundation in 2016 and is currently working on a BBC show Love My Face, and has recently published a book, Not All Heroes Wear Capes.

The book he said, is "about becoming the biggest hero in your own life".

"You are the biggest source of inspiration that you have and that's what I want people to take away."

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