Katie Price is, to put it mildly, a well known person in the UK – and is all too aware she gets that “Marmite” kind of reaction. Talking to me recently, she said: “Well, obviously, you either love me or hate me but, luckily, being in the public eye has ended up being a good thing because I am able to create these petitions. “And they are not just pathetic petitions – they are real hard-core petitions that are actually needed.”
Katie is talking about petitions to get parliament to discuss making social media companies ask for better ID information so they can identify people who troll others online. She has had more than her share of trolling but here we are talking about the treatment of her son Harvey who is autistic and has learning disabilities as well as vision impairment.
Harvey, now 18, has his own Instagram account where he loves to post new pictures. As Katie says: “Why shouldn’t he? Everyone is allowed to do that.” And he loves the positive feedback – but not all of it is positive. Because he is mixed race, some of the trolling is racist as well as mocking his disability. Katie tells me of some of the hate-filled, racist things that have been said about Harvey on social media. They are unrepeatable. “It sounds shocking when I say it,” she agrees, “but it should be just as shocking when it is written down.” Katie’s Track a Troll campaign aims to make social media companies ask for formal information that confirms users’ identities so those who post messages of hate can be traced. She points out that you have to confirm your identity when getting a mortgage, a car or even a mobile phone, so why not when posting online? “The reason I think they don’t put these things in place is because they like the controversy. You know if you put a video up there which is a bit ‘Oh my God’ then people do share it.” She does accept that sometimes people are just trying to be funny: “Yes, you can have a laugh, but there is a line where it is mocking someone.”
Katie is expecting to go to court in the case of a couple who tweeted a video in which the man is wearing make-up and pretending to be Harvey to mock his disability. The couple live in Scotland where, she says, the law is stronger. She hopes that court action will scare off some trolls: “If things aren’t being seen to be done, it’s just going to carry on.” But the usual punishment in England is simply a cancelled account and then, as Katie points out, trolls can simply open another one in a new name.
Katie’s first petition was for what she calls “Harvey’s Law” to outlaw trolling, which has led to the online safety bill. While she welcomes the bill, she is concerned the proposed law does not go far enough because it does not make it a requirement for people to prove their identity. What is the point of tougher punishment if you cannot actually track the trolls?
Katie and her son were recently featured in a BBC documentary, which focused on Harvey becoming 18 years old and starting to go through transition in his education and support, including the hospital that supports him. Many viewers will have felt as my daughter and I did when we watched it; Harvey came over as charming and engaging and was a natural personality for TV. So it is great to hear from Katie that a second documentary is going to be made. “The BBC loved it so much,” she says. “They actually didn’t realise how well it would do. So we are going to do a part two with him doing the train announcements, getting ready for college, his first day at college, all of that. And also the ins and outs about the funding. “And then, on the back of it, the BBC have offered Harvey and his friend Zac an 8-part series on trains and automobiles. There will be some gorgeous trains like the Bluebell Railway.” Great news for Harvey. But not so much apparently for his mother: “I am not interested in bloody trains. Me and Jeanette [Zac’s mum] will be sitting there having our tea and sandwiches saying ‘What are we bloody doing here on a train station?’ But, as long as they are happy, that’s what matters.”
The BBC documentary showed Harvey visiting a residential college that he might attend from September. Katie has still not made a final decision on which college he will go to. Harvey will stay at college full time and, naturally, Katie as mixed feelings about that. “It’s like letting him go – but I am not letting him go. I am trying to let him go to be independent to learn better life skills. And anyone in my situation… you sort of feel guilty but you have to say to yourself, he’s going to go to college, enjoy himself and have friends, like Junior [Harvey’s younger brother]. Let Harv do that as well.”
Harvey will probably stay at college during weekends too. “Say at the weekend, he’s got friends and they’ve got bowling or the cinema or something, he might want to do that with them and have fun with them instead of just coming back to me.”
Unlike other kids
Harvey does still have what Katie calls “his moments” when he gets upset and he can smash things such as his iPad or the TV. Katie says this is when she does treat him differently from her other children. “Telling him off is different. I don’t tell him off like when he does something bad. With the kids, you’ll be like: why have you broken that, why did you do that? That’s naughty, isn’t it? They understand what you’re saying whereas Harvey wouldn’t. “So I explain it differently like: Harvey, what’s wrong? What happened? Why did Harvey do that? Tell Mummy. To get it out of him. And then you have to say ‘But you mustn’t do that Harvey because, look, now it’s broken – it won’t work’. So you tell it different to make him realise, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have done it’.”
More often though, Katie finds Harvey makes people smile and laugh. He has become well known. “When we go out, he gets so recognised and he just goes to people ‘Alright, babes?’ and, you know, he has no idea that he is known by everyone. It’s funny.” Katie says when they walk into Tesco, Harvey will announce in a loud voice “Welcome to Tesco’s, everyone!” “And I say ‘Oh, shut up Harv’,” she laughs.
Katie was deeply affected by her talk with Isabelle Garnett (a member of Community Living’s editorial board), which is shown in the BBC documentary. Garnett is the mother of Matthew, who was detained in an assessment and treatment unit (ATU). She told Katie that more than 2,000 people are still in ATUs, in most cases after being sectioned. This awakened Katie’s deepest fears: “I always think if Harvey was taken and put in a car, he’d kick off anyway. And if he was put in a cell without his iPad or anything, he would go nuts and he would look mental.
Katie is now in talks with the BBC about making a documentary about ATUs. “It’s definitely something I want to look into, to speak to people and how it affects them,” she says. “It’s not just the person in there – it affects the family. And the strain and stress of trying to get them out and people not believing them. It’s just awful.”
Katie has helped Harvey launch two clothing lines. She had seen some t-shirts from a company called Born Anxious. “It’s all to do with autism. They had a picture with headphones and, on the back, ‘I don’t like loud noise’ and all things like that. “And I thought that is so clever. I said: ‘Why don’t we collab and do a clothes design?’.”
So Harvey designed his own logo, based on his name, which he owns. You can now buy t-shirts with Harvey’s initial all over them. Katie says that half the income goes to charity and half to Harvey. Another company, Up their, is producing a range of clothing based on Harvey’s Law and to challenge online trolling. It is great for Harvey. “Realistically, I don’t think he’d go and work in a shop or anything like that but this is an income for him, [he likes it] when he draws pictures and sees them printed on a t-shirt and stuff,” says Katie.
I tell her that I don’t know of anyone with learning disabilities who has had their own branded clothing line as a celebrity. It is historic. “Yeah,” she says. “It’s earning money for him and it’s exposure – but not bad exposure. “It’s uplifting for people to think if they’ve got kids who have got disabilities or anything: let them have Instagram, let them show their talents off. Or, even if they don’t want the exposure, don’t hide away. We’re all different anyway.”
Katie has also spoken to her publishers about Harvey doing a book and perhaps a calendar, and she feels sure he would be a success as a public speaker. Meanwhile, Mencap has made him their ambassador. Along with the TV documentaries and fashion work, this Harvey a busy guy – continuing the family tradition. “I will make Harvey a star,” Katie tells me, “and I will show that disability should be accepted in everything. “And to prove that just because you have a disability it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything – because you can. And Harvey is an example.”
Katie Price: Harvey and Me is available on BBC iPlayer at https://tinyurl.com/y5tsyv3n