The Story of Adam Pearson, Who Didn’t Want to Spend His Life Suffering and Chose to Inspire Millions of Viewers With His Work

Adam Pearson is a British actor, presenter, and social activist who, as a child, was diagnosed with a rare condition called neurofibromatosis. It changed Adam’s appearance dramatically. Faced with this stigma, he didn’t give up but instead decided to tell the world about this disease and, at the same time, build a career in film and television.

Adam has a twin brother, Neil.

Adam Pearson and his identical twin, Neil, were born on the 6th of January, 1985. When Adam was five, he accidentally bumped his head. The bump that developed after the injury didn’t heal but rather stayed on his head. He was later diagnosed with a rare congenital disease, neurofibromatosis type I, which causes benign tumors to grow on neural tissue and is, as yet, untreatable.

In Adam’s case, the tumors grew on his face and permanently altered his appearance. His twin brother Neil was also diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, but it manifested differently in him. He has experienced no changes to his appearance, but Adam says Neil has a “terrible short-term memory.”

Faced rejection and bullying at school

The disease developed at the height of Adam’s childhood. Because of this, the boy was often teased at school, given all sorts of nicknames, and severely humiliated. Adam felt like a real outsider but no one around him knew what to do about it. Pearson once shared one of the most painful incidents that happened to him at school. One of the children said that the teacher wanted to see him in class. However, when Adam got there, it wasn’t the teacher who was waiting for him, but a group of other children. “I went home with spit all over my blazer,” he explained. “That was horrific.”

“I used to stand outside the school gates in the morning, take a massive deep breath and let it happen. I knew what I was in for. It was continuous name-calling.”

However, Adam didn’t let years of bullying affect him, his self-esteem, or his future. As soon as he felt discouraged and the thought occurred to him that the bullies had beaten him, Adam reminded himself that this wasn’t at all productive, and that’s just the way he is. Pearson commented, “For me, it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s very much a part of me. It would have been like asking: ’Why am I this tall?’”

Made his screen debut in 2013

Everett Collection/East News

After school, Adam graduated from Brighton University and worked in TV productions for the BBC and Channel 4. Then, in 2011, his life took a sharp turn. He received a call from the charity Changing Faces, saying that the producers were looking for someone to play a character in their film Under the Skin. Adam responded to the offer and starred alongside Scarlett Johansson. This was the long-awaited opportunity for him to show the world that anyone can achieve their dreams, regardless of their appearance.

“One of the main reasons for taking the role was because it was so moving and honest. For me, the film is about what the world looks like without knowledge and without prejudice. It’s about seeing the world through alien eyes, I guess.”

This role was not his only one. In 2015, Adam appeared in two short films, Rodentia and Oddity. The latter won the Cheltenham Film Society’s Best Film award. And in 2019, Pearson played Rosenthal in the drama Chained for Life, alongside Jess Weixler.

Became a presenter and documentarian

Adam saw his career in acting as an opportunity to finally come out of the shadows. He presented several documentaries about himself and his condition on the BBC and starred in an episode of the documentary series Horizon. The episode was called My Amazing Twin and told the story of Adam and his brother Neil. In 2016, Pearson was nominated for a Grierson Award as UK Documentary Presenter of the Year.

Adam also started working as a presenter. He hosted the first episodes of Beauty and the Beast on Channel 4, where he also appeared as a reporter on the TV show Tricks of the Restaurant Trade. Moreover, Adam became a regular guest on the radio program The Bedtime Babble On, which airs on Spark Sunderland on weeknights at 10 p.m.

Actively fights against the stigmatization of people with physical abnormalities.

Adam has been receiving regular treatment in the hospital since childhood; so far, he has undergone around 30 medical procedures to help him deal with some of the tumors. On one visit to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, he saw a poster for Changing Faces. They help anyone who has scars, marks, or illnesses affecting their appearance.

Pearson immediately knew he wanted to get involved with the charity and has been actively supporting it ever since. Volunteers have taught Adam to remember that if someone treats him badly, they “are the ones with the problem, not you.” It was also Changing Faces that contributed to Pearson getting his first role. This is how he was able to assert himself and become visible in a society where people with disabilities often live their lives in hiding.

“There’s a lot of fear around the unknown. If I can try to be as normal as possible and show there’s nothing to fear — either on film or day to day, going round the corner to go shopping for milk — then the more people see it in wider society, the less stigma there is. If I just sit at home and mope, hugging the dog and crying, nothing’s going to change.”
Preview photo credit James Newton Films / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, Everett Collection/East News
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