Weston in 2008
|Born||8 August 1961|
|Years of service||1978–1982|
|Other work||Charity work, particularly for the disfigured and wounded in action|
Simon Weston CBE (born 8 August 1961) is a veteran of the British Army who has become known throughout the United Kingdom for his recovery and charity work after suffering severe burn injuries during the Falklands War.
Weston was born in Caerphilly District Miners Hospital in Caerphilly, Wales. He was brought up by his mother, Pauline and adoptive father, 'Lofty'. His biological father served in the Royal Air Force alongside his mother. Simon lived in Singapore and Nocton Hall in Lincoln before returning to Nelson at the age of around six or seven. He has one older sister, Helen, and three stepbrothers. At the age 14, Weston was given a police caution when he was caught as a passenger in a car stolen by his older friends.
He joined the Welsh Guards in 1978 at the age of 16 at the insistence of his mother, after he "got into bother". He served in Berlin, Northern Ireland, Kenya and later being deployed to the Falkland Islands.
On 8 June 1982, he was boarded with other members of his regiment on RFA Sir Galahad in Port Pleasant near Fitzroy, just off the Falkland Islands. It was bombed and set on fire by the Argentine Skyhawk fighters during the Bluff Cove Air Attacks. His ship was carrying ammunition as well as phosphorus bombs and thousands of gallons of diesel and petrol. Out of his platoon of 30 men, 22 were killed. The Welsh Guards lost a total of 48 men killed and 97 wounded aboard the Sir Galahad.
Weston survived with 46% burns, following which his face was barely recognisable:
|“||My first encounter with a really low point was when they wheeled me into the transit hospital at RAF Lyneham and I passed my mother in the corridor and she said to my gran, "Oh mam, look at that poor boy" and I cried out "Mam, it's me!" As she recognised my voice her face turned to stone.||”|
|— Simon Weston, |
Weston endured years of reconstructive surgery, including over 70 major operations or surgical procedures. Skin from his shoulders was used to make eyelids. his nose was grafted on in a later operation . He suffered psychological trauma, drinking heavily and becoming suicidal, and admits his behaviour during this time was "terrible". He credits his mother with helping him to overcome this. In particular, her act of reuniting him with his old regiment, who refused to mollycoddle him (especially Glen White, who ran the Welsh Guards rugby side), forced him to "face up to the unavoidable and to be positive about everything including especially my future".
Television and media
Weston has made regular contributions to radio programmes and appeared on television, especially within Wales. He has been the subject of several BBC documentaries and presented his own radio show Face for the Radio for BBC Radio Wales. He has been interviewed on many occasions for television news programmes and documentaries recounting his experiences, including appearances on 14 June 2007, the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War ending. He has also appeared on programmes such as This Is Your Life (appearing on 7 February 1990; aged still only 28, Weston was one of the show's youngest ever guests) and later Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. He featured in a £7 million advertising campaign launched in 2000 aimed at boosting recruitment into the police force.
In 1986 Simon Weston undertook his first goodwill tour, to Australia, at the request of the Guards Association of Australasia. The resulting donations to children's burns units made him begin to feel useful again.
Weston became patron of a number of charities that support people living with disfigurements, as well as the lead ambassador for The Healing Foundation. He also set up a national youth charity, Weston Spirit, in 1988 with Paul Oginsky and Ben Harrison, shortly after moving to Liverpool. However, in 2008, the charity suffered from financial difficulties and had to be shut down.
Weston's courage and charity work have been recognised and honoured a number of times. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1992 Birthday Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours. In 2002 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool. In 2004, he was named one of the top 100 Welsh heroes. In 2005 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Cardiff University. In 2006 Weston and dual code (Rugby League and Rugby Union) international David Watkins were installed as patrons of the Wales Rugby League, in a ceremony held in the Welsh Assembly.
In 2008 Weston accepted an invitation to become Patron of The John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation.
In September 2009 Weston agreed to be President Elect of the Welsh Scout Council and was formally introduced at the Council's annual general meeting at Llandrindod Wells on 31 October 2009.
Weston has campaigned in support of troops and veterans and against politicians' alleged failure to support them adequately. He has spoken out against defence budget cuts and British troops allegedly being supplied with inadequate equipment, and about the lack of support, health care and adequate compensation for veterans. On 12 March 2007 he appeared on ITV News, giving his opinion on the care of British soldiers in hospital. On 4 March 2008, he appeared alongside Conservative leader David Cameron as he announced the formation of a commission to investigate ways to help restore the military covenant, which Cameron called 'well and truly broken'. Weston will take a non-partisan, advisory role to the Commission (headed by Frederick Forsyth), with his work taking a particular focus to the treatment of veterans and the compensation paid out to injured service personnel.
It is stated that Weston is a critic of the Iraq War, believing Tony Blair's argument for invasion simply did not hold water. In February 2003, in the run up to the war, he spoke out about "politicians with so many different agendas, spin and bluff and throwing smoke in the air and I have to say even lies... so often that we are not sure what we are actually listening to now".
Weston also spoke to the ethical committee at London's Royal Free Hospital in 2006 to support the case for authorising full face transplants, even though he had previously been against the idea.
Row with Nicolas Sarkozy
In 2008, Weston criticised the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, for failing to attend a war ceremony. Weston said, "He should have got it right", "We in Wales have lost and sacrificed as much as anybody for different causes" Showing his support for the British monarchy, Weston added, "Not for a second would Charles have disrespected the event. He has always acted with a great deal of reverence for the occasion."
Row with Sean Penn
In February 2012 Weston was caught up in an angry exchange with actor Sean Penn, who said it was improper for Prince William to be deployed to the Falklands. Weston was reported as saying, "Sean Penn does not know what he is talking about and, frankly, he should shut up. His [Penn's] views are irrelevant and it only serves to fuel the fire of the Argentinians and get them more pumped up."
Police and Crime Commissioner
In 2012, Weston decided to stand for the post of elected Police and Crime Commissioner for the South Wales Police. As part of the nomination process, he had to disclose the police caution he had received as a child and whether this caution disbarred him from standing became a matter of public debate. He withdrew from the process, citing this controversy and the perceived politicisation of the post (some sources hold that a caution for a juvenile should not be grounds for disqualification). During a BBC radio interview on the subject of the disclosure of cautions to juveniles, Weston pointed out that he has never sought to hide the fact of the caution.
Weston is married to Lucy, with whom he has three children: James, Stuart and Caitlin. They met in Liverpool when she was working for his charity, Weston Spirit. They were engaged on 8 June 1989, exactly seven years after the attack on the Sir Galahad, and married on 12 May 1990 and now live in Cardiff, Wales.
Weston has met and become friends with First Lieutenant Carlos Cachon, the Argentine pilot who dropped the bomb which caused his injuries. He was criticised for this move by families of those who fought in the Falklands War, which he simply dismissed, saying "I don't have a problem with other people criticising me for things I do, as long as people understand why I did them. Then I don't have a problem to walk away and say 'you're entitled to your opinions'."
In February 2014 Simon Weston was named as the nation's most heroic figure in a poll. The new annual Freuds Heroes Index poll surveyed a sample of over 4,000 Britons.
He was entitled a 'Commander of the Order of the British Empire' on the Queen's New Years honours list in 2016
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