A man reckons his disability is helping him get a grasp of his dream acting job – after getting his fingers replaced with his TOES.
Richard Stott was born with a rare birth defect called Poland Syndrome, which causes webbing to the fingers and deformity, and left his left hand almost useless.
He has had around 15 operations to date – but the most successful was when he had the second toe on each foot removed and grafted onto his deformed hand.
But rather than becoming withdrawn, 28-year-old Richard has embraced his disability, and is now using it to his advantage to get niche roles – in plays like Richard III or Beauty and the Beast.
He said: “I was having a hard time using my hand when I was younger, but I didn’t notice it.
“My feet look exactly the same. People don’t notice at all – there’s hardly any scarring. It doesn’t affect me.”
At school, in Beverley, East Yorkshire, Richard’s disability caused no problems – even during PE lessons.
He said: “I was never sporty, but it certainly didn’t get in the way.
“In football it doesn’t interfere, even as goalkeeper, you can still stick your hand out.”
After finishing school with exemplary drama grades, Richard moved to Manchester where he studied at the Arden School of Theatre.
He said: “I went into more behind-the-scenes, producing roles. I had some bad experiences in early auditions.
“My first ever audition was for Commercial Castings. The first thing they get you to do is hold up your hands.
“I thought, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know they were going to do this’.
“I held up my hands to the camera and the casting director, quite rightly, said, ‘what’s wrong with that hand?’
“How do you explain that? He didn’t dismiss me but I knew straight away I hadn’t got the role.
“I don’t blame the acting industry. The public have got a responsibility to be more accepting – they’re creating the demand.
“The producers and casting directors are just supplying that demand.”
Despite early set-backs, Richard now thinks having Poland Syndrome is a bonus.
He said: “Weirdly, it helps. The last job I got, I got because I had this. It was a version of Beauty and the Beast.
“The director wanted one of the characters to have some kind of physical disfigurement.
“That got me through the door and I got the part. Beauty started off as a really unlikeable, spoilt-brat character.
“There was a scene where she dismissed me because I wasn’t perfect.”
Richard says that having Poland syndrome “narrows down the casting bracket”, but since his toe swap op aged 11, he is able to hold things properly in his left hand.
He added: “As a white guy in his 20s – which is a huge casting bracket – I’ve also got this little niche, which is very, very helpful.”
He currently lives in Cambridge, with his long-term girlfriend Loriana, 29, who works as a stem-cell scientists at Cambridge University.
Richard said: “I’ve been with her for nearly five years. She was completely fine with my hand. I just didn’t mention it.
“If you were meeting me face-to-face, you wouldn’t notice it straight away, so it’s a hard thing to bring up in conversation.
“When you’re a kid, it’s easy. Kids notice things more and say what’s on their minds.
“When you get older, it becomes more of an issue. Now, when people don’t mention it, it becomes the elephant in the room.
“I can’t put my finger on the moment we first talked about it – I’m assuming that after a couple of days she realised, but didn’t really care.”
These days, Richard works for a cooperative acting agency called Stage Centre Management in north London, but has ambitions for more stage time in London.
He said: “I really love the stage. I went to the National Theatre when I was 18 and was completely captivated.
“Since then, I’ve always held the National Theatre, the RSC and the Globe as my goals.
“If I can get one of them, even if it’s just me saying a couple of lines I’d be really happy.
“I’ve got it in the back of my mind that I’m going to play Richard III one day – because it’s kind of ridiculous that I’m called Richard, I’m from York and I’ve got a left hand like Richard III.
“I need a couple more years, but that would be my dream.”